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How different things might've been...

The mindblowing XI Man Utd would have now if they’d listened to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has often spoken candidly about his time as Manchester United manager, and you can imagine he’ll have a fair few regrets over some of the world-class players he wanted that the club failed to land.

The Norwegian coach has not taken up another job since he was sacked by United in November 2021, but he’s made a few media appearances and given some extraordinary details about some of the names he was chasing during his time at Old Trafford.

We’ve speculated what United’s XI would look like now, had they listened to Solskjaer when it came to signings.

Here’s the team in full, arranged in a 4-1-3-2 formation.

GK: David de Gea

We can’t know for sure how United’s goalkeeping situation would have turned out were Solskjaer still at the helm, but it’s difficult to imagine De Gea’s contract situation fizzling out to such an anticlimactic exit in the manner that it did in this reality.

Whether or not United would be better off with him still between the sticks is a matter of debate. In Andre Onana they’ve replaced him with another ‘keeper that divides opinion.

RB: Kieran Trippier

Solskjaer hasn’t spoken about this one on the record, but back in the summer of 2021 it was widely reported that Manchester United were after Trippier, fresh from his title-winning exploits with Atletico Madrid.

The England international ended up staying put in the Spanish capital but moved to Newcastle six months later, and there he’s proven a key asset for Eddie Howe’s Magpies. Meanwhile, the right-back situation at Old Trafford remains unresolved, with neither Aaron Wan-Bissaka nor Diogo Dalot winning over their doubters.

CB: Harry Maguire

Solskjaer made Maguire captain and has nothing but good things to say about the defender. We can be confident that he’d still be among the first names on the teamsheet were Solskjaer still in charge today.

QUIZ: Can you name every player to appear for Man Utd under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

CB: Pau Torres

It was reported that Solskjaer was so impressed by the Spanish centre-back’s performance in Villarreal’s 2021 Europa League final victory over United that he wanted to sign him that summer.

Torres stayed put at the Estadio de la Ceramica until last summer, when he reunited with Unai Emery at Aston Villa. He’s been one of their standouts this season as they look set to pip United to Champions League qualification.

LB: Luke Shaw

Another area that Solskjaer appeared satisfied with his existing options was at left-back – and in Shaw he had a player that loved working under him.

“Solskjaer’s man-management is second to none,” Shaw told Sky Sports in 2021.

“The way he conducts himself in terms of how he speaks to the players, it gets the best out of them. You can see that.

“He deals with situations perfectly in terms of what is needed, especially at a big club like Manchester United.”

DM: Moises Caicedo

The Ecuadorian might be struggling to live up to his lofty £100m+ price tag at Chelsea, but United could have had him for about a twentieth of that when he was catching the eye of scouts at Independiente del Valle.

“We discussed Moises Caicedo, but we felt we needed players ready for there and then,” Solskjaer recalled.

“Brighton are very good at letting players come from abroad and find their feet for a year and a half. At United, you don’t have that luxury and that has cost the club loads of players.”

Moises Caicedo of Ecuador celebrates scoring

READ: Recalling the time Man Utd could’ve signed Moises Caicedo for just €5m

CM: Declan Rice

“I really like him [Declan Rice] as a player – we’ve discussed him a few times, and I think we would’ve done well with him in midfield,” Solskjaer told Gary Neville’s Stick To Football podcast.

“His legs, covering the pitch, and I think he improved a lot on his playmaking as well. Obviously, he would’ve cost some money, but we could’ve and should’ve gone for him.”

Arsenal ended up spending a club-record fee on the England international, but it’s proven to be a sound investment. Rice has a genuine claim as the Premier League Player of the Season in 2023-24.

CM: Jude Bellingham

“We wanted Jude Bellingham badly – he’s a Man United player, but I respect he chose Dortmund,” Solskjaer told The Athletic. “That was probably sensible.

“But it’s why I respect Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Dan James and Jadon. Young players prepared to come into a team that wasn’t 100 per cent there like it was when I arrived.”

To be fair, this one wasn’t a case of the club not listening to Solskjaer.

Speaking on Stick To Football, he outlined how United pulled out all the stops to try convince Bellingham to sign when he was still a teenager at Birmingham City. They got him in the building, along with Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson – but the club couldn’t quite guarantee him the opportunities he was after.

“We all spoke to him. Of course, we sold it to him as well as we could but he knew what he wanted,” Solskjaer said.

“X amount of minutes in the first team. That’s it. The most mature 17-year-old I’ve ever met in my life.”

Now shining for Real Madrid, that focus on playing time and development has proven to be an incredibly astute decision by Bellingham and his entourage.

CM: Bruno Fernandes

Asked what he thought about Fernandes as captain, Solskjaer raised a couple of concerns about the Portuguese playmaker being “too passionate” and “losing control”. But he was also effusive in praising United’s No.8, as he was throughout his time as his coach.

Signed under Solskjaer in January 2020, Fernandes is one player that you can be sure he’d have built the team around.

ST: Erling Haaland

Solskjaer has stated that United missed the chance to sign his Norwegian compatriot on more than one occasion.

“I had Haaland in Molde, for two seasons,” Solskjaer recalled on Stick To Football.

“The summer before I got here [to Man Utd], I rang the club and said, ‘You’ve got to sign this boy. He’ll be top class’.

“That was June, July 2018, and they said no. They had enough reports on players. Then I became the caretaker manager, and we’d sold Haaland to RB Salzburg.

“I tell the club straight away to buy him while he has a release clause. We knew that then, and no one else would’ve paid the money – €20million, it would’ve been a bargain.

“It was the club’s decision to not go for it then. We never made bids or went in for him, until after he started scoring for Salzburg.

“By then, everyone was there. His release clause then was still good – €60million.”

Ouch.

ST: Harry Kane

We’re stretching the hypothetical scenario a little here, given that United were unlikely to have pursued Kane had they already landed Haaland a few years prior. But just imagine them together.

Two-man strike partnerships are a thing of the past and having a pair of world-class No.9s up top alongside one another would look weird in 2024. But Kane is also an elite playmaker and to see him drop him deeper to turn Haaland’s supplier, as he so often did with Son Heung-min at Tottenham, would surely be a recipe for goals.

“I would have signed Kane every day of the week and my understanding was that he wanted to come,” Solskjaer told The Athletic.

“But the club didn’t have the budget with the financial constraints from COVID-19, there was no bottomless pit.”


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