Manchester: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warned that some Manchester United players would not represent the club again after admitting they deserved to be in the Europa League next season and were miles adrift of the country’s top clubs.
United’s dismal 1-1 draw at relegated Huddersfield Town yesterday ensured they would finish outside the top four for the fourth time in the past six seasons.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League could cost the club up to 35 million pounds in lost revenue, while the players are now braced for a 25 per cent cut to their wages.
Solskjaer also faces the prospect of his pre-season tour plans being ruined by involvement in the Europa League qualifiers as they look to rivals Manchester City for a favour.
If United finish sixth and City lose the FA Cup final to Watford on Saturday week, Solskjaer’s side will enter the Europa League at the second qualifying stage on July 25, the same day they are due to face Spurs in an International Champions Cup friendly match in Shanghai. Watford would qualify automatically for the Europa League group stage instead.
United are thought to have contingency plans for that scenario but the possibility of having to play six Europa League qualifying matches in the space of six weeks just to reach the group stage would be another major setback to Solskjaer at a time when he is facing a huge rebuilding process.
“We’re all disappointed we’re not in the Champions League but that’s a true reflection [of where we are] and the table seldom lies at the end,” the United manager said.
“We gave ourselves a chance to be in the Champions League, we had so many opportunities to be third or fourth and weren’t able to take them. The Europa League next year is the right place to be for us and if City don’t win the FA Cup we’ll have an early and bright start for the Europa League qualifiers and that’ll make it more difficult.
“It’s not what we want but let’s see what happens with Arsenal and the final with City but that’s the reality. The kids will get chances to play games. I’m an optimist, you will have to make the most of it.
“We haven’t taken enough points, won enough games, scored enough goals. It shows us where we are. We’re not living in fantasy land thinking we can catch the top two [Liverpool and Manchester City]. We’re far away but we shouldn’t be speaking about being far off the top four at Manchester United. We’re many levels [behind] at the moment. That’s the size of the challenge, it’s a great challenge for us but I’m sure we’ll make it.”
Alexis Sanchez’s Old Trafford career hit another low when he was substituted after 54 minutes with a twisted ankle on his first start since March 2. It raises the real prospect of Sanchez having played his last game for the club, even if United may struggle to offload their pounds 500,000-a-week misfit unless they subsidise a transfer.
Asked if the Chile striker had played his last game for United, Solskjaer refused to discuss Sanchez’s situation directly but did admit there were various players who fans may not see again.
“There’s a chance you’ve seen the last of [a number of] players, always a chance but I wouldn’t say that about any individual,” he said.
“Today wasn’t about one individual that was disappointing, it was the whole team. The players were running, they were trying but we just weren’t good enough.”
Gary Neville, the former United captain, was scathing in his criticism. “This is not a team. The more I watch this, it’s not a team,” Neville said. “Do you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of the Tottenham team that Mauricio Pochettino picked up when it had [Emmanuel] Adebayor, [Younes] Kaboul, [Vlad] Chiriches, [Etienne] Capoue. A group of players that looked like individuals, nothing there, no real spirit and he dismantled it piece by piece and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to dismantle this piece by piece. It would be nice if the club got an experienced sporting director and recruitment team to help him. Solskjaer has had enough.
“Is that the last time we see Alexis Sanchez in a United shirt? Walking down the tunnel at Huddersfield? Nothing about this United team I like at all. They’re just awful. They’re a despondent group of people. Solskjaer is smiling at them they’re that bad.”