On Saturday, Manchester United were on the receiving end of their third defeat of the new Premier League season. Behind the scenes, the club have had to deal with various issues with their playing staff as well as the confusion regarding a potential takeover of the club, but former Manchester United striker Andy Cole believes that all the off-field issues at the club shouldn’t be used as an excuse for the player’s performances on the pitch. Andy also spoke to Betfred regarding the form of Casemiro and Lisandro Martínez, the criticism Harry Maguire is receiving and whether he believes Ivan Toney and Evan Ferguson would be good signings for Manchester United.

What are your thoughts on Manchester United’s 3-1 home defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday? Do you believe Erik ten Hag got it wrong tactically?

“To be fair, I was listening to Gary Neville’s comments over the weekend regarding the performance and I thought they were interesting. I believe Manchester United played well for the first 15 minutes of the game but after that, Brighton were brilliant. 

“We can say that we got beat due to our tactics and if that’s the case, then I believe the players out there have the ability to have changed their team’s fortunes. They should have matched them up.”

How worrying was the defeat in your eyes?

“Being very, very honest here, after the Arsenal defeat a fortnight ago, I know a lot of fans would have been expecting Manchester United to respond positively against Brighton but Brighton are no pushovers. I expected a very tough game and I wasn’t confident that Manchester United were going to come away from it with the three points. Ten or fifteen years ago, you’d be guaranteeing three points but it’s totally different now. Manchester United’s form so far this season has been strange to say the least.” 

Are you concerned by the form of Casemiro and Lisandro Martínez? Two players who were excellent for Manchester United last season.

“The first season for a new signing is a free hit. The second season is always your toughest season and in Casemiro’s case, forget that he played for Real Madrid in Spain and won loads of honours because the Premier League is completely different to La Liga. The same goes for Lisandro Martínez. Lisandro was excellent last season but now we’re in a new season, so whatever respect people had for you in the previous campaign is gone now because you need to prove that you can perform in your second year at the club and show that you’re consistent.

“When you play in your second season of the Premier League, the opposition is going to be more aware of what your capabilities are. Second season syndrome in the Premier League exists and at this present time, these two players aren’t playing particularly well.”

What were your thoughts on Rasmus Højlund’s full debut for Manchester United against Brighton on Saturday?

“He’s got loads of energy, he’s youthful, he obviously still a bit raw but he will always aim to challenge the centre-backs. When I was at Newcastle United, Kevin Keegan used to say that David Kelly, who I played with, would chase a piece of paper and that’s what Rasmus does and he works really hard for his team. It’s a shame for him that his goal was disallowed, but Rasmus just needs to continue to work hard because he’s completely different to what we’ve had for a while. That’s the reason why the Manchester United fans are so on his side because they haven’t seen a centre-forward that gives everything for a long while. Fingers crossed he can get off the mark in the next couple of games and he can get himself up and running.”

Do you believe there was a lack of effort shown by some of Manchester United’s players in the defeat to Brighton?

“At Manchester United, the fans expect you to put a shift in. Roy Keane’s been banging on about this as well. Working extremely hard for your team is a basic requirement in football. It should be a given that you work hard. Ultimately, if the fans don’t see you running around, then of course they’re going to complain because that’s what they expect of the players, especially when things aren’t going well. If you’re winning games, then it’s completely different. If you’re winning games and you’re cruising, then you’re not going to get the boos and jeers, but if you’re not winning games and you’re not putting a shift in, then you will receive criticism. That’s the same for any football team.”

One player that did impress for Manchester United against Brighton was Hannibal Mejbri, who scored his first goal for the club. How highly do you rate the Tunisia international?

“This season is going to be a big season for him. He’s young, enthusiastic and he likes to get on the ball. When he came on against Brighton, he did very well and it was very special for him to get his first goal at Old Trafford. The fans will get behind him because of how hungry and hardworking he is and to see him run around, win the ball back and score a goal was excellent to see. In the next few weeks, if the team still isn’t playing well, then the fans will be calling for him to get a chance because the fans want to see players that give their all.”

As it stands, how would you rate Manchester United’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League?

“We’re only five league games in but I believe it will be difficult for them to get into the top four. I’ve already said this previously, but I’ve always believed that this season would be difficult for Manchester United. Last season we got to two cup finals, had a good run in Europe and finished third in the Premier League, so it was a great campaign for the club on the pitch. From that success, many people believed at the start of this season that Manchester United were going to challenge for the Premier League title, but I never believed they were going to challenge because we don’t have the players to challenge. You can’t go from finishing 14 points behind Manchester City one season to challenging for the title in the next. Football doesn’t work that way. I do believe we’re quite far away from challenging and if we lose another game in the next few weeks, then it could be a bit of a crisis and a totally different outlook regarding their targets for this season.”

Do you believe Erik ten Hag is under pressure at Manchester United and do you believe all the off-field issues at the club has had an impact on the team’s performances on the pitch?

“All the off-field issues shouldn’t have an impact on the players because when you play for Manchester United, you need to solely focus on winning football matches. You train all week preparing for your next game and getting yourself ready to go out there and win, so whatever’s happening off the pitch shouldn’t affect your performances on it. Once you cross that white line, you should be doing all you can to help your teammates and you’ve just got to get on with it.

“Every football club goes through this sort of thing but from a player’s perspective, you should only be thinking about winning football matches. Paul Merson the other day was saying that there’s a lot of excuses being bandied around regarding the Glazers and other matters, but the players can’t do anything about that. The players can’t do anything about what’s going on off the pitch, but what they can do is win football matches that can help the fans take their mind off what’s going on behind the scenes. If you’re winning football matches and playing well, then the fans are going to worry less about what’s going on off the pitch. They come every week to watch you win and hypothetically, if Manchester United were currently at the top of the Premier League, do you believe we would be hearing all these noises now? They need to focus on their own game, it’s that simple.”

Where do you believe Wednesday’s game against Bayern Munich for Manchester United will be won or lost for your former club?

“You’ve always got to go into a game optimistic. They’re away from home against Bayern Munich who have started okay this season,despite drawing on Friday night, and Manchester United need to go there believing that they can cause them problems. I don’t believe anybody will be expecting them to go there and win, but anything’s possible in football. Manchester United can go there without having any pressure on them to win, because nobody’s fancying them to do so, and aim to turn Bayern over. If they do that, then all the talk about their defeats to Tottenham, Arsenal and Brighton will be in the bin and they can try and start afresh. They need to believe they can go there and win, it’s that simple.”

Do you believe Harry Maguire is being made a scapegoat by Manchester United fans? What are your overall thoughts on the treatment of Harry from everybody connected with football?

“I believe everybody uses Harry as a scapegoat. We can all sit here and talk about his performances for Manchester United but regarding his performances for England, I can honestly say that I believe he’s never let them down. However, should he still be in the position to play for England considering the fact that he’s not playing much for his club? There’s many ways you can look at it. 

“I understand why his mum has come out to defend him because the criticism will hurt his parents more than it does himself. I think we’ve all forgotten that footballers are human. People believe that a person is entitled to abuse just because they earn a lot of money. Footballer’s have the same problems that everybody else has and people need to understand that. I believe the way that Harry has got his head down and not risen to the criticism is a great testament to his character.”

Jamie Carragher, in his column for the Telegraph, stated that he believed summer signing André Onana shouted at Harry Maguire during Manchester United’s pre-season fixture against Borussia Dortmund to ‘endear himself to United fans’. Do you agree with this statement?

“I don’t agree with that at all. Goalkeepers have always done that at Manchester United and if they didn’t, then you’d question what was wrong with the keeper. Peter Schmeichel used to do it all the time to [Gary] Pallister, [Steve] Bruce and [Gary] Neville and when a player’s frustrated then they’re going to let loose. It is what it is and you shouldn’t crumble and give up. To say that André only did that to endear himself to the fans is like saying that the only reason Bruno Fernandes waves his arms about is to endear himself to the fans and that’s not true either because that’s the way he captains and he does exactly the same when he plays for Portugal. I don’t agree with Jamie’s claim at all.”

Jamie also claimed that Harry should be removed from the England squad ‘for his own good’. What are your thoughts on this opinion?

“I’ve always been a big believer in the notion that you should be given the opportunity to play for England if you’re playing well for your club. Some players in the current England squad have played well for their country in recent times, but have not been playing regularly for their club. Some players may be thinking what’s the point in them playing well for their club if they’re still not going to be selected for the England squad and be chosen ahead of certain players. That’s the way I look at it. Harry shouldn’t be removed purely for the reason that he can be saved from potential scrutiny, players shouldn’t be playing for their country when they can’t get a game for their club and others players in the same position are playing well for their respective teams. 

“Being selected for England is like being part of a loyalty scheme and that’s the way it’s been for years. The more loyalty points you gain from playing in recent games and tournaments, then the more likely you are to play for England going forward. You wonder why so many players pull out of their squads and it’s because many of them know that the team is already set in stone. It doesn’t matter how well you’re playing for your club.”

Since we last spoke to you, Jadon Sancho has been removed from Manchester United’s first-team fold for an unspecified period. After this news, do you believe there’s any chance of a reconciliation between Jadon and Erik ten Hag?

“It’s a crazy situation. If Jadon’s not playing for Manchester United, then his value is gradually going to decrease and if they want to sell him in the January window, then they’re not going to be able to recoup the majority of the money they spent on bringing him to Old Trafford in the first place.

“Everybody’s had their say on his issue, but I found myself in a similar position when I was at Blackburn Rovers. I had a disagreement with Graeme Souness because he said something critical about me and I felt that I had every right to reply. Jadon’s obviously responded to Erik ten Hag publicly and now the situation has gone from being a snowball to an avalanche. It’s incredible how the situation’s become so massive when it should have been nothing at all. It is what it is now and if he’s ever going to play for Manchester United again, then a hell of a lot is going to have to be sorted out before we can see that happen.”

The Athletic, via an unnamed football agent, has claimed that Ivan Toney is ‘destined’ to leave Brentford in January.  Should Manchester United be in the queue to sign Ivan?

“I like him. If Manchester United did move to sign Ivan, then he’s only going to make them a little bit better than they find themselves at this exact moment. He’s been a key player for Brentford and he’s scored plenty of goals for them in the Premier League and if the opportunity came up, then why shouldn’t Manchester United consider signing him? It all depends on what Manchester United see themselves doing going forward. Ivan’s 27 years old and he could even help Rasmus Højlund come through. If they are interested in signing him, then I believe Ivan could be a good addition to this Manchester United team. 

“Could Ivan make the step up to a team like Manchester United? We could argue about whether Højlund can make the step up at Old Trafford. Nobody knows what can happen because any player that comes into Manchester United, that we don’t know much about, is going to be considered a gamble. He’s yet to get off the mark for the club, even though we know that he’s scored goals already at international level for Denmark, but nobody knows what they’re going to get from Rasmus yet. When you ask whether players like Ivan Toney can make the step up to the next level, then you’re never going to know whether they’re capable or not until they’re given the opportunity to show that they can do it. When I moved from Bristol City to Newcastle United, did people believe I could make the step up? I don’t think they did but I was able to. When I moved from Newcastle United to Manchester United, did people believe I could make the step up? I don’t think they did but I proved that I could, so it’s all about giving players the opportunity.”

Evan Ferguson is another player that your former club continues to be linked with. Evan’s previously drawn comparisons to Wayne Rooney.  Would you love to see him at Manchester United?

“He’s a really good player. I don’t believe that Manchester United are going to be the only club that’s interested in signing him and to get him out of Brighton is going to cost a team £100 million. It’s that simple. I can see him leaving Brighton at the end of the season if he continues doing what he’s doing. Manchester United have just brought in Rasmus Højlund for £72 million and if Evan’s scoring hat-tricks in the Premier League, then he’s already worth around £100 million now by that comparison. Evan plays in a great team that creates many chances, he’s already shown that he’s capable of scoring goals and as he’s learning all the time, so by the end of the season he’s going to become an even better player. Any team would be interested in him because he’s got so much potential.”

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who starred for Napoli in both Serie A and the Champions League last season, is also linked with a move to Manchester United. Have you had the chance to witness him play and if so, do you believe he would seamlessly adapt to the Premier League?

“He’s done so well for Napoli and he’s a winger that does extremely well on the ball and is capable of taking full-backs on, which is something that we don’t see often in the modern game, and putting in crosses that can find a fantastic centre-forward in Victor Osimhen. Could I see him at Manchester United? That all depends on whether the price is right and unfortunately, all these great players are going to have various options and it’s becoming harder for Manchester United to attract great players. Players have a short career and they want to join a club knowing that they’re going to compete to win the league and the Champions League. It’s not all about money anymore when it comes to enticing players to Old Trafford, it’s about being capable of winning and at this present moment it’s going to be difficult for Manchester United to encourage these great players to join them.”

 

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