Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hit back at criticism of Manchester United’s decision to sign Donny van de Beek by insisting the Holland midfielder will have an important role to play this season, despite his peripheral involvement so far.
Van de Beek has been limited to just 63 minutes of action from the substitutes’ bench in the Premier League and Champions League for United since his £40 million move from Ajax in the summer, with his two starts coming in the Carabao Cup against Luton and Brighton.
Despite United being held to a drab goalless draw against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Saturday night, Van de Beek failed to get off the bench.
It led the former United defender, Patrice Evra, and ex Holland striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to question why the Manchester club had bought the midfielder given that he is behind Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the pecking order.
But Solskjaer is adamant Van de Beek’s chance will come as he looks to build on last week’s impressive 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain against RB Leipzig, Champions League semi-finalists last season, at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. “I think it says a lot about our depth of quality in the squad that we don't have to use him every single game because we have other players as well,” the United manager said.
“I also think it says everything about our ambitions - we want to push on, we want to go and challenge for trophies this season. Donny is going to play a big, big part this year.
“At the moment, I realise the topic is Donny van de Beek and it’s nice for some players or commentators to have a little go. I know you’re short for time when you’re on telly and you have to put your points across very quickly but you have to know that you don’t have to start the first three games to be a very important player in the squad.
“I’d be disappointed if some of my team-mates said that I wasn’t important at Man United but I didn’t start many games, so Donny’s going to be very very important for us, don’t worry about that.”
Since watching United lose their opening game to Crystal Palace and then claim a fortuitous win at Brighton before being crushed 6-1 by Tottenham, Solskjaer has seemed much less convinced about the merits of playing Pogba and Fernandes in the same team. Scott McTominay and Fred have anchored the midfield for the past three matches, including the PSG win, with Pogba relegated to the bench behind Fernandes which, in turn, has pushed Van de Beek even further down the pecking order and invited questions.
“Why did we buy him?” Evra asked. “He’s watching the game from the stands every game because we don’t need him. That’s the truth but people will not say it loud.” Hasselbaink concurred. “You’re spot on. He is a player that has to play in the position of Fernandes or Pogba,” the former Chelsea striker said. “So he’s an attacking midfielder who’s strength is getting in the box and getting on the end of things and scoring goals, or creating, like Fernandes. And if he has to compete with Fernandes, he’s not going to play, is he?”
With Pogba’s longer-term future still uncertain, there is a theory Van de Beek was bought, in part, in anticipation of the Frenchman leaving next year. Solskjaer, though, welcomes the competition for places.
“I’ve been part of a successful Man United team myself and we had two players in every single position,” he said. “It’s not easy to leave players out, it’s very difficult. But I don’t feel that pressure. The pressure is on getting results. But it’s a nice challenge and a nice problem to have. I’d rather have that one than having to play players that are not ready.”
McTominay knows the importance of being patient and sees no reason for Van de Beek to worry. “I feel like there’s no time to panic for Donny,” the Scotland midfielder said. “People can be so quick to come to an assumption that he’s not playing and things like that. Give him time, let him adapt to the league, let him settle into his new house or wherever he is living and really let him concentrate on his season. You can see the way Donny comes to training every day, a big smile on his face, wanting to work hard, wanting to really impress everybody.
“As the manager said, I’m so confident Donny will be such an important figure in this team and throughout the whole season.”