By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer, Bergamo
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he has always enjoyed criticism and told detractors to keep it coming as the under-fire Manchester United manager heads to Italy looking to build on the much-needed win at Tottenham.
The 1999 treble hero was in the eye of a storm this time last week after arch rivals Liverpool ran amok at Old Trafford and secured their biggest ever victory on enemy territory.
The 5-0 loss will live long in the memory and could have brought the end to Solskjaer’s reign, yet the United hierarchy stuck with him and were rewarded with a 3-0 win at Tottenham on Sunday.
But the Norwegian knows there can be no let-up amid continuing scrutiny and pressure, with Manchester City coming to town this weekend hot on the heels of Tuesday’s Champions League group clash against Atalanta.
“Criticism can make you doubt yourself or you can stand up for yourself and I’ve always enjoyed criticism,” Solskjaer said ahead of the flight to Italy. “Just keep that coming, that’s fine.
“You know, journalists, pundits, experts, we’ve all got different jobs and it’s their job to give their opinion.
“That’s their job. I’m not here to fight with them, I don’t need a spat with anyone.”
Asked if United had turned a corner by beating Spurs, he retorted: “Next one is the one that matters.
“We’ve been looking and working to get consistency and we know that when we get that consistency we’ll get results and performances.
“As I said, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and it’s important that we just keep focusing on what we did well in that game but improve on what we didn’t do as well.
“It’s relentless, it’s games every three days, it’s a chance tomorrow to prove that we can go again.”
Saturday’s game had been dubbed ‘El Sackico’ by some given how precarious both managers’ jobs looked heading into the Premier League clash.
It lived up to the billing as Nuno Espirito Santo was sacked just four months into his Spurs reign, with ex-Chelsea boss Antonio Conte tipped to replace him.
“Of course (I have sympathy with Nuno),” Solskjaer said of the Portuguese’s departure.
“It’s never nice to see men, good men, lose their jobs. He’s been working hard.
“I don’t know what the situation has been or is at Tottenham so I can’t comment too much, but as a colleague you’re never happy when that happens – you try to get in touch with him and tell him your feelings.”
United’s move to a three-man defence was key on Saturday as it stifled Spurs and gave them the platform to build on, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani leading the attack.
“I cannot give you the game plan and the tactics of course, but we have a squad to play many different ways,” Solskjaer said when asked if it was a plan he intended to stick with.
“You can put any tactics out or system out, it’s the players within it and how they execute the role. That was the difference on Saturday.
“The quality of what we did was more important than the system we played.”
How much Solskjaer moves away from that system and selection against Atalanta will be interesting given they lead Group F and wounded City loom large in the Premier League this weekend.
Paul Pogba, who is serving a domestic ban, is available in Bergamo, where United have to assess a couple of players at a time when the likes of Jadon Sancho and Donny van de Beek are pushing to be involved.
“When you’ve got a fully-fit squad at Man United, there’s always going to be good quality players not playing,” he said. “That’s been happening lately.
“Some players have had to do with a place on the bench and have to take your opportunity when you get it, you have to train well and I can’t fault at all the attitude and the motivation also has to come from within.
“That’s always going to happen at Man United. Players are going to go through difficult spells when they’re not playing, then their character is revealed and I’m pleased with most of mine.”