Ahead of a crucial week for United, who face City and tonight and Wolves on Saturday, Compare.bet spoke to former Manchester United full-back, Jonathan Spector. The United fan spoke openly about the club’s current struggles in comparison to major rivals Liverpool, and how the lack of a clearly defined transfer policy has hampered the club.
Spector mentioned that new signing Fernandes may be a good long-term signing, but that he won’t solve the issue of where the goals are coming from in Marcus Rashford’s absence. The former defender heaped praise on United’s emerging star Brandon Williams and said that he expects the starlet’s emergence to spell the end of Luke Shaw’s time with United, but he wants to see more from Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the attacking third. Spector also publicly backed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, saying that he just needs time, and a clearly defined transfer policy like Liverpool, to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.
How do you fancy United’s chances against Man City tonight?
It’s a tough game. City at the moment are obviously on a better run than United, and I think some of the injuries that United have suffered are pretty significant. I don’t know where the goals are going to come from with Rashford being out, he is a particularly big loss. He is so young and it’s unfair to put that weight on his shoulders, but he has responded to it well and he has taken that mantle in terms of leading the attack for United. I just don’t see enough in the other positions and who else is going to chip in with the goals. Martial is the second leading scorer but still quite a way behind in terms of contribution to what Rashford has done this season. I know they have been in talks with Bruno Fernandes but again, he doesn’t score a ton of goals, and coming from a different league where it is not as competitive, so I’m not sure bringing him in would help this side in the short term. In the long term yes, but in the short term maybe not.
There were some rumours around trying to bring in Carlos Tevez; how would you have felt about that?
I did see that, but I think it would be one that more appeases the fans than helps the team. He would be more of a stop-gap measure, he is still a fantastic player, and what he brings is an incredible work rate and certainly some excitement. But in terms of what the club needs long term I’m not sure how much that really helps.
Do you think Mason Greenwood is the answer long-term for United?
If I’m honest I don’t think he’s ready to be the guy for United. I think he’s a really young talented player but United is a very young club right now in terms of the players that are there, and I think that they need to find some balance with some better experienced players, which they have always had in the past. At the moment they don’t really have that and so I think they need to be active in terms of finding more experienced players to help a lot of the youngsters come through. They have let Ashley Young go recently and he was certainly one of those players, and a loss in terms of the leadership as well. They need to find that right balance and right now, I don’t think they have a good balance in terms of youth and experience. With Rashford’s future uncertain with the injury, I do think they need to bring in someone who can contribute and help with that goal threat.
Do you think United will regret not having spent the £40 million on Harry Kane a few years ago?
The short answer would be yes. Harry Kane at £40 million, with his goal production, it sounds like a bargain now.
How do United stop Kevin De Bruyne from running the show against them?
I think it’s so difficult because it’s not just him. He’s not the only threat, and even if you do stop him you have got Silva and countless other players who are going to hurt you. I don’t think it is one of those situations where he is the one player that you need to stop, it’s not quite that simple, they are a team with too many weapons and you have to think how do we stop them as a team. Certainly, he is one player who really makes them tick but there are the likes of Sterling and so many other good players that you can’t just focus on one player.
How would Sir Alex Ferguson have gone about dealing with someone like De Bruyne?
With Ferguson it was never about the other team. It was always about United and what the club were going to do, and the mentality was probably a little bit different under him because he was always able to instil confidence into the players that no matter what, United were always the better team with the better players even if that wasn’t always the case. He installed the belief and it was always about ‘what are we going to do to win the game’ rather than ‘what do we need to do to stop them’, so there was a different mentality when he was in charge at the club. I think Ole is trying to bring that back, I know he has had some criticism but he knows what it was like under Sir Alex and he is able to instil that confidence in the young players that are there, and I think he’s a great choice for the role and just needs to be given the time.
The Premier League returns on the weekend with United hosting Wolves. How do you think they will fare?
It will be a good game, and it’s a good match up when you look at Traore. When you look at what he did against Liverpool and how good he was, and how good he has been all season – he’s a huge threat and stopping him will be a huge piece of United winning. But again, it sounds a bit stupid to say, but I don’t know where the goals are going to come from. I know that they scored 6 against Tranmere, but that is a very different calibre of opponent. Neither team has been in great form to be honest, I think that wolves have had a tough schedule, but it should be a really good match.
How do United deal with the threat of Adama Traore?
It’s difficult, he has everything. He has pace, he has power, strength and he isn’t bad with the ball at his feet either. For me it was always a case of make sure I’m getting tight and that I’m not getting turned, because once he is turned and running at you it is very difficult to defend. But you also have to be aware of the ball over the top because as soon as he is gone, I don’t think you’re catching him. I think ideally you have a winger who doesn’t shy away from the responsibility of limiting the pass into him, which gives you that extra yard for that ball that is played over the top. I don’t think it is just the full back that is responsible for stopping him, it’s going to take the effort from a winger or possibly a central midfielder who has to slot over and double up.
Was there a player that you came up against with the blistering pace of an Adama Traore?
Dennis Rommedahl at Charlton! He wasn’t just rapid, but he could run all day. He had an absolute engine on him. I think Traore is definitely a better player, but similar in terms of how rapid he was and that he could run all day.
Your first ever appearance was as a sub for United against Arsenal – would Thierry Henry have been one of the few people with acceleration to worry any player?
I played against Henry once when playing at fullback and his movement was clever too. He would almost look disinterested and lure you into a false sense of security and then in an instant he was gone and he was in behind you. He was very clever in his positioning and in his movement and that made him even more dangerous, because once he was in behind you, you weren’t catching him. Thierry Henry was definitely one of those players that you had to pay special attention to and always be switched on.
Was he the hardest player that you ever had to mark?
I had the misfortune of playing against Messi a couple of times when I was playing with the US national team against Argentina. He was a little bit different because he would just drift in two different areas, so he might start on the wing but he’d go central, and he was just so clever in his positioning and in his movement where it wasn’t as if you were directly matching up against him. Once he turned and he was running at you, he was just so good at changing direction and it was so difficult to try and stay with him. It was almost as if he knew where your weight was, so if it was on your right foot he knew you couldn’t push off your left foot and he’d go to that side where he knew you weren’t going to be able to recover, which is what made him so difficult to defend against. One vs one you were fortunate if you were able to stop him whereas against other people you would expect to stop them. You expect to stop other people, whereas against him you’d hope.
Harry Maguire was United’s marquee signing of the summer; how does he take his game to the next level?
Virgil van Dijk has been incredible for a couple of seasons now, and I’m not sure if Maguire is in that same conversation just yet but I do think that he is the best option to replace Ashley Young as the club captain. You can see him organising and talking throughout the whole game, so I think he is that more experienced head and obviously has the experience of playing at the World Cup and playing some really big games in world football. He has the same commanding presence on the pitch that van Dijk has, Ferdinand had that, Silvestre had that at United. But I’m not sure if he’s in the same conversation as Virgil van Dijk.
What will it take for United to get back to the top?
Time and the right players once they have found the system that they want to play. Under Ferguson that was very clearly defined and everyone knew what the club was about. At the moment it’s a bit difficult because you look at the various managers that United have had since Ferguson left, and they all have very different styles in terms of how they set teams up and in terms of how they want to play. I think it takes time and they have to stick with Ole, to give him the time to define how this club is going to play. You have to give time to the manager who you think is going to bring longevity and results and I think Ole fits that.
Do United need to give Solskjaer the same time to build a team the way Liverpool have allowed Klopp to do so?
I think time and funding. I know he has brought in some players but I don’t think that they are necessarily the right players. I don’t know the ins and outs of who has been making those decisions, but I do feel that he needs more time to build the team the way that he feels it needs to go, with the players that he feels that he needs to bring in. I know that Young was the captain and they let him go but at the same time that may not necessarily be a bad thing. I think they need an experienced player to come in but to really have that impact. Ashley Young was a great player but he wasn’t the player that we saw at United in the past. We had players who were the best in the world in every position, and he’s not really in that conversation even whilst he’s a fantastic player. We had Patrice Evra who was one of the best left backs in the world, Rio Ferdinand one of the best central defenders in the world. Those are the players that United need to get back to and I know it’s going to cost money. There are also good young players coming through who need to be given time to develop.
Liverpool have bought players that seem to fit their system very well; does United’s transfer policy by comparison seem to have been a bit scattergun?
From the outside it looks like Liverpool have a much more clearly defined type of player that they want to fit their style of play, and Klopp has been able to implement that and bring the players in that he needs to fit their system. From the outside looking at United it does not appear that that is the case, it has been a bit scattered and you don’t know where all of these pieces fit in. I don’t know who is calling the shots but it doesn’t seem like there is that much cohesion in the United recruitment process.
United were renowned for developing young talent under Ferguson, or like Man City have done with Sterling – have they struggled to turn their signings into world class players of late?
I think it took Sterling two or three years before he really had that significant impact, where people now talk about him as one of the top players in the world and I don’t think there’s anyone at United where you could make a direct comparison with him. He was already a very good player at Liverpool and already well on his way to where he is now
Martial came with a bit of pedigree, with talent and huge potential and United fans are frustrated at not having seen more of him so far. What are your thoughts on the?
I think that is fair. Sterling has played in a better team with better players around him and there wasn’t the pressure on him to have to deliver and to be the guy for the club. If we look at Martial and Rashford, the pressure has been put on them to perform and to be the main attacking threat. I have to say, Rashford has delivered on that and he has turned into a really, really good player. Martial less so, but I have to say that it is a lot of pressure to put on a young player like him.
Are Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson re-defining how to play the full-back role? Is there a better left or right-back anywhere in the world at the moment?
No, I don’t know that there are any better full-backs in the world right now. The two of them are probably the best in the world. When you look at that whole team right now, it’s a fantastic team and all of the pieces fit together so well. I think even if you take one or two of those players out, they wouldn’t play as well. Jurgen Klopp has done such a good job of understanding those players and how they fit together and getting the best out of them.
A lot of people mention Jordan Henderson, who may not be the prettiest footballer, but does he allow for the fullbacks and other players to go on and do what they do?
Liverpool need a player like Henderson. He is arguably one of their most important players and that is because of the work that he puts in. It is almost as if there isn’t a single blade of grass that he doesn’t cover on the pitch. He does a ton of work, and he isn’t necessarily the best footballer on that team (he’s still a very good one!), but what he brings to the club enables everyone else to do their job the way that Klopp wants them to do it, so you can argue that he is one of their most important players.
Is there any stopping Liverpool in the Premier League this season?
No. I think that Liverpool will win the Premier League, and that isn’t exactly a difficult prediction to make at this point, but I can’t see anybody being able to catch them now. Whether they can go unbeaten I don’t know, it’s an incredibly difficult feat to achieve, but there’s definitely no one that can catch them this year.
How do you feel about Brandon Williams’ emergence in the United team? He looks a great player!
He looks a very good player but I think he is one of those that needs time in the team and time out of the team. I don’t think that you can rely on him for a whole season just yet, that is a lot to put on a young player. I think that Luke Shaw will take on that role of helping to nurture and develop Brandon Williams, although they are in direct competition for that spot. Ultimately, I think that Brandon will overtake him, but I don’t think that will be this season, it might be next season, but he has done really well since making his debut.
Do you think that Luke Shaw would settle for a place on the bench at United?
I don’t know. It’s such a big club to be at that he may accept being on the bench for a short period of time. He has really struggled with his injuries and I don’t know that Luke Shaw can be relied on to play a whole season, both of them are hugely beneficial to the club. At the moment, I wouldn’t say that either player is the person to go and play 30 or 40 games a season, I think it’s too big and ask for either of them. One because of injuries and the other because he is too young and hasn’t had that experience of doing it.
How has Aaron Wan-Bissaka adjusted to life with United so far? What aspects of his game do you think he needs to work on?
I think he has done really well, and his one-on-one defending has been really good. I’d like to see him contribute and provide more to the attack, but I think defensively he has done really well. His pace, his strength and his one-on-one has been really good.
Is that the difference between Alexander-Arnold and Roberston, that people see their product offensively rather than defensively?
I think they are in a team where they can afford to be much more attacking and they are able to get forward more. I think it is very difficult for the full-backs at United because they are having to defend so much, whereas at Liverpool there is far less defending going on. So those two players really fit the club’s philosophy and how the club is playing at the moment. I know that they are two of the best full-backs in the world at the moment, but they are also lucky to play in a team where they can be so advanced so regularly, because they do both deliver fantastic balls into the box.