Former England international Paul Parker gets real about Manchester United

We sat down with former Manchester United, Chelsea and QPR defender Paul Parker to discuss the situation at Manchester United, the transfers they need to make and also Romelu Lukaku’s explosive interview.

What did you make of Man Utd’s performance against Wolves last night?

“I was working this game, and I was also working the Burnley game, in which I thought they were poor. They were up against a Burnley team who hadn’t played a lot of football. No different to the Wolves team. The difference is that Burnley doesn’t have the quality of players that Wolves have. Burnley was the better team with the ball. In the game last night (against Wolves), we saw that Wolves were the better team from the first minute and throughout the game.” 

“Manchester United only showed anything when they brought on someone who wanted to pass the ball in (Bruno) Fernandes. Then all of the sudden, Fernandes hits the crossbar. 12 months ago he would have scored that. He would have been another hero.” 

“Ronaldo scored a goal where he was blatantly offside. Lazy getting back. That actually changed the game a little bit. But Wolves were always the better team. The more likely team to, dare I say it, to score a goal. Because Wolves biggest problem has always been scoring goals. If it isn’t 0-0, it’s 1-0. They have gone and done the same again. If they would have gone and won it 3-0, everyone would have walked away saying ‘yeah, Wolves deserved to win 3-0, because everywhere they were better.’”

What we have seen recently from Manchester United, is that their true level at this time?

“You can talk about new formations and everything, but the personnel Manchester United has got is not good enough. Some of them have played for 2, 3, 4 different managers. And you are still getting the same return.” 

“If you look at it, you are looking for a return of investment. I think Manchester United have to start again. With what they’ve got there it just isn’t going to happen. I don’t mean to move everyone. I think you got to look at the majority now, they have had their time and their chances under different people. It just isn’t going to work.”

“They need a change in their lives as well. I think the clubs need it, the team needs it, the fans need it. Because they are frustrated. There is a new age and lifestyle where everyone is impatient. Everyone wants things now. After 3-4 years, everyone is bored and they want something different. I think the fans, the new age fans, are bored with the players – the same people, they are looking for different things.

“Manchester United can win games, but performance-wise, and the way they are winning games, that’s just not Manchester United.” 

“Ordinary teams can win games, but the big clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool, the two biggest clubs in the country, there’s a way people expect them to win. Not just their supporters, but football fans. 

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Can you already now see the results of the work that Ralf Rangnick has done?

“He knows what his plans are. But you can’t see it. He even talked about the formation he wanted to play. It wasn’t that last night against Wolves. I couldn’t really pin down what it was. I think the word was frustration. I think that’s what you can call it.”

“But he hasn’t got the personnel to do what he wants to do, he can only do it by bringing in players who know his system. He has brought in his coaches who know how he works and knows how to work within his formation and his system, his philosophy – which is a keyword in football now.” 

“What he needs to do is to go back to Leipzig and bring in players from there. If he wants to do it, bring in younger players from Leipzig who have been brought up in that manner.”

“Anyone who’s English and a football fan will always respect German football and the way they are disciplined and the way they are.”

“We know what he wants to do but he can’t do it with what he got. You have to bring in players that know it. I don’t mean 5-6-7-8, even 1-2 can change everything in the dressing room. The other players can watch and see how they are reacting and bounce off of that.”

“I don’t know if Manchester United really have the right people, who want to go out there and achieve. I think they have players that want to wear the red shirt, they want everything that goes with it, but the most important thing for me is, that you go and play for Manchester United, because you want to achieve what you kept talking about when you were kicking the ball around in the garden when you were a kid. You want to play for the best team. You want everything, you want the accolades, the pats on the back, everything that goes with it – to win medals, to play in big games. Not just to walk around Manchester City Centre with everyone going: ‘there’s so and so, you’ve played for Manchester United’, that doesn’t get you anywhere around a football city like Manchester.” 

“So Ralf Rangnick has to change the dynamics of that dressing room. That means getting rid of people who have been there for too long, not different to any other industry. You need new faces that can improvise a little more, that can add something different.”

What do you think happened with Phil Jones? He managed to get his first start in two years yesterday. 

“All I saw last night was that there was a reincarnation happening to be perfectly honest.” 

“Absolutely incredible performance by him. First game in over 750 days. Incredible. Somehow managed to get himself dug out of that coffin. And someone puts him on that pitch, and he was just absolutely incredible. Especially for someone who hasn’t played for so long.” “He was Manchester United’s best player – other than David De Gea, who kept them in the game in the first half, everyone expects that from De Gea at this moment in time – Phil was the best player by a country mile, De Gea aside.”

“Phill Jones came there from Blackburn, and Sir Alex was saying he was virtually going to be the new Duncan Edwards for Manchester United. The fella must have been one hell of a player for Sir Alex to come out and say that about him.”

“Last night, Phil Jones put his head in, in the last 30 seconds of the game to get Manchester United a freekick on the edge of the box. He put his head in there, knowing that if someone puts his foot up, he was going to get a free kick. He did that to earn something for Manchester United.” 

“That’s something that has cost him his career. Doing silly things. Not using his body in the right way to win challenges. He’s been hurt. He’s been injured too many times. You saw it last night.” 

“He senses danger as a defender. He got in the way of so many things. The thing about it now is that he set a high level, that his next game is going to be even more difficult if he plays. His adrenaline was so high. Everything was pumping. Is his body going to take it, going into the next game? The second game syndrome. I’d be surprised if he plays in the next game, to be honest.”

Does Phil Jones have a spot in the team in the future?

“Only Phil Jones and the manager can control that.” 

“If you are the manager that just came in, and you give him this opportunity, and when you also have that Eric Baily predicament, who plays reasonably well, throws himself to the floor when he’s injured. He’s got to go. He doesn’t show enough desire to want to play regular football.”

“You have to look at Phil Jones and say ‘wow, what a performance – I really got to look at this. This might save me a bit. I may not have to spend my budget on this – I might have someone here.’”

“We know Harry Maguire is not a £80 million defender, but Phil Jones is someone who plays to his strengths. Don’t overplay. Doesn’t want to dribble. Use the ball sensibly. This is someone I want in my defence.”

What positions do Man Utd desperately need to strengthen in January?

“Listening to what other people say, one of the areas which United are lacking with the coach, which forms the strength of the coach’s system – the 4-2-2-2 – something that a kid would build in a creche – is the fullbacks. Fullbacks are so, so important.”

“And the first 2 in front of the 4 defenders are very very important. They’ve got to be able to go back and defend – in and out, in and out.”

“McTominay and Matic cannot do that. It is not in Matic’s DNA – he is always set in front of the 2 center halves. He was great at Chelsea in that role. To go out there and change now, it is not his way.”

“In my opinion, for Manchester United to be successful, to get back where they should be and be competing for league titles, McTominay is on the bench. Not in your best XI. It doesn’t work, hasn’t worked, we’ve seen it for too long.”

“If we look within the club who can fill in that role, it is Fred because Fred’s got legs. He’s quick and can go in and out and Fred can be disciplined. He’s played in Ukraine and can be disciplined. He played in a very good Shakhtar team and they are very disciplined in the way they play in their domestic league – in the Champions League they flatter to deceive. He can do that, with what they’ve got.”

“I look at fullbacks and as much as Luke Shaw goes up and down, he’s not disciplined enough, lazy in his defending, too many off the ball fouls because he’s lazy in his runbacks.”

“Wan-Bissaka – fantastic defender, great recovery. As we’ve seen now, he’s a Premier League player but not to the level of a team that wants to challenge for Premier League titles and Champions Leagues. It’s been seen now when you look at how you’ve asked him to play.” 

“You got to look at the midfield. Bruno Fernandes made a massive difference when he came on (against Wolves), but I don’t know if he can fit him into that system.”

“One thing we do know and we have to say is, and it’s gonna hurt a lot of people because they’re caught up in it, Ronaldo doesn’t fit into it (Ralf Rangnick’s system). He fits into what the owners want because he sells shirts. He’s a great PR toy but he doesn’t fit into that system.”

“In the UK, everyone who wants to stand up and know football, uses the word ‘press’. When they say that they go ‘cool, I’m a big football person.’ But no, I’m old school. It’s something that has been in football for years. It’s been in Denmark, in Germany, all over the world. We all say it in a different way because we all speak different languages.”

“I call it ‘closing down’. Closing down has always been in the game. It’s the only way you can get the ball back. Close down to get the tackle. But now this press thing, everyone’s gotta do this and that – no you’ve got players, it’s not in their makeup but you ask them to try and make sure you start your positions right because when you do get the ball back you can give it to them. They’re the ones we call ball players, the ones who play with creativity. “

“Wolves had 2 of them – Neves and Moutinho. They don’t chase players around but their starting positions mean that people can’t pass them by. Ronaldo’s not one of them. Scott McTominay is not one of them because he’s a person who wants to run around and make big tackles. That’s all he wants to do.”

“That was great during my era. In the 80s and the early 90s in British football, every team had one player who would go around and do that. You can’t do that anymore. You can go and win the ball strongly but in the follow through your body has to hurt somebody because now people laugh about that.”

“I think these are really the areas where United are struggling.”

“The best teams in the Premier League are teams that overrun teams with good possession. That’s what Wolves did to Manchester United. That’s what Liverpool do to teams. That’s what Man City definitely do to teams. That’s what Chelsea try to do as well. What Wolves do, even what West Ham do, even what Brighton do.” 

“Brighton are in the top 4-5 of ball retention and playing with progression. Manchster United are in the bottom 5 without a shadow of a doubt for ball retention to keep pressure. Knocking balls into crowded boxes and counter-attacking is not the way that teams win Premier Leagues anymore.”

Anthony Martial for Ousmane Dembele is a swap deal that is making the rounds. Do you think Dembele can be a good signing for Man Utd?

“Dembele has got ability, and that’s why at a given time, FC Barcelona paid a lot of money for him. He was getting to the top of the peak and then you see what has happened to him.”

“The only problem with him is, does he come with a hospital bed?” 

“A lot of his problems are mental and his problems with the club. He lets that get to him and gets emotional and becomes a little bit weak and stubborn. Do Manchester United need another player like that?”

“They’ve got one like that in Martial. It’s a like-for-like. Do you need another Frenchman coming in with the same kind of attitude, that the moment it goes against him, he throws all his tools out of the bag and wants to spend all his time trying to find another place to play football.”

“So, as much as we talk about ability, Martial was signed because of his potential. £50 million six years ago, it has been a terrible return on investment to be perfectly honest.” 

“Would you take £10 million for him? I think you’d have to. You can’t sit there and hope, because every 5 mins you’re losing money. You’ve got to let him go. He’s already come out and said he’s unhappy. That kills your bargaining with other teams. He’s going to  become a bad apple in a barrel if you keep him.”

“It says a lot to me for him to go to Barcelona. I can’t see him being a Xavi player. I’m not getting it. Xavi doesn’t need someone with a poor attitude who’s gonna suddenly change and everything is gonna be okay because he’s gone to one of the biggest clubs in the world with an incredible pedigree of winning titles and maybe the most fashionable side playing in the world at a given time.”

“For Man Utd to offload him, I think yes, that’s great but what are you going to bring back in return?”

Who do you think can replace Anthony Martial then?

“Man Utd have got too many players like Martial already. They’ve got Rashford out there already.” 

“They’ve got an up and coming Mason Greenwood who needs something to take him to the next level now. He needs somebody to look up to and I don’t know how because everyone wants those kinds of players. You have to virtually make them yourselves.”

“If there is someone playing in England who I’d go and take to make Manchester United better at the moment and add something, I’d say (Yves) Bissouma from Brighton.”

“He’s a high energy player, in good shape, and a good athlete. He runs with the ball and drags people out. His decision making, his passing all are good. He’s got everything that all the top sides in Europe have got. Everyone’s got a player like that except Manchester United.”

“Manchester United at the moment are shopping in a bargain basement. Everyone else is picking up from Harrod’s and Selfridges. Manchester United are shopping at Poundland at this moment.” 

“I don’t know what they are thinking, he’s (Bissouma) sitting right there!”

“I know he’s got a little bit of an issue hanging over him – something related to what happened in a nightclub. I think it could be something quite soft, I don’t know but he’s still playing football and that says a lot for me.”

“He’s not a gamble. He’s playing in a very good side that plays fantastic football. He’s playing for Brighton and Hove Albion. You watch Brighton play incredible football and their manager is doing a fantastic job. The reason why he’ll never manage a big club in England is because he’s English.”

“Graham Potter was managing in Sweden and he’s a fantastic manager and what he’s done with Brighton is incredible. From what they were under Chris Houghton, playing to survive, now they’re playing to compete and achieve. The only thing that’s costing them is that they don’t have a Harry Kane up front – a regular goalscorer. If they had a Harry Kane up front, getting 20 goals for them, they’d be playing in Europa League every season. That’s the margins of football.”

“Bissouma and Leandro Trossard, another great signing for Brighton by Graham Potter. What a player.”

“These are 2 players who would automatically get in the Man Utd midfield and wouldn’t cost you a fortune.”

“But if you wanted to spend a fortune on a midfield player, go and get Declan Rice.”

“Declan Rice is the closest player that Manchester United could ever get, who you would say is – ‘no he’s Bryan Robson, no he’s Roy Keane, no he’s Paul Ince. This is because he wants to do everything. He’s one of those players who wants to say ‘please don’t label me’. Don’t label me as a defensive midfield player. Don’t label me as an attacking midfielder as I want to be all over the park trying to control everything.”

“Declan is the best central midfielder in the country. If City wants to pay £100 million for Jack Grealish, if someone wants you to pay £160 million (for Declan Rice) then you gotta pay it because Jack Grealish wasn’t worth £100 million. They’ve set a mark now. For Declan Rice, if he’s £100 million, spend £160 million. Give him what he wants and what happens is that he takes your team to another level.”

“Get players without leaving your shores and you know that they can play in your league. There’s no qualms about, as Sky do, difficulty in adapting to the Premier League. It’s not. Good players adapt to football. No worries about these players. They’ve proved themselves already and you go out and get them. Because Manchester United’s midfield is an embarrassment to the club.”

What do you think about the Romelu Lukaku situation? Should Chelsea offload him?

“The problem is that you’ve paid all that money, you’re looking to get that money back and he’s gone public, so anybody who pays will be seen as daft.”

“I thought Chelsea were daft in the first place to buy him, after the way he was at Manchester United, on and off the pitch. The reason why he had to go was because he was a bad apple. Very selfish, you watch the way he plays, very selfish. It’s ‘me, me. me, give me the ball.’” 

“For the way Chelsea wants to play, he doesn’t fit in. He’s not a technical player. He’s a ‘put it over the top, I’ll run, chase and drag everyone out of the way so that I can score a goal and celebrate and pat myself on the back.’”

“Did Thomas Tuchel sign him? Did he want him and did he say I’m not coming to Chelsea unless you give me Romelu Lukaku? No, he didn’t. I don’t think he bought him. I think the club has gone and bought him.”

“Look at the goals he scored in Inter Milan. Sorry, the Italians have lost all that side of them, defensively. Previously, in the Italian League, if you went there and could score in double digits as a foreigner, you would have had a great season.”

“He goes and does what he does and everyone’s raving about him. He only had to play against two quality centre-halves – Chiellini and Bonucci. That’s all he had to play against.”

“He doesn’t fit the way Chelsea want to play. Chelsea wants to play a different way. Tuchel wants to play a different way. You know he does when you see what he did at Dortmund and you look at the way he was at PSG. He didn’t want a big bulldozer of a centre forward playing for him. And that’s why when he got injured and came back, he hasn’t played him because he wants to play in a fashion that suits the players.”

“Effectively, the answer to all that is that Lukaku, I don’t know he’s got this big thing about himself. There’s nothing wrong with confidence because if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never going to achieve. But it comes to a point, look in a mirror and don’t kid yourself. Feel pleased where you are, blessed where you are, respect people around you because after a while you’re gonna need them because when football’s gone, it’s gone. You suddenly find out a lot of things about football and realize certain things about it don’t carry on when you’re done playing.”

“Lukaku has got to be careful in the way he’s going about it and how he’s talking about things. Because the people you need when you’re finished playing are the ones you played with and against. They’re the ones who keep you going, bring you back down to earth and equalize everything in your life. And he’s not going about it the right way cause he’s disrespected the most important people by doing what he’s done – the people he’s playing with at this point in time.”

“When he goes back to the park everyone will say all the right things – ‘we’re all together’ – but in the back of their heads they’re saying – ‘no, he doesn’t, he’s not really with us because of what he’s gone and done.’”

“Moreso in this time than in my time, people are thinking that way. And if they’re not thinking about it, social media will keep pulling their heads all the time. It won’t let it go from what he’s gone and done. Straight out of the way he’s disrespected his football club, his manager and his teammates – biggest crimes you can commit as a footballer.”