Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claims Manchester United can rule Europe following arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane as Red Devils prepare for Champions League opener
It is a measure of the progress Manchester United have made this summer that they kick off their Champions League campaign in Switzerland this evening with two players who have each won the competition four times with Real Madrid.
Of all the attributes Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane bring to United, there is none greater than a stellar European pedigree that saw them win the cherished La Decima — Madrid’s 10th triumph in the European Cup — followed by three more Champions Leagues in the four seasons that followed.
Throw in five UEFA Super Cups and eight FIFA Club World Cups between them, and you get some idea of the kind of European experience United have got for their £62.8million investment.
Not quite the final pieces in the puzzle, as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested before correcting himself last night, but certainly two players who could turn United into serious contenders.
They will be helped by playing in a comparatively easy Group F comprising Swiss champions Young Boys, Atalanta and Villarreal.
‘We’re getting the spine of the team, and you can see the experience and quality,’ said Solskjaer.
‘Of course, with Raphael and Cristiano coming in, they add that last… not last bit, you can never say it’s the last bit. It’s something extra we have to buy unless you win it four times yourself.
‘That was always the plan when I came in, that we had a squad with experience and quality to challenge. The atmosphere is really good and that’s definitely going to stand us in good stead.’
If Ronaldo plays tonight he will equal former Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas’s record of 177 Champions League appearances.
‘It’s great to have Cristiano back at home,’ said Solskjaer. ‘The impact showed on the first day we played, with two very important goals for us. You know the qualities, the experience of Cristiano is amazing. It’s massive for us. He’s a legend here and it’s great to have him back.’
After the clamour and acclaim of his Old Trafford homecoming against Newcastle on Saturday, Ronaldo is expected to make his second appearance since returning to United from Juventus in the more sterile surroundings of the 22,000-capacity Stadion Wankdorf and its artificial pitch.
Such has been his impact on the club that fourth-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant went so far as to claim that none of the players dared eat dessert during Friday’s pre-match meal for fear of offending their super-fit team-mate.
‘There was some apple crumble and custard or a bit of brownie and cream,’ Grant told talkSPORT. ‘It just cracked me up how not one single player dared get up and have the junk food that was laid out.’
Solskjaer dismissed that story last night but praised Ronaldo for the way he has kept himself in such good shape at the age of 36.
‘That’s obviously a joke by Granty in a setting with some mates and ex-players,’ added the United boss. ‘It’s not like we were linked with junk food before Cristiano came and he changed it all.
‘He’s proven over the years how to look after himself. He’s an example for other players how to prolong your career. It’s the best time of your life, so stay in the game as long as you can. Be professional. When you’re done, you can let yourself go as I have done now!’
There was speculation yesterday that the mood of optimism at Old Trafford following the signings of Ronaldo, Varane and Jadon Sancho could persuade Paul Pogba to sign a new contract before his current deal runs out in June. Solskjaer is clearly hopeful that Pogba will want to be part of a bright future.
‘It’s up to us now to get results and prove to ourselves we can win trophies,’ said the United manager. ‘Everyone wants to be a part of a winning Man United, that’s the most magical feeling in the world.
‘Everyone’s just focusing on doing our best and let’s see where we go.’
Former Scotland defender Gary Caldwell is joining champions Manchester City as loan team coach.
The 39-year-old, who previously managed Wigan, Chesterfield and Partick Thistle, was recently in charge of Newcastle United Under 23s on an interim basis but left after just three weeks.