Nemanja Matic, the last Manchester United player to have won the Premier League, believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team needs more experience before they can seriously challenge for the title.
Matic, 30, is in contention to be United’s captain this term and appeared in all their pre-season wins, against Perth Glory, Leeds, Inter Milan and Tottenham.
‘Quality and experience brings you the title. In this squad we have quality and no experience,’ says the Serbian midfielder, who won the league with Chelsea in 2015 and 2017.
‘We have five or six top players but they are still young like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. They have shown their quality on the pitch but are too young to lead the team of course.
‘Mason Greenwood — great potential. United have a project and know what they want with players of the future. But you need to give them time because, at 17, you cannot play the same like you are 26 or 27.
‘Football always wants results but the fans need to be patient so they can improve. In the future I am sure these players will take United back to where they belong.’
The successful Chelsea teams Matic played in were packed with knowhow. In 2015, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic were ever-presents in the side under then manager Jose Mourinho and the club still had Didier Drogba and Petr Cech in the dressing room. ‘I was one of the young ones,’ said Matic.
Two years later, Antonio Conte relied on Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Pedro to get Chelsea over the line. ‘We had young talented players like Eden Hazard but you need a mix of experience with that talent,’ said Matic, who is likely to be the oldest member of Solskjaer’s otherwise-youthful first XI this season.
United’s 100 per cent record during their tours to Australia, Singapore and China has given Matic and United a boost after they finished a distant sixth behind Manchester City and Liverpool last term.
Matic’s own form was also below par after returning from the 2018 World Cup. But it looked significant that, when Solskjaer named his strongest team in the first half against Inter last Saturday, Matic wore the armband. The United manager still has to make his decision about a permanent captain but the midfielder will be in his thoughts, alongside Ashley Young, Paul Pogba, David de Gea and Juan Mata.
United’s original Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson, believes the Serbian could do the job, having watched the way he dishes out instructions to team-mates in training. ‘Last season hurt. When I come home I always look in the mirror and want to see where I could do better. Of course I was not happy,’ said Matic.
‘There were some games I played great, some I didn’t perform the way I wanted. This is football. It can’t always be at that high level and I am sure this season is going to be better.
‘I have started pre-season with the team after two or three years without one. Physically I feel good, so I am sure I will perform in the way I’m used to.’
Though softly spoken off the pitch, Matic stresses he can be verbal during training and matches when necessary.
‘It’s always great to hear when someone like Mr Robson says good things. It means something to me,’ said Matic.
‘Of course I am one of the most experienced players in the team and I will try to lead them the best way I can. Especially in front of me they need to listen. I am here to help.
‘It was a pleasure to be captain against Inter, an honour. It doesn’t matter what the game is, I will always remember it. Not many players get to be captain.
‘As for the future, maybe, who knows? The manager has to make his decision about the captain. Whatever he decides, we will be happy of course.
‘The captaincy is important but, if we play good football and fight for each other, that is the most important.’
Solskjaer has signed two youngsters, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James, this summer as he attempts to rebuild United but he wants to add England and Leicester defender Harry Maguire and a midfield player such as Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, with uncertainty remaining over Pogba’s future.
United will also be in the market for a striker should Romelu Lukaku complete a move to Inter Milan.