As Man United prepare for their game against Villarreal in the Europa League final, Peter Schmeichel wanted to take a moment and salute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the work the Norweigan manager has done for the Red Devils, especially during a season that included an overwhelming amount of non-football issues. "I think he's doing very well," says the legendary Man United goalkeeper and one of the best the game has ever seen, speaking of his former teammate.
"It's an unsteady ship and he's steering it with a steady hand. It is not an easy job that he's got. I think he's benefited from not having fans in the stadium, he's had that factor less to contend with in this incredibly difficult period," he said on the ¡Qué Golazo! podcast. "It's no secret that the football club the fans love is very much detached from the ownership of the club and we all know what happened four weeks ago with the European Super League, and how that within 48 hours changed football completely. This of course is only two years in for Ole Gunnar, but it's still something that's going to rock the boat...but I think he's done well."
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Schmeichel -- who has an autobiography coming out this fall titled One -- is not wrong when looking at Solskajer through the unique lens of the last season and a half at United. Despite the challenges that come with the Glazer family owning the club, which include an avalanche of financial debt and the aforementioned fallout from the failed European Super League attempt which led to massive protests outside Old Trafford and beyond, and a famously cancelled match against Liverpool, Solskajer led the club to a second-place finish in the table and a Champions League spot in addition to their Europa League final. In addition, United finished with zero losses away from home, a record only achieved by Arsenal's Invincibles.
"I think it's going to be difficult for Manchester United, unfortunately," says Schmeichel. "I'm hoping Harry Maguire will be fit as it's a big, big worry if he's not playing. I think even watching the Roma game in Rome...I was embarrassed to watch that game. Thank God for David de Gea! We could have been knocked out, by the way. We've shown frailties in defense, we have. But he's a steady, steady player [Maguire]...so that's a big worry for me if he's not playing."
For Schmeichel a CBS sports colleague, who is also a part of the CBS Sports broadcast team covering the Europa League and Champions League finals (you can catch him on the pre and post-game shows airing on Paramount+), the demands of Manchester United are too familiar (after all, he was part of the beginning of everything for the club as the 90's became synonymous with Red Devil omnipotence) and despite the successes that came this season, he wants to see more, especially once Solskjaer brings in players that fit the manager's mentality. Quite simply, for Schmeichel, the treble winner and five-time Premier League champion, the objective is to return the club to not just glory, but consistent glory. "For him [Solskajer] to take the club to the next level, he's gotta sign some players that fit how he sees the game going."
Who then, would Schmeichel want? "I would like Harry Kane to come to Man United. I would also like Leicester City's Wesley Fofana, because quite honestly I think we're exposed...after Harry Maguire's injury...suddenly we're a nervous bunch of defenders. We need a Vidic/Ferdinand combination and I could see Maguire/Fofana do that," he says. "I think Lindellof is a fantastic player but unfortunately he is not a leader that you want in a center. If you look back in Premier League history at the time Manchester United, every center half has won the Premier League. Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam...Vidic, Ferdinand. All these guys have been leaders. I think now it's a requirement."
There is no better justification for this argument than Manchester City's Ruben Dias, FWA's player of the season and, of course, a newly crowned league champion.
Like Man City proved this season, for Schmeichel, the way to win is to create a resilient mentality and that begins with the goalkeeper, permeated through the backline and then upfront. It's something he knows thanks to experiencing the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, a manager who single-handedly reversed the fortunes of Manchester United and turned them into a Goliath.
"Up until  the early 90's Man United was a club who would come very near and always stumble at the end," says Schmeichel. "They never really had the ability to take it over the line, or so it seemed, at least from the outside. If you speak to observers around that time, that's what they would claim. But when you talk to the inside, people like Martin Edwards [former chairman/owner], Mike Edelson, who's still a director at the club, Maurice Watkins or Bobby Charlton, when you speak to these guys, they knew what was happening internally. They knew how the club was being structured by Alex Ferguson. How he was very, very slowly getting rid of players who took the culture and the environment of the club in a different direction to where he wanted to go. He was also structuring the education as footballers, putting the right people in charge. Eric Harrison and Brian Kidd were in charge of the first crop of incredible players that the club produced...the class of '92. Beckham, Giggs, Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. That was all deliberate."
Never Give In, a documentary about Ferguson arrives on Paramount+ on May 29, the day of the Champions League final, and Schmeichel reminds us about the importance of structure, of proverbial brick-by-brick mentality and how the Scottish manager built a culture. "Follow me or you fall off," that was Ferguson's mindset, according to Schmeichel, who can't help but reflect fondly on the characteristics of arguably the greatest manager the game has ever seen and someone he relates to so closely.
"This is a man who came from absolutely nothing...to do what he's done is an absolutely amazing, amazing story. To have such clarity and what you want to do and how you want to do it. There are very few people in the world who have done that," he says. "But he was one of them."
You also always knew where you were with Sir Alex. There was never any innuendo. What he wanted from you and vice versa was clear as day. But the most important part to remember in all of this is that Sir Alex Ferguson's success would not have been possible were it not for patience and total trust.
"If you give someone with the right idea the correct idea…" smiles Schmeichel. No way he thinks that type of mentality would be allowed today. There are very few clubs who carry similar values. "I think there are always examples of clubs who are trying to do the right thing, trying to give people time, trying to organize themselves," he says. "Where my son [Kasper Schmeichel] plays in Leicester City, is a very good example of organizing yourself right, getting your recruitment right. Slowly build, build, build. They've now opened the best training facility in the world….they're building, building. You can see it. They won the Premier League, they won the F.A. Cup. But even a club who's doing things right, you're not going to give a manager that much time [these days]."
For Man United, Solskjaer is the man to lead the club but what's at stake now is the difference, or at least the detachment, in ownership and fanbase. In order to succeed, the key for Schmeichel and surely all United fans is cohesion, financial security and a clear sense of transparency.
A few more trophies won't hurt.