Former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen is delighted to see his one-time prodigy Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prove such an early success in the hot-seat at Old Trafford.

In an exclusive interview with 888sport he reveals what the Norwegian is doing to help blow the cobwebs away after Jose Mourinho’s reign.

“Ole has positively reinforced to the players what it means to be playing for a club the size of Manchester United. Secondly he has reintroduced the enjoyment of playing.

"This is clearly seen in how the players are now trying to express themselves. They play with an urgency and an attacking flair now, something that was previously lacking.

“The most important thing is what has been taken away from Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson left. The identity that United stood for slipped away and that’s why it’s such a masterstroke in that respect to bring Ole back.

"He is injecting Manchester United with that same sort of identity that he was part of. The board and everybody need to understand that’s what they need to protect.”

It was an identity that Meulensteen himself helped maintain, having spent six successful years as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant in a dominant era for the club.

With that in mind does the widely respected 54 year old believe Solskjaer should be given the manager job on a permanent basis?

“Ole was very well aware when he was asked to step in that it was as an interim manager and that remains the case.

"I’ve worked with him for a long time and Ole is not the kind of guy to expect anything. Instead he will just concentrate on doing his job and right now he’s doing a fantastic job.

“The team was previously somewhat stifled in their approach and the freedom and expression that has come into the team now is making a massive difference.”

It’s a difference seen not just in the team as a whole but more pertinently in individuals, with Marcus Rashford in particular looking like a player reborn under the new management.

How important is it for a creative talent to feel like he has the trust of the person staring out from the technical area?

“Having the faith of your coach is massively important. I know from my time working with Sir Alex that was his biggest thing. The most used coaching term that he used was ‘well done’ and players thrived on that and that was the environment we created in training.

"You’re seeing the same again now with players like Marcus Rashford. Marcus will be benefiting massively from Ole’s experiences as a striker.”

Another United star who has been transformed of late is a World Cup winner whose relationship with Mourinho could diplomatically be described as difficult.

Meulensteen is adamant however that it is not just relief at his adversary’s departure that has brought such an upturn in Paul Pogba’s form.

“Ole has probably reassured Paul Pogba what a good player he is but secondly he has also placed on his shoulders the responsibilities he must live up to.

"Those responsibilities come down to just two things - work hard in every game and play the best football that you’re capable of for this club. When he does those things he’s a difference maker.”

The Dutchman reserves his greatest praise for Jesse Lingard, which perhaps is hardly surprising given that Meulensteen oversaw the Warrington-born winger’s development from an early age.

The proud coach even goes as far as to compare United’s number 14 to one of the finest football players of the twenty-first century.

“Sir Alex always had a clear picture of what a good player looked like and they had to have quick feet, quick brain, and a big heart. That is basically everything that Jesse has.”

“The fans need to associate themselves with players who have come through the ranks. While I was there and Sir Alex was there it was so important to keep bringing young players through.

"The difference with Jesse is that he was always the English version of Iniesta. He can play in pockets; he’s very mobile and very agile. He can beat a man and he’s good in combination play. The last few seasons he has started to score important goals as well.”

What then of United’s last big signing Alexis Sanchez? The Chilean has disappointed in his first year in Manchester following his highly publicised move from the capital.

Can the feel-good factor sweeping Old Trafford at present also see a revival in his fortunes?

“Alexis Sanchez is a runner with the ball. He likes to pick the ball up and basically drive forward past people. I would like to see Alexis Sanchez at his best for Manchester United because we all saw how good he was for Arsenal.

"You can’t tell me that that has suddenly disappeared. It’s all about making the players understand what is expected of them and unlocking how to get the best out of them. I’m sure that Ole will be able to do that.”

One player who has sadly not shone in the light of Solskjaer’s arrival – or more accurately, not been given the chance to – is Juan Mata.

Does Meulensteen believe the likeable schemer’s days in the north-west are numbered?

“Ole obviously had a good look at the squad and he wants to play with a lot of energy and a lot of pace. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Mata and think he’s a great player but it just might be that Mata doesn’t fit in the picture that Ole sees.

"That is obvious otherwise he would have played more often and at some point you have to refresh your squad in certain areas.”

Speaking of which, does a summer overhaul beckon for Manchester United? And if so, where does the experienced coach believe that the Reds fall short?

After insisting that his former club are only one or two signings away from challenging once again for the title, Meulensteen casts his expert eye over a squad that has arguably under-whelmed in recent seasons.

“If you look at the firepower and the pace United have up front along with the variety of abilities they can scare any defence in the Premier League and across Europe.

"In midfield they are strong. You have Pogba to the fore and getting better. Matic is very strong with a lot of experience.

"You could maybe do with another creative player there, a passer that can unlock defences from deep.

“It’s in defence that you maybe need to look at. Valencia is getting on and Ashley Young is a bit older now but still doing a great job.

"Then there is a need for a really good centre-back who can lead from the back and stabilise everything.”

The permanent signing of an ever-smiling, popular Scandinavian might help too.

 

Rene Meulensteen Quickfire Questions:

Score prediction for Leicester vs Manchester United?

There is going to be goals. United will edge it 3-1.

First goal scorer?

Marcus Rashford.

Who will win the Premier League title?

Is it alright if I don’t answer that one?!

Who will win the Premier League Golden Boot?

I think it will be Mo Salah.

Who will win the Champions League?

Juventus with Ronaldo will be there or thereabouts.

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