Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be a harder taskmaster than his smiley reputation suggests when he gets the Manchester United job full time.
United’s historic Champions League success in Paris means it is a question of when, rather than if, the Norwegian interim manager is confirmed as Jose Mourinho’s permanent successor.
But in the build up to today’s match at Arsenal – which could be crucial in the battle to finish in the top four – Solskjaer is using United’s remarkable run to lay down a few markers, emphasising the workload his superstars need to tackle in order to challenge Manchester City and Liverpool.
Solskjaer said: ‘The foundation is here. We just need to add a few attributes to the squad, like we saw against PSG. I’m talking about things like total running distance – that was the highest we’ve ever had. That has to continue.
‘There’s absolutely no reason why United shouldn’t be the hardest-working team in the league. One of the things I always demand from my players is work-rate and attitude and fitness.
‘So we need to keep working on the fitness and next season the players know they will be asked if they want to challenge the top.
‘They have got to get the habits, they’ve got to improve all the time because that’s what the best teams in the league do. They run more than us. That’s not acceptable.’
Solskjaer has won all nine of his away games as United manager and talks like a man who has been told he is in it for the long term. He even joked about his tenant, Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk who rents the house Solskjaer bought as a United player, having to leave. ‘Yeah, he’s evicted!’
With his feet now firmly under the table, Solskjaer seems ready to impose the tough values he learned at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson.
‘I love to work with teams that play forward, run forward, chase the ball and work harder than the opposition. Giggsy (Ryan Giggs) and Becks (David Beckham) used to do the graveyard shift, running up and down that line.
‘They didn’t just stand there waiting for the ball, they worked their socks off. When you play for Manchester United, you can’t just think, “I’m talented, I’ll just do my magic when I get the ball”.
‘That’s not enough and it’s not going to be good enough if we want to challenge the top two.
‘When we had reserve team coaches such as Warren Joyce taking sessions, I remember it being the hardest training sessions and hardest days you can imagine.
‘But that’s what they have to get through because if youngsters are going to get past the first-team players they have to train harder than everyone else.
‘Then the first-team players look at them and think, “They’re fitter than me, they work harder than me, their going to take my position, so I need to step up my game”. That’s what we want to do.
‘We’ve had a couple of comments from some of the younger lads that have been in the dressing room. They’ve said to me: “This is how it must have been for you because we’re going into big games feeling very confident”.
‘You know, they have never had that before. We haven’t won the league title since 2013 so they’re not going to have the same feeling which the team I played in had.
‘We were used to winning, used to winning the league and challenging at the top. That’s what we did.’