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football | Wednesday, December 22, 2021 10:05 AM (Revised at: Wednesday, December 22, 2021 11:23 AM)

Talking Football With....Paul Parker: United don't play the football to suit Ronaldo

Talking Football With....Paul Parker: United don't play the football to suit Ronaldo
Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy Stock Photo

With Christmas football quickly approaching, we talk with former Premier League defender Paul Parker about the fortunes of his former clubs Manchester United and Chelsea.


Manchester United has had their 2 last games postponed, do you think this will have negative consequences for them going forward or does the longer break come at a good time for them?

“You never know until it comes out of the oven.”

“I’m old school. I believe in momentum. You are winning games. You just want to play the next one as quickly as possible. That’s why Christmas, for me, is a great time. If you can win your first game in that period it takes you into the next game in a better mindset than if you get beaten.”

“Manchester United are playing a system, which is very narrow, for which they haven’t really got the personnel to play. Too many wide players are being asked to tuck in and start inside and then go outside. Look at the likes of [Jadon] Sancho, [Mason] Greenwood, and [Marcus] Rashford. If he [Rashford] can wake up and remember he’s a footballer rather than thinking he’s a politician, then it might work.”

“I think [Edinson] Cavani could fit the system well. He can play in and around [Cristiano] Ronaldo. Even Greenwood in and around Ronaldo rather than a Rashford. Because at the moment, Rashford isn’t thinking he’s a footballer.”

“I think Greenwood needs a run in that team. He’s a young boy, and there are stories about him leaving. That might be drummed up by his agent.”

“I still believe that when you have good young players, they need to play. Because otherwise they will lose their confidence. They will look at what they have been doing, they will be looking at what people are doing in front of them and ask themselves questions. When they start doing that, it’s negative and they’ll end up going backwards. You have to be careful of that with Greenwood. He needs not just to be coming on, he needs to start games and he needs someone to believe in him and play him regularly until the manager can see a bit of fatigue.”

Do you think Marcus Rashford could leave Man Utd for FC Barcelona?

“There’s rumours about Barcelona, because at the moment Barcelona ain’t very good. If Barcelona were very good, Marcus Rashford wouldn’t be mentioned.”

“To be perfectly honest, the levels of the players they’re looking at, or are being talked about, are levels you never put with Barcelona. It’s as simple as that.”

“When you look at Marcus Rashford’s form over the last 2 seasons, you would say to yourself . ‘uff, wow,’. You know he’s been poor and you say to yourself – ‘Barcelona couldn’t have just maybe been watching him. If they’d been watching him, I don’t know what levels they’re looking at but maybe they think they might be able to do something with, rather than where he is at this moment in time.’”

“If you ask a lot of fans, they will say that he shouldn’t be playing regularly at this moment in time.“

“He should be working hard to get back to what he was. He hasn’t evolved at all in his last couple of seasons. He’s plateaued at the moment in time and he’s holding back Mason Greenwood. You look at [Edinson] Cavani as well. Is he injured or isn’t he injured, is he going or not going? There are players there who could maybe make a difference in that front line.”

Jesse Lingard of Manchester United during the Premier League match at Old Trafford

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Jesse Lingard is looking to stay on at Manchester United. What do you think of that?

“He [Jesse Lingard] needs rejuvenation, he needs something different. He needs to start again, start a new chapter. I don’t think the new manager wants him. I think he’s [Lingard] got his own agenda in what he wants to do and he’s got every right to do that, to start again and I think the fans want that.”

“The fans really would rather Jesse, a local boy, go and do well somewhere else and prove himself and go and do it that way rather than thinking it’s gonna happen for him at Manchester United.He’s had plenty of chances, opportunities.”

“If he comes to West Ham, the fans absolutely loved him for what he’d done there. I think he should have taken that opportunity to work harder and actually stay at West Ham. Life is about being where you’re wanted, where you’re loved and he had the opportunity to do that.”

“He made himself an incredible cradle at West Ham – perhaps he would have just been ready to do everything for them. But I think he’s missed that boat now, in that sense, of getting there. So now he’s gonna have to go and try doing it somewhere else.”

“The longer he leaves it, cause he’s no spring chicken and such in football terms, everywhere he goes people will expect him to do a lot and give a lot because he’s been a Manchester United player.“

“So to want to stay and just be around there is wrong in my opinion. I think he really needs to get out and go and prove himself for Manchester United to say – ‘maybe we made a mistake, maybe we should have kept him’ – rather than hoping he’s gonna get in and be a bit-part player.”

“At the age he’s at now, he’s been a bit-part player, it’s gonna be real hard for him to go somewhere else and become a full time player.”

Dean Henderson is supposedly displeased with not playing. What do you think he should do?

“There was a big hoo-ha about him (Dean Henderson) because of what he’d done at Sheffield United, and he had done really well, but there he’s mostly having to make 3 saves every 10 minutes – 4,5,6, 7 saves.”

“At Manchester United, the bigger clubs, that doesn’t really happen. You need high concentration levels cause you’re not maybe being worked that much – not saying that David de Gea does; United, defensively, are poor.“

“I’m a big fan of de Gea, and I didn’t get what they were doing by starting at the back with Dean Henderson because he was playing for Sheffield United in the Championship and then he played one season for them in the Premier League and he did well. Was he ready to take over from David de Gea? Not in my opinion.”

“It’s not that easy. You could be doing well here and doing well there but being goalkeeper of Manchester United is a completely different mindset.”

“If he’s saying he wants to move on and wants to be a regular goalkeeper, let him go.”

“I think it was wrong to bring him back and give him a new contract. Too many new contracts given out. It was too easy to give him one, but he was still under an existing one. I think he only made a rod for his own back by doing that. Put himself under pressure. It also put pressure on de Gea – everybody wanted to criticise him every time he conceded a goal. What do you see now? David de Gea’s back to himself at this moment in time.”

“David de Gea is a goalkeeper in the sense that the most important thing about being a goalkeeper is stopping the ball going into the net. It doesn’t matter if you can kick the ball up a 1000 times, it doesn’t matter if you can pass the ball like Zinedine Zidane. If your goalkeeper can’t save, it doesn’t make any difference as far as I’m concerned.”

“That’s what goalkeeping is all about. You knock the ball back to him, he clears his line. I think there’s many players out there, the right players, who would be embarrassed if the goalkeeper was better on the ball than them. You really shouldn’t be on the pitch if the goalkeeper is better on the ball than you. That’s my way of thinking.”

“If he’s [Dean Henderson] not happy being No. 2 behind one of the top 10 goalkeepers in the world, move on and go and prove yourself. Prove why you should have been No. 1 for Manchester United.”

Bruno Fernandes of Manchester Utd speaks with Marcus Rashford

Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Are you pleased with how Bruno Fernandes has been doing this season?

“I think Bruno Fernandes has been ‘Ronaldo-ed’. Totally, totally Ronaldo-ed.”

“Free-kicks and penalties taken away from him. I think it might be something in his head as well, because now he’s not influencing games to a degree anywhere near to what he’s used to, not on the ball. I think when he gets the ball, his first look is ‘where’s Ronaldo’ rather than where everyone else is.”

“I think the change in system hasn’t helped him either, playing a little bit more to the left-hand side. It’s not working in the way it did before, under Ole [Gunnar Solskjær], where he was a bit like Eric Cantona. The Eric Cantona syndrome – nomatter where Eric was, if he asked for the ball, you gave him the ball.”

“But now, the new manager has come in and he’s added, which Man Utd needed, more structure. He had a foundation and he’s trying to put a structure on top of that and it has cut down on his [Bruno Fernandes’] yardage. Previously he was everywhere, picking up ball in right-back areas, drifting forward, trying to pick people out. That’s been taken away from him at the moment. I don’t know how he’s finding that, to be perfectly honest.”

“I think he’s a player who wants to be the leader. I think he should be captain of Manchester United because of the way he is. He leads by example. He’s maybe not the same at the moment. He’s more of an influential player and he should be the captain. He plays in a role where captains should be playing and he plays in that fashion.”

Do you think it would have been better for Manchester United to have things going through Bruno Fernandes, than Cristiano Ronaldo?

“I think Ronaldo’s had a massive effect on his game.”

“Ronaldo coming to Manchester United has made a massive difference to his [Bruno Fernandes] form. He’s not a key player right now.”

“As much as I think Ronaldo is key, I do not think he’s as central as Fernandes was or maybe should be to Manchester United. He’s not creating that many opportunities as he used to before, he’s not getting the assists.”

“There’s no one else having shots, no one else getting around. Manchester United seem to be influencing Ronaldo as a goalscorer which is totally wrong, which you wouldn’t expect from an alleged top club.”

“Ronaldo coming in was maybe a gift that Ole didn’t need. They put a flyover over on top of a roundabout and the crash just happened a bit too quickly for him. Everything went forward, but Ole couldn’t go that way and the team wasn’t prepared for it and now, if you see it, everyone’s trying hard for him (Ronaldo) to score.”

“It suited Manchester United, at that given time, without Ronaldo. They finished the season really well. It was a step forward that was always going to be difficult with Ole [Gunnar Solskjær] in charge. A step forward might have been needed with another manager.”

“The problem with United is that they don’t play the football to suit Ronaldo.“

“The ball retention is poor. They don’t get the ball in the wide areas quickly enough and deliver it in the box quick enough, because his movement is incredible. The positions he gets into and he’s virtually saying – ‘deliver, deliver’ – and they don’t do it.”

“Fernandes gets in good areas and he delivers but he’s not finding those areas anymore and one of the reasons is that Manchester United’s ball retention is poor.”

“When you look at so many teams in the Premier League, they’ve got an all-round midfield and at Manchester United there’s something wrong. Teams keep the ball better. Brighton keep the ball better than Manchester United. 2 midfield players at West Ham, Soucek and Declan Rice, if they played for Manchester United, they would improve their midfield, with Bruno Fernandes. That’s the difference.”

Antonio Rudiger during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge,

Mark Pain / Alamy Stock Photo

Could you see Antonio Rudiger making the switch from Chelsea to Manchester United?

“It’s good (Antonio Rudiger’s links to Man Utd) because if you think about it, Manchester United should have the biggest squad in the world, with the amount of players they get mentioned with.“

“If you’re Rudiger and you’re ambitious, as he is, you can see it by the way he plays – he plays the game angry, he’s a frustrated midfielder and centre-forward, he wants to do everything. If he’s that ambitious, does he really want to go to Man Utd at this moment in time? You’d have to say no. The chances of Man Utd winning things before Chelsea are very very slim.”

“If he wants to go to one of the biggest clubs in the world and be known even more so as a German player playing for Manchester United and everyone knows him, then there’s no better club.”

“It all depends on him being ambitious. Does he want to go to Manchester United and be the difference-maker at the back. ‘I’m the one that took them forward’ and all of a sudden the momentum started and they started winning games and 2 years down the line, they go on and win a Premier League and everyone says he’s the signing that made the difference because the back line was poor. Then I would certainly get that.”

“If he was to stay at Chelsea. He’s very influential and the fans idolize him. To come to Manchester United, I would say that is ambitious. I would understand why he would want to and I think he would make a difference.”

“If you had him next to Varane, what a difference you’re talking about. Good pace and you’re talking about someone who’s won a World Cup, Champions League and then you’ve got a centre-half, who in the old-school way of talking is actually a leader. He actually shouts and screams, bosses people about, dictates the people. When people aren’t doing it, he tells them because he doesn’t make that many mistakes himself. He keeps things simple. He’d be absolutely perfect.”

What do you make of the current Chelsea team and their offensive issues?

“Chelsea is stuck in a bit of a rut. Are they a better team with Lukaku? I would say no they are not. They are not playing in the same way. Are they a better team without Lukaku? I would say they play better football.”

“The only thing is though, it may be Timo Werner, if only he could score, then I think he would fit so well with the football they play and the way they flow and counter attack with [Christian] Pulisic. They just move so well. They are good to watch. When Lukaku plays, they lumber. It’s slow. It’s not the same. Nothing gets moved quickly through the middle.“

How would you rate Steven Gerrard’s tenure at Aston Villa so far?

“A lot of his [Steven Gerrard’s] players are in awe of him. He’s got such a way about him. I think it’s about the humbleness of the people that has made the difference. You can walk in there to any dressing room as an ex-player, in any dressing room, doesn’t matter what level of football, and you got the respect from anyone, because you have had a decent career. So everyone will respect you because of that and there is no reason why they shouldn’t.”

“You have to earn that other bit of their respect when you give that first team talk, when you introduce yourself to them. That will really mark your cards. I think Steven Gerrard has gone in there and done that really well.”

“Their performance at Anfield tells me that they have gotten it right at the moment. They’ve got Chelsea and Manchester United coming up shortly, and I think I might have put Villa to win against Chelsea, just going by Chelsea’s form at this moment in time. It looks like they are giving away goals. Just two three weeks ago, everyone was talking about how ruthless they were defending, how mean they were. All of the sudden now that has all changed.”




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