Former Manchester United and England full-back Paul Parker sat down with us and discussed the ongoings at his former club. Here’s what he had to say.
What did you make of Manchester United’s performance last night? Anything you were particularly happy to see, or anything you were disappointed in? The two teams are facing off against each other again on Saturday. Do you expect a different game on the weekend?
I wish you’d brought me into this one slowly rather than going straight to it, to be perfectly honest. Because it’s still at the front of my head, and it was one of those games that you wish it would carry on as it started in a certain way. United scoring early, playing reasonably okay for Manchester United, if you can say that, which is weird.
But they just lost their way again, totally lost their way, and fell apart to be perfectly honest. To cut a long story short, fortunate, is the word, very fortunate to come away winning that game. The goal they scored was, you talk about a great cross, you talk about a good header. But you have to talk about seriously bad defending. Villa’s only mistake they made throughout the whole 90 odd minutes was the way they defended that. They just allowed someone just to cross a ball in like that when they should have been squeezed up higher, they sat in and allowed the ball to come in, concede the bad goal. But after that, they dominated the game.
Whatever anyone says, or even whatever the coach says, you don’t have to be a great football fan, have great football knowledge. You watch a game of football, and you’re watching a team that’s just, if it was a war zone, you would call it a retreat, that’s the way Manchester United played.
They were just retreating all the time. Aston Villa were by far the better team, with better individuals and a better team, really. When you watch it, when they had a goal that they had disallowed was just embarrassing on our part with VAR. VAR should not be in the F. A. Cup, shouldn’t be in the F. A. Cup, because certainly the Premier League side we’ve got it or the ex-premier league sides have got it, not everyone’s got it.
So how can you have one rule for one, and one for the other, and yet one’s in the same tournament, it doesn’t make no sense. If that game was anywhere outside the Premier League, the goal would have been given, simple as that. It’s like VAR was looking for a reason not to give the goal. They couldn’t have tried any harder to suck the life out of it.
When they’re looking for something to say that someone was blocked, that means we’re going to stop so many games now and call fouls on people being blocked, because blocking is a major part of defending from corners, blocking happens when a defender will roll the ball back to the goalkeeper, and as he rolls that ball back, he will step in the line of the oncoming player to prevent his run. If that person runs into him, I haven’t yet seen the referee give a foul. I haven’t seen him given a foul. So I don’t really understand.
So there was a funny picture that went up on Twitter just after that, and at the top of it, it says for some reason wants Manchester United go through, and it goes to like a little studio and there’s a picture of Sir Alex Ferguson behind a computer working with VAR. It was painful watching; it is painful watching Manchester United.
It was painful when they gave Scott McTominay ‘man of the match’, and you think to yourself, Manchester United haven’t touched the ball, so they’ve given it because he’s scored a goal. I just couldn’t work out how you give it, because it should have been a Villa player, it should have been maybe McGinn, it should have been maybe Watkins, even Danny Ings.
I’ve named three players there, and someone could name someone else’s better than Scott McTominay, because he scored a goal, it was just poor form. It was poor form from BBC, poor form from Manchester United, and you wonder how they’re going to improve. They got Aston Villa away in the next game.
Do you expect a different game on the weekend?
I don’t, I certainly don’t, because I don’t think United can get any better. I really don’t see how they can get any better. I don’t want to hear about the squad they’ve got, they’ve got incredible players here, it just needs the right coach, no, that’s a load of rubbish, they haven’t got the right players.
If that team last night, for them to really go out and say they’re going to win a league, it needs a 50% clear out, at least of that team that started the game last night. It needs a 50% clear out of the squad they’ve got to start again. But it doesn’t happen in football, you can’t go and get rid of that many that easy, and if you wanted to, you couldn’t.
So I can’t see how they can go there to Villa, and anyone can expect him to win. Because Villa, Steven Gerard has turned those players around, and given them more belief to what Dean Smith did. Dean Smith, can’t knock him for what he’s done, I thought he did really well at Villa.
But when you look at Steven Gerrard has got the same players, and you look at the way they’re playing now, it tells you what difference a coach can make. You just see that a little bit more, and coaching now isn’t all about the technical side and trying to work with people on the training ground, it’s about your personality and the respect you have from the people who are working for you.
No different to Crystal Palace with Vieira. Those players were looking at Steven Gerrard, and as soon as he walked in, they went ‘wow’, and then his first team talk, they must have gone ‘wow’ again. Because the most important team talk is the first one you give with a bunch of new players, because that will make or break you as a professional footballer.
If they come out of it laughing, because you were stuttering, you didn’t know what to say, that will carry on. But obviously, he’s got it all right, and his whole manner on the touchline, that presence he had there, the way they played, suggests to me that Villa are going in the right direction.
Villa to get Coutinho says a lot, even though Coutinho has to prove himself, because of what happened at Barcelona hasn’t put him in a good place at the moment. 33 million if Villa want to buy him. You look at him last night, you wonder where they might need him? What he can do.
But if they get him to where anywhere near what he was at Liverpool, you’re seeing a wonderful player come to a very good team. Defensively, that’s where Villa really have to work. That’s their big problem, the center of defense. That was their weakness if anything last night.
But United, going back to where I don’t really want to be, are poor, really poor. I don’t think the coach can do anything at the moment, with the tools he’s working with at the moment. If it was a bag of tools and an engineer turned up at your house with that bag, and you looked in his bag at his tools, you’d say go back and come back with something better, because it’s not good enough.
In your opinion, should Manchester United look to focus on silverware in the FA cup, or should they be all in on the league?
They’re not going to win the league, I think. There’s no one out there who can actually tell me anything
or even convince themselves they’re going to win the league.
But top four, would that then be considered a success? Especially with what has happened at the clubso far this season?
Yes, we’ve gone to the level of what everyone was talking about Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, when they were having parties on the pitch celebrating qualifying for the Champions League, and everyone was embarrassed for them. I think United are maybe in that position. I’m cringing already, thinking I could see certain players celebrate because they qualify for the Champions League.
Listen, if you’re Burnley, and you qualify for the Champions League, you celebrate, it’s incredible. If you’re Manchester United and you qualify for the Champions League, fourth spot, third spot or you finish second, I don’t know where you are, but you don’t celebrate.
But you should be looking to get the main prize of winning the league. To go back to your first bit, I think United got to be looking for the F.A. Cup. So that’s where they are at the moment, they are chasing an F. A. Cup, they’re fortunate to still be in it. They’ve got Middlesbrough at home, don’t take them for granted, they’re managed by a very good manager in Chris Wilder. A proven manager who gets teams out all through his career from when he was managing in non-league. He’s been very successful right away through the card of football.
He’s done every division now; he’s done great with Sheffield United. I think he got let down within the club, that’s why he lost his job. He’s now done great with Middlesbrough, he’s turned them around, the same players which Neil Warnock had and was going nowhere, they were a club on the up in the Championship.
Middlesbrough are going to come there to Old Trafford, there’s going to be 8 – 9,000 fans in there and they’re going to make noise. United fans, they’ll try, but the problem is they can’t make a lot of noise, because their hearts are in their throats at the moment.
They can’t make a noise, they’re scared. He (Ral Rangnick) can’t afford to rest anybody or try to mix the team up to think about the Premier Leauge because even the so-called top players are not top players at this moment in time.
You’ve mentioned the need to improve Man Utd’s midfield. What do you think of the club’s interest in Ruben Neves?
I think everyone wants United to wait and not rush into anything. But if I’m the manager at the moment,I’m thinking to myself that I can’t sit here any longer with what’s going on?Because there’s no guarantees at the moment. You’re looking at them, and they look like a mid-table team. Manchester United finished mid table in his position, that’s killing what people think of him.
He is putting his integrity at risk with the bunch who he’s working with at this moment in time. There’s a lot he could lose. But he’s come across to Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world, with this big name, everyone talking good about him in this country, the main two being Tuchel and Klopp, which are both highly respected managers in his country. And it’s not working for him. And it is about the players, players can’t get away with it anymore. The only thing players have got on their side is they’re commodities now. They’re in a stronger position than managers, because there’s more of them than there are managers.
So, they’ve got that bit of strength on their side. If he’s going to go, you must be able to, in my opinion, bring players in during this January period. At least two. I don’t think one player is going to make that much.
If I’m Ruben Neves, and after Ruben Neves destroyed Manchester United with his compatriot and teammate Moutinho, I wouldn’t want to leave Wolves and play with the players in this Manchester United midfield. Maybe you’ll say I play with Fernandes, because they know each other, they’ve played together.
Yet, I wouldn’t want to play with the rest of them if I was him, because he wouldn’t be getting the higher profile players. But one thing though, a big name doesn’t mean you’re going to work hard, and that’s what’s going on with Manchester United players.
No, if you’re Ruben Neves, you’ll say ‘yes, I’m interested, but who else are you getting?’ Who else is in this basket with me that’s going to come and make a difference? If it’s just the one, if it’s just him and he’s got to put up with that, and everything’s going to, because everyone’s going to be looking at him to have that Fernandes kind of appeal when he arrives in January if they were to get him.
But then, on the other side of it, Wolves’ form at the moment is very good. Struggling to score goals, but they don’t give goals away. They’re better than Manchester United defensively.
So he’s mostly saying to himself, hold a minute, I can get into Europe, maybe I’ll get into Europe with Wolves. We might be able to do that. Do I want to run away from that? And having to really fight, and having to prove myself at this moment in time with a bunch of players who I don’t think are good enough? He’s got every right to think that way, because he was walking around them a week and a half ago, he was strolling around them a week, a week and a half ago. So why would he do it? So I think Neves would be a great player for Manchester United, but not in a team they got in a moment in time.
They don’t play any style. The players they have at the moment, they have to work hard because they can’t keep the ball. Wolves players work hard because they keep the ball. It’s hard fitness wise, it’s hard to keep the ball. You see Manchester City how hard they work when they’re in possession, you have to work just as hard, maybe harder. Because you have to work mentally harder as well, because you have to be brave to go and take the ball in certain situations.
The likes of Fred and McTominay, everyone talks about them working hard. They do because they have to, because they’re always chasing all the time. That’s the way it is. Does he (Ruben Neves) want to do that? That’s not his game, his game is with the ball in his feet and seeing movement early. So I would say yes to Ruben Neves coming to Manchester United, but for someone of his ability and his sanity, I think common sense will prevail at the moment and he stays where he is.
Cristiano Ronaldo has reportedly had ‘crisis talks’ with his agent regarding Man Utd. His move hasn’t paid off and if you were the coach, what would you do about this situation?
I would say first and foremost, thank goodness I’m not a coach/manager having to make those decisions, especially something like that. Again, he was bought by the establishment because he was worth a lot of money to the establishment for what he can do off the pitch. He was bought as well to appease the fans, because he took a lot of pressure off what was happening up top and everyone kind of left them alone, because they now had Ronaldo back.
I think he quickened up the pace of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leaving the club. Straight away put pressure on Ole to do that. Ole had a plan, I think Ole had something going off the back end of last season with Cavani.
I think it affected Ole’s relationship with Cavani in that sense, because then Cavani had something going with Greenwood. We’ve seen it before, we’ve seen the situation with Spurs, what happened with the Champions League final with Moura, when Moura should have played, but Harry Kane put his hand up, lied and told everyone he was fit when he wasn’t and Moura situation heightened or quickened the pace of Pochettino leaving the club. Players now are quite powerful in that sense.
So I think Ronaldo turning up put everyone under pressure, sold a load of jerseys, PR wise it was brilliant for the club. I think it affected the mindset of a lot of other players as well. It’s about being a top player, and being a top pro, and Ronaldo is a top player, he’s proved that.
I wouldn’t say he’s a top pro. Straight away they couldn’t help talking about how he’s changed the diet and the players because of this, he’s eating this and he’s eating that, so what, everyone’s different, everyone’s metabolisms are different, your mindset is different, how you approach everything your training to games, all different.
But all of a sudden, look what he’s doing, look what he’s got. It’s great what he’s got, fantastic. But I’m different, I like to think I’m different, and I’m going to do it, started doing it my way, and so that puts pressure on a lot of players. So it hasn’t worked out on the field with him on the pitch.
He can’t play that role (they are asking him to play). He struggled under Ole to do it, because in theory, he’s not a center forward in the Premier League. He’s not going to play that way. He can’t play out wide as he used to do, so you try and adapt and it hasn’t worked to be perfectly honest. I think the nostalgic United fans want it, and mostly dream about it, but they know at the end of the day it isn’t going to happen. They’re not going to get to where they want to be. The new age fan who’s living off the back of what their dad saw in him when he was younger, they can’t really remember him, but they are persecuting anybody who says anything against Ronaldo.
But you’re looking at football, and for United to go on to where they want to be, where they should be, Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be in the team, it can’t happen. He has changed his game, he’s adapted, he’s adjusted himself, got himself in a different body shape to go and play as a center forward, but he went there (to Juventus) and he was still out zipping around. But it wasn’t those lengthy runs which he used to do before in wide areas, so he could do it around the box. Juventus could keep the ball in the final third, so they could work in that area and be busy. United can’t keep the ball.
So, you can’t get Ronaldo in the game. So at the moment in time, you look at it and it’s just always going to be talked about. It’s Ronaldo and Manchester United. Where in theory it should always be Manchester United first.
As per reports, Man Utd will not go with Ralf Rangnick as permanent manager. Who would you consider for the position moving forward?
I’ve always been a fan of Pochettino. I just like what he has done with Spurs. Everything he did with Spurs was fantastic. He got them into the Champions League, all their games were away from home, but he got them into the Champions League on two occasions. He’s got them to a Champions League final as well.
He made players. Players made their names playing for him, Danny Rose heightened his career. Dele Alli, bought him from the third tier and he got into the England squad. I’m going to say Christian Eriksen, Christian Eriksen played for him, and Christian Eriksen was a fantastic player for Spurs. When Christian Eriksen didn’t play for Spurs, Spurs didn’t look anywhere near the same team. Him and Dembele together in that midfield, at that point were fantastic pairing. He got in Son as well, another fantastic player who played his best football under Pochettino.
We’ve seen glimpses from Son, but we haven’t seen that consistently from him and he’s Spurs most important player without a shadow of a doubt. Forget Harry Kane, when he (Son) doesn’t play, Spurs struggle. Him and Moura are the best two players. But again, as I said earlier, Pochettino should have, if he had just stuck with maybe what he wanted to do and looked at a player who earned them the right to be in the final in Lucas Moura, and things might have been different.
I think he’s the person, if you’re looking for someone, who in the way he conducts himself (feels like a Man Utd manager). I think there is a way of being a Manchester United man, because I’m looking at the present one, and even when I’m saying Ralph – he’s not ringing the bell as a ‘Manchester United manager’.
But he doesn’t look that way, to be a manager of Manchester United. And some people might think what you’re on about?
It’s not about the way you look, but there’s a presence about the way you (conduct yourself), that stature you got about you, to be a Manchester United manager.
I see Pochettino having that the way he conducts himself, the way he puts it, his persona says that to me about him being a Manchester United player. I personally don’t think. And I think everyone knows he’s not enjoying himself at PSG.
I think he’s working in that way is not him. I think he likes to bring players in and improve players, and not get finished articles, which is what PSG does. And having to work week in week out with Neymar would drive anybody mad I think. So, I think Pochettino.
But if you’re going to have that consultancy role, which in theory, what is a consultancy role? I mean, if you’re going to have someone to be that consultant, that means you’re going to have a say in a person who’s going to take that job.
So that means that they’re going to mentor them. They’ve got to respect you, they’ve got to listen to you, and you’ve got to work off the same hymn sheet with players and the way you play. Pochettino maybe doesn’t play the style that he wants to play, so is he going to go back and maybe look for someone or want someone involved from the Leipzig days, that knows what he wants?
That could be a bonus, it’s just that everything, the DNA of Manchester United, the way they were playing or have played for years will change, which isn’t a problem, really. It can’t always be the same as what it used to be. So I really don’t know which line, is it right to keep him on? I really don’t know in that sense. At the moment, you’re looking at the moment, you’re saying no, it’s not, if you are to judge it on performances, forget results, judging on performances, you’re going no.
But I’m looking at it and I’m being realistic and saying I’ve got to look at the players, what he’s having to work with, isn’t good enough to be performing. So if he can bring in two or three players, and it doesn’t have to be big names, it won’t be as big names as maybe United fans expect, if he is allowed to buy players.
If they don’t bring any players in, then there’ll be a little bit of a hoo-ha going on at Old Trafford about what’s happening next? Then the next stage is that, within a week of the season closing down, people want to start seeing players sign. They do not want to see the team starting pre-season and be mentioned with every player under the sun and nothing happened.
They’re bringing in people so late in the day, but there’s nothing you can do to get things going because the start of next season is going to be really difficult as well with a world cup coming up. So it’s a tough time again for Manchester United. Nothing’s been easy since 2013.
Steven Gerrard brought in a former teammate of his in Philipe Coutinho. What do you make of that signing, and would Coutinho potentially have improved other big clubs, like Man Utd? Is this a result of Gerrard being in charge?
He needed to make sure his next move in his own head everything was right, and coming from Barca and going to Manchester United, who are not having a good time, I don’t know if you know that by the way, they’re not having a good time, Manchester United, would have been the wrong move to be perfectly honest.
Then his opportunity to maybe go and join his ex-teammate, somebody most respected playing with. He knew that he was going to be there, he had someone who’s going to have a softer approach, give him time, someone who understands him as a person.
So there’s more of a cushion there for him to take his time and Villa are at the moment, under Gerard, a team who are going forward. That’s why they wanted that name, that name at manager, someone who had got a little bit of a good kind of footing from what he’s done at Rangers.
So I think it’s a very good signing for Villa, I don’t know how Villa are going to fit him in, that’s the interesting one.
They might have to change the plan with Watkins and Ings, who they used last game which were brilliant. I think they might have to play without one of them, I don’t think they can have both of them in the side with Coutinho. But we are talking about Steven Gerrard, and if he was to go and do that, he’d be a welcome change from everybody playing the same way in the Premier League, because it’s become a bit of a robot league in the way that teams are playing.
What do you mean ‘Robot league’?
You seem to know everyone’s going to play one up front, a lot of teams are going to play with two holding players. They’re going to go across the back, backwards, across the back, a little bit forward. Teams are scared to lose, that’s the big thing now.
There’s no team really playing with great ambition anymore, they’re going to play from the back for the sake of playing from the back, and I don’t know if you saw the weekend in the F. A. Cup. Manchester City and Swindon. Swindon just kept trying to play from the back, two tiers, three tiers lower than Manchester City, trying to play in that fashion and you’re up against one of the best teams, who closed down, or press as the word is now, in Manchester City, who are incredible at getting the ball back, and they’re (Swindon) trying to play football from the back, which cost them two goals. Crystal Palace also gave a goal away against Millwall because the goalkeeper was trying to play football.
At the moment, goalkeepers are now players who used to play, teams are getting goalkeepers who used to play on fields, because they wanted to kick well and pass the ball. At one point in life, I’m sure goalkeepers are there because they made saves, not because they could play. If you’re an outfield player, and your goalkeeper’s better with a ball than you, you’ve got to retire.