The recent acquisitions of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James prove that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking to build a British core at Manchester United just like Sir Alex Ferguson did many times. Much of the club’s success over the last 20 years has come from a core group of British players. Ferguson’s winning teams had big characters, players who wanted to win. Players like Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Pallister, and the list goes on.
The opening weekend of the Premier League saw the highest number of British players start matches for eight years. Although the number is often higher at this stage of the season because of foreign players being eased into the campaign after summer tournaments, the statistics still bode well for Solskjaer.
One of the most impressive aspects of the opening day victory against Chelsea was not only Maguire’s performance but also his leadership. After Marcus Rashford scored his penalty for United’s first goal it was obvious that Maguire wasn’t happy with aspects of the first 18 minutes. In the celebration, you could clearly see him telling his teammates to tighten things up. Speaking to Sky Sports post-match, Maguire confirmed this, saying:
“I was reiterating on the pitch that we need to concentrate, even at three and four (nil), we wanted a clean sheet and we knew going into the season that there were only two clean sheets here (at Old Trafford) last season.
“We really have to make this a fortress and make it a hard place to come and score so it’s a good start but we are not getting carried away. We will keep working and keep improving.”
Solskjaer currently has twelve British players in his first-team squad. Not including Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, and James Garner who are all academy players with senior squad numbers. This number is only equalled by Liverpool in the so-called ‘Big Six’. If Solskjaer can keep these players at the club and keep them hungry who’s to say he can’t emulate the success Ferguson had with a core group of British players.
Solskjaer knows the United values and he is tapping back into the culture of the club that was perhaps lost under previous managers. The future looks bright for United. There are even more homegrown British players in the academy system that Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking at closely. The under-23s features fourteen British players. Recent contract extensions for the likes of Luke Shaw, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, and Chris Smalling also reinforce Solskjaer’s faith in a British core.
Even if some of these players aren’t the most popular with fans, their leadership within the squad is clearly important. The success of United and the England national team will be built around some of the British core that Solskjaer has at the club. One of the major highlights this season will be watching how many local boys get their chance and how this core develops.
Written by Euan James