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Gary Pallister: Top Four Is A Minimum For Manchester United
Former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister says that standards have slipped.
Following Manchester United’s resounding opening day victory at home to Chelsea, Gary Pallister spoke exclusively to AmericanGambler.com to give some early season thoughts on The Red Devils. Pallister spoke of one of the biggest clubs in the world, and that nothing less than a top four finish would do for United.
As a former British transfer-record signing when moving to United, Pallister spoke of the pressure and scrutiny that Maguire will be under, but how he came through with aplomb against Chelsea, and why getting rid of an overweight Lukaku will allow two-goal Marcus Rashford to be the main man for United.
How do you assess United’s first game of the season against Chelsea?
It did flatter us, especially the first half performance. We never really seemed to get out of the blocks and Chelsea seemed more dominant and the more likely team to score. So it was a bit concerning, but as the game went on, we grew into the game and we played that counter-attacking style of football that we’ve become accustomed to United teams play over the years. Ole’s talked about implementing it into his side and it worked really well against a Chelsea side that was looking to get back into the game. It was great seeing pace and power working for a United side at Old Trafford.
Is it nice to see a United side that’s not on top, grinding out a result? It’s something that United teams haven’t done over the past few years.
Yeah, and it’s still a work in progress with Ole and he’s trying to put his stamp on this team, and he’s been working really hard in pre-season. He’s talked about fitness levels, he’s talked about desire and he’s trying to implement all of these things; that passion of playing in a United shirt, that you don’t give in until the final minutes.
You’d expect a United team to have all of those traits but it’s a work in progress, and it’s a start. On paper it looked a very difficult game for United having Chelsea but they are trying to bed in a new manager, there have been changes there with the transfer embargo and Frank is very much in Ole’s shoes that he was in a year ago.
It’s a great start; the four goals were fantastic and we look like we have goals in the team, but you have to be realistic and say that it wasn’t the complete performance.
What most impressed you about the display against Chelsea?
The counter-attacking style of football. The pace of Rashford and Martial worried the Chelsea back-line, a great ball through from Pogba for the decisive Rashford goal, which was terrific to see as there’s been a lot of talk about Pogba and what is going to happen to him, so to see that working in tandem was terrific. As we got the first goal, I thought our back four was terrific, and Harry Maguire on debut was brilliant.
It was great to see Daniel James score a goal. We didn’t see that much of him but he has electric pace, but he didn’t really have a chance to show that off. I think Maguire is such a dominant centre half, he does the basics really well and also has the ability to bring the ball out and help create things. Considering the kind of fee that he came in for and the pressure that he’s under because of that fee, the way he played was huge bonus for United.
You were a then British transfer-record signing when you moved to Manchester United; did you feel added pressure because of the transfer fee that had been paid to acquire your services?
Absolutely! It was £2.3million and the club had to pay over the odds to get me. I came with people like Neil Webb, Micky Phelan, Danny Wallace and they were all proven players at the top level and I’d only played a season in the top flight and we got relegated!
The money I came for was ridiculous and you do feel that pressure. Coming in to a United side where there is an expectation from the supporters for both the players and the team, there will be pressure on you because of the size of the fee.
Everyone is expecting Maguire to be like Van Dijk, and whether he can play that role or not will have to wait to be seen. He’s made a good start, we know that he’s a quality player and we’re looking for those leadership qualities in that side, which I think have been lacking; hopefully Harry can provide that.
There was a lot of talk about Scott McTominay talking to the players after we scored on the weekend. Do you see him as a future leader of Manchester United?
I think he has really grown in stature, certainly in the back half of last season. Especially in the European games, he took the games by the scruff of the neck and opens the game up for a more adventurous player, as he plays that sitting role. I think he really stamped his authority on several games towards the end of the season.
I think it’s fitting to see a young lad come through the ranks. He’s a big lad and he has got marvellous energy, so I’m really pleased with the way he is developing as a midfield player, but that has got to continue. Whether as captain or not remains to be seen, but you feel as though he has got that shirt on a regular basis rather than coming in and out of the side, which might give him the confidence to become a more vocal player.
You mentioned that Maguire has those leadership qualities; can you see him as a future captain of Manchester United?
Yeah I do. He’s not afraid to put his head in where it hurts, he wins his tackles, he’s a big lad, a big unit and he has that presence that you need to be a captain and he leads by example. I’m not 100% sure if he’d be a screaming and shouting captain, but you can have all different types of captains. You can have a Tony Adams or a John Terry who shout and scream, or you can have a Cantona who doesn’t shout and scream but just leads by example on the pitch. I don’t know which category he falls into, but he looks a figure of authority within the side and I could definitely see him becoming United captain in the future.
What other qualities does Maguire bring to United to improve the side?
Hi calmness. He can head it, he can chest it, and he does all of the basics well. He’s got aggression but he’s also got that calmness and doesn’t panic when he’s given the ball in tight situations, and we all know how comfortable he is on the ball from watching Leicester and England. It’s early days but he brought calmness to the back four, but he’s only finding his feet within a team that he’s only played one game for. He’s only going to get better, and the same for Wan Bissaka; he’s only played one game but already his tackling, his spirit and his speed excites the fans
OIe has talked about people who want to play for the shirt and are desperate to play for Manchester United, and that’s why negotiations didn’t last very long with Dybala, because he didn’t show a passion to want to come and play for Manchester United, and he was more about the money. I know that they did have a conversation with Christian Eriksen but he has got his mind set on Spain, to Barcelona or someone like that.
I fully concur with Ole that you don’t want to bring those players into the club, and they should be desperate to play for Manchester United, one of the top three biggest clubs in the world. I know at the moment there’s no Champions League football but playing in front of 76,000 fans every other week, surely that’s got to turn your head.
A lot of United’s summer was spent dealing with Paul Pogba’s future; does it look like he still wants to leave? Do United want someone in the squad who wants to leave?
I don’t know what Paul’s actually said, but I’ve seen stories associated with him. I know his agent came out saying it’s time for Paul to look for a new challenge now, and I think that’s disrespectful to the club where he’s under contract, trying to push a transfer through. Ole has been very positive about Paul staying and wanting to get the best out of him as he’s a fantastic player and on his day we are talking about a world-class player.
The ball that he put through for Rashford, the drive and making the goal for Daniel James; that’s the Paul Pogba that we want to see. If you can harness that talent then you have one of the best midfield players in the world, if not the best.
It all depends on Paul, what he sees, what he believes and what he wants to do. If he’s not happy at Manchester United, as Ole said, he wants players that want to play for the shirt; that are desperate to play for the shirt. Until we get closer to the end of the transfer window for the clubs in Spain then there will always be this conjecture.
Did Untied miss out on De Ligt, or did they bring in the right person in Harry Maguire?
I would have been happy with either, or maybe both if I’m being greedy! It was a big season for De Ligt in the Champions League this year at Ajax and he looked the part. A young kid that looks like a proper centre half. He’s tough, he can play and the maturity that he played with stood him out as one of the top young defenders in Europe.
You’ve got the ready-made player in Harry Maguire. He’s 26, he’s coming into his peak years and I’m very happy with our business this year. I would have been happy with De Ligt as well, but we’ve got a centre half in Harry who knows the game, understands the game and is at his peak and was desperate to play for Manchester United. Apparently he’s a United fan, and if he is, then you’re ticking all of the boxes with him.
Do you remember your contract negotiations, when joining United?
My negotiation with Sir Alex, he said ‘we’re going to give you the same wage as the captain of England, are you alright with that?’ I said yep, that’s fine, and that was the end of the contract negotiation!
Not too many people get the chance to go and play for such a fantastic club, you’re not going to sign for pennies but you’re going to be reasonable in your negotiation and demands.
The money thing now drives me nuts. You go to Manchester United you’re going to be well paid and sorted for life, and you think that would be enough. In our time at United, I can guarantee that we weren’t the best paid in the Premier League. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination saying that we were poorly paid, but we knew that there were other sides in the Premier League paying better wages, but we were playing for Manchester United.
Is the hope that Maguire becomes to Untied what Van Dijk is to Liverpool?
Van Dijk’s performances were out of the top drawer last year, and is the final piece of the jigsaw as Liverpool looked lightweight at the back and were screaming out for that calming influence, who was strong and defend properly, and he’s brought all of those attributes to the back four.
I don’t think he wants to wants to be compared to Van Dijk, but he can certainly have the same kind of influence on the side, and especially the back four.
Jose Mourinho was fairly critical of Luke Shaw and that Harry Maguire would have to get used to covering him. What do you make of his comments on Shaw?
It sounds like a bit of a dig to me. I didn’t think that Luke had a bad game on Sunday. There’s history there between the two of them. He chose to have several pops at Luke Shaw in his time. I don’t know if it’s a personal thing, a professional thing or what it is. At United you’re playing with defenders that want to get forward, so you have to cover round for your left back.
In my time with Dennis and Gary Neville, at Old Trafford they were encouraged to get forward and support the front line. I remember a half time conversation with Sir Alex, when we had been left two on two at the back and he just said ‘and your problem is…?’
You usually talk about having one more than the attackers, but he said ‘we’re playing at Old Trafford, so don’t worry about it!’ That was the attitude; he wanted to go and take the game to people and take a bit of a risk.
Was the 5-0 defeat to Newcastle a low point?
Yeh, and then we got beaten 6-3 away at Southampton the next week but we still went on to win the title. The day against Newcastle, they were absolutely on fire and everything the hit went into the back of the net. Fergie said after the game it was just one of those things and to put it to bed. It was a bad day at the office, we were away from home and you take it on the chin and move on. The experience of the manager was out of the top drawer and he knew how to deal with those situations, and we went on to win the title.
What does he make of Axel Tuanzebe and Solskjaer's decision to put him on the bench for the game against Chelsea ahead of Smalling, Jones and Rojo?
He’s talked about Tuanzebe and he’s mentioned him when talking about the defence. He had a really good season last year, and it is what it is. He’s been working with the team week-in week-out and feels that he’s earned his chance to be on the bench. I think all these players have a part to play, and off the back of last season, Lindelof earned the chance to play with Maguire over the last six months of last season. Before, he looked like the club was too big for him, and he hadn’t settled into the in the Premier League, and you wondered if he would ever settle but his performances in the last six months earned him the right. He looked composed and Sunday and he’s got first shot at it, and it’s up to him to cement his place.
Do you think United will sell any defenders before the European window closes?
Rojo nearly left for Everton so obviously he looks as though he will be the one that would be let go, as United are willing to sell him on. Jones and Smalling have been there for a number of years and are both internationals, so unless they get ridiculous offers, there’s so need to sell when you need a big strong squad.
Along with Bailly there are probably one or two too many centre backs, so if they get offers then they may well look at them.
How do you feel about Lukaku moving on? Were you surprised that United didn’t bring anyone in as a replacement?
I think they have Greenwood coming through, and he looks a special talent. You don’t like to get ahead of yourself with kids of that age, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone be that comfortable in that environment at that age. He’s six foot odd, can use both left and right feet, knows how to score a goal and he looks the real deal at the moment. He’s still got a lot of work to do, he has to mature and find his feet at that level. The fact that Ole has played him a lot in pre-season, and had him on the bench on the weekend suggests he’s ready for the Premier League.
Was Lukaku clinical enough for United?
I think Lukaku is a goal scorer and he will score plenty of goals, but the way they want to play at times, he’s too heavy. You look at the pace in the present game; maybe Ole is looking at that and saying he can’t implement that into his game for me. He was surplus to requirements. He’s a goal scorer, an instinctive goal scorer. He’s not the most clinical but he will get you 15-20 goals a season, but we were looking for a more rounded player. He plays Lingard, Martial and Rashford, and we caught Chelsea napping on the ball high up the pitch. So when you can do that you’ll have more space to go into and score more goals.
Is this season the one where Marcus Rashford finally steps up into the role of ‘golden boy’ at United? Can he become what Rooney and Ronaldo were for so long at United?
There are big expectations on Marcus and I thought he put his penalty away clinically and I look at him as a more instinctive finisher. Sometimes he has too much time, but I thought on Sunday he was clinical as he had a little bit of time but he put his second away fantastically well. Maybe that’s something that Ole has been working on with him, as there was no better finisher than Ole Gunnar! When you get into those situations you want someone with a cool head and immaculate finishing, and Marcus was absolutely clinical with his second goal.
There’s been a lot of expectation on Marcus for both England and Manchester United for a while. He will play in a three-pronged attack either up front or on the flank, and he’s comfortable in all of those areas. He’s maturing, and there’s no doubt he’s the man now Lukaku has gone.
What are United’s realistic ambitions for the season? Can they break back into the top four?
It’s definitely got to be the aim. In the top three biggest clubs in the world, we should be getting in the Champions League. We’ve dipped below the standards that we have become accustomed to, so that should be the least of our expectations to get back in the top four and bring the European nights back to Old Trafford.