Spector Interview

Spector Exclusive: I’d Love to See Declan Rice at United

Former United and West Ham full back heaps praise on England centre midfielder, who he hopes United will break the bank for

Ahead of United’s trip to Watford, caught up with former Manchester United and USA international defender Jon Spector, who revealed that Declan Rice, Jorginho and Ruben Neves could be the answers to United’s midfield problem, whilst suggesting it’s time, if not overdue, that Pogba moves on from United.

The now head of recruitment at MLS side Atalanta also said that United need to start building a team around their three young English talent in Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho, and follow in Arsenal’s foot-steps of taking a backwards step to promote youth and the next generation into the team;

On Diego Forlan

Diego was obviously behind Ruud, and do it was difficult for him to break into the team, and it just bever really panned out for him, and then he did so well for Uruguay and when he moved on and played for Villareal, he was a completely different player. The same thing for Giuseppe (Rossi), it was so difficult to break into that team.

Is Luke Shaw still the best left back in the Premier League?

I do still think he’s still one of the best, if not the best left back in the league. I think he struggled under Mourinho a little bit and I think it was maybe more of a personality clash a little bit, and obviously Mourinho and Solskjaer are very different personalities. So I think that Solskjaer has done well to get the best out of him. I think he is still the best, well one of the best if not the best, in the league at the moment.

He had a moment of switching off against City in the Derby for the second goal. Is that something that can happen to anyone?

It happens. You’re never going to be perfect, and he’s been very solid for United defensively as well. If I’m honest the team defensively has not performed particularly well, and they’ve made some errors that you would not expect to find, not only in a United team but in any professional team. Looking back at some of the goals that they’ve conceded, it just seems to be some lack of organisation, lack of communication at times, and I think the expectations are a lot higher than the level that some of them are performing to at the moment.

If Keane was still Captain and Fergie was still in charge, there might be some bad language used in the dressing room!

It’s a good point because you look at that team, and I think Harry Maguire’s a good defender and a good player, but when you look at the team where is the real leadership coming from? I don’t really see it from anyone in that side if I’m perfectly honest. I was very fortunate in that team that I played in, having players like Roy Keane, Silvestre, Ferdinand, Scholes, Giggs – guys like that who knew the ins and outs of the club and what it was to be a United player, and who had those leadership qualities which United just don’t have at the moment. When you look around the team at the moment, you just don’t know who is getting the guys together and saying during the game, ‘we need to be a little more compact here, you don’t need to go forward, we need you to sit in’. Whatever it might be, and you just don’t see that in the squad at the moment.

Is the Roy Keane of old the player that United would most be most in need of signing?

They could use someone like Roy Keane, certainly. If you’re looking at the team now, they probably need to change what they’re doing in midfield. A player from another previous club, West Ham, Declan Rice I think would be a fantastic option. Ruben Neves as well I think has been very good for Wolves and I think he could be a good option for them, and I also think they could potentially improve at right back with a player like Kieran Trippier coming in I think could be a really good option. I think that’s what I would love to see, as they’ve got plenty going forward at the moment.

United supposedly scouted over 400 right backs when signing Wan Bissaka; is that a bit odd as he doesn’t seem to fit United’s style?

I quite like Wan Bissaka as a defender, I think his ability to defend 1-on-1, his pace and his ability to defend in those instances are actually very good. Not brilliant going forward, and I think that’s where he falls short. That’s not his strength and it just does not suit him, which is why a player like Trippier could be a really good solution for them in that position. Even if they changed to a back four, I still think he fits in really well within the team, and I’d love to see a player like him at United.

You won the Jimmy Murphy award in 2003, which Mason Greenwood won in 2019. How good can he be? And is Cristiano Ronaldo the perfect person to mentor him at United?

I certainly don’t think there are many better to learn from than Cristiano, if any. I don’t know what Ronaldo is like in terms of helping younger players along, but I’d like to think he’s at a stage in his career where he’d use that as part of his legacy, and who better to learn from than him! I think Mason has all the attributes to be a top, top player and I’d love to see United start to build a team around some of these younger players like Greenwood, Rashford and Sancho. I’d love them start to build around those players and I know Arsenal has taken a couple of steps backwards to build around a young team – I’m not saying United has to do that but I think they need to try and plug in some pieces that fit around those players, as I very much think that they are the future of this United squad.

Is Greenwood the most natural finisher at United since Van Nistelrooy? Does he deserve more game time?

I’d love to see him get a really consistent run of games. When I’ve seen him, he’s come in from wide positions, which I think he still does well, but I don’t know what he prefers or what comes more naturally to him, but I wonder if eventually he can do that Ronaldo role. Obviously it came much later in his career but I can see potentially see him swapping to play as a second striker.

Your role is in recruitment at Atalanta. Do you think there is something wrong with United’ scouting system that they ended up with maybe not the right back United needed, Van De Beek who I’m not quite sure why United signed him. It seems the United transfer policy in general isn’t quite hitting the mark?

The player recruitment space isn’t easy and you’re never truly sure how it’s going to pan out. I mean to go through 400 players is an exceptional amount, and if I’m honest I’ surprised it’s that high because there shouldn’t be that many you’re talking about when you’re a club like Man United. There should only be a handful of players that really fit the bill, so I wonder if that’s a bit of them trying to say ‘we’ve done our due diligence’, but for me you can rule out 350 of those right off the bat. At the same time, it’s not an easy task getting it right every single time, especially at a club like Man United where there’s a lot of added pressure and expectations and you don’t know how players are truly going to deal with that. That’s really difficult to predict, so don’t envy the guys there.

United’s next game is away at Watford. Is that a must win for Ole?

If you don’t win that game, I mean he’s already under quite a bit of pressure let’s be honest, if you don’t win that I don’t know how the board is going to react to it, but you have to think that the expectation is, as it should be, to win that game.

Do you think United are planning for the successor?

I think they’d be foolish not to be. Even in the best of times you have to be prepared for any eventuality, maybe the manager gets offered a role elsewhere or whatever it might be. Especially in the situation that they’re in right now, you have to think that they’re looking at who is next in case this does not begin to improve.

A lot of people seem to be suggesting Zidane as the next manager. Would that be your choice?

Zidane is a manager who as a player was incredibly successful, knows what it takes to win and certainly had success at another big club in Real Madrid. I think he’s an option but I don’t necessarily know that he’s a top choice. I think Unai Emery who United will obviously be facing very soon is a potentially good option. I would have backed Ole to be very good at United but I do think they’ve lost their way a little bit tactically and organisationally, but I’d like to think with Ole, Michael Carrick and Mike Phelan, they’ve got enough there to figure it out and get the team playing the way they should be.

How do you see the match going against Villareal? Do you think United will have learned from the defeat in the final to them?

You’d like to think so! You’d have to think a point away from home is a good result, which should be enough as you would expect them to go on and beat Young Boys. I do think they’ll qualify. A point away from home and then going and winning at Young Boys will be enough to qualify.

What does success look like for United?

I don’t see them going that far in the Champions League to be honest. I think there are too many other teams that are too good at the moment. In the Premier League I don’t think it’s realistic to expect them to be title contenders, but I think they have to finish in a Champions League spot. I don’t think they’re too many pieces away from having a successful team, but there are some pretty key elements missing in the squad at the moment, before they can truly compete for a title.

They desperately need a genuine leader out on the pitch, and I think they need to figure out the best pairing in midfield. Should Paul Pogba be playing more consistently? There’s been so much speculation around him, but is it time to move him on and re-build that midfield.

What is your hope with Pogba? Do you hope he stays? Does it cause a massive problem when an agent has been so vocal for so long? If Fergie was in charge, what would the outcome be?

I think he’s a tremendous player. I think there’s a lot of ‘extra’ around him. I would hate to speak for Sir Alex, but I have to think that he would have been moved on. And I think that’s probably the best thing for the player and for the club. Again, I think he’s a tremendous player, but for the benefit of the club, you’ve got to put that above any player and I think maybe it’s time to move him on and I think maybe they’ve done that a little bit too late as well.

Would Jorginho be the type of player United would require in the middle?

I think Jorginho is a good profile and he could be another good option. I don’t know how easy it would be to do business with Chelsea for him, but certainly that type of profile I think is a good one for the club.

Declan Rice has been the engine of a West Ham side doing so well – how good is he? Is the type of player you could imagine slotting straight in to United?

I do think he could slot straight in. I think he comes with a hefty price tag! And for good reason, so I don’t know what the right price or how high you can go for a player like Rice is, and obviously being English there seems to be a premium. But I think Rice has a tremendous future and I don’t think that West Ham can hold on to him for that much longer. I’d love to see him at Man United. I think he’d be a very good option for them going forward.

If you were playing nowadays; who would you hate to face?

At the moment, it would be Salah. Just the pace, how dynamic he is. Trying to keep up with a player like that is so difficult, and the way that Liverpool squad plays, he’s a player that I’d hate to play against in the Premier League at the moment to be perfectly honest!

Do you think United are currently regretting letting Lukaku move on, given his form pre-injury?

I think it’s a difficult one – had Lukaku stayed, would he have been the same? Some players just fit in well in certain clubs and certain atmospheres, under certain managers. Who knows if he were to have stayed, would he have been the same, but certainly looking at how well he has done since he moved on, it looks as if that wasn’t the right decision to let him go, but again you don’t know the ins and outs of what was going on at the club – maybe he was unhappy I don’t know, maybe there was no way back for him there, but certainly from the outside looking in you think they should have kept hold of him.

What was Ronaldo like when you were at United? I imagine you lined up against him in training as a left back when he played right wing?

I did line up against him in training, as usually he was in that starting Xl and I wasn’t! On a personal level I didn’t know him that well, he was still learning English at the time. What struck me was his incredible attitude, mentality, work rate. He would be one of the first at the training ground and certainly the last to leave the training pitch. It was frightening how much time he spent on his own working with the coaching staff, working with other players just working on his individual game. His work rate, his drive, his intensity and desire were second to none, and it’s no surprise that he is where he is right now. I think it’s incredibly impressive at his age that he’s capable of still maintaining those ridiculously high standards.

He would sprint full lengths of pitches after training! Then he would go and do individual ball-work on his own, and he’d be out there for hours doing that. It was impressive.

He would go to the gym before training in the morning. And I think just looking at his physical transformation – look at the kid that showed up from Portugal, and looking at him now – that physical transformation just speaks volumes to how hard he worked, and his discipline.

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