Lee Sharpe interview with Sportingbet
The ex-England midfielder discusses all things Manchester United and filming for Harry Redknapp's new TV show.
Do you think Manchester United will finish in the top 4?
"It’s going to be really difficult for Manchester United to qualify for the Champions League. If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I would have said we would definitely finish in the top 4, but everything has unravelled so quickly with losses to Wolves and Everton that I think the odds are now stacked against them. The only thing that might save Manchester United is that Arsenal and Chelsea have also slipped up otherwise they would be out of sight."
Do Manchester United need to beat Chelsea at Old Trafford to have hopes of finishing in the top four?
"Chelsea at Old Trafford has become Manchester United’s cup final. They’re one of our main rivals to achieve top four and it is a genuine 6-pointer. Man Utd need to win that game if they’re to qualify for the Champions League. You’d have to expect six points against Cardiff and Huddersfield, but that will be too little too late if they draw or lose against Chelsea. If Manchester United get beaten by Chelsea at Old Trafford then they don’t deserve to be in the top four."
How important is it that Manchester United qualify for next season’s Champions League?
"It’s absolutely massive that Manchester United qualify for next season’s Champions League. It’s going to be nearly impossible for the club to build and improve how they need to if they don’t make it into the top competition, especially with Solskjaer in charge. There are so many question marks at Manchester United and whether they will be able to return to the top that the last thing they needed was an unknown entity steering the ship through choppy waters.
"I’m adamant that Manchester United should have waited until the end of season to see if they made the Champions League before naming their manager. Players will look at Manchester United as an attractive proposition due to the history and contracts they can earn, but there will be big question marks over the lack of Champions League and there’s no proof Solskjaer has the ability to deliver what they want.
"Soskjaer will not have the same pulling power for players that a Pochettino would have and that’s even more crucial without Champions League football. Mourinho was never a manager I wanted at Man Utd, but he was at least still able to attract elite players to the club when they weren’t in the Champions League. I think Pochettino would have had a similar effect but that’s not the case with Solskjaer."
Who has been your player of the season so far?
"I’ve been very impressed with Luke Shaw this season and I think he has arguably been our player of the year. I think he has the potential to become one of the best full backs in the world. He has come back from being killed by Mourinho to flourish this season and I think he will be a stronger player and a person as a result of those struggles. It showed a real mental toughness to come back from a manager who seemed intent on destroying his confidence. Shaw will only progress next season now he has consolidated his position as first choice full back.
"I think it has been fantastic to see Rashford prove himself as a striker this season. He has really come on leaps and bounds now that he has earned the confidence of Solskjaer. Mourinho loved forcing him to play out wide where he was less effective, but we’re now seeing him in goalscoring positions more often and prove how much of a weapon he can be. It’s easy to forget how young he is and it’s scary to think how good he could become if he continues to play every week."
Should Manchester United build their team around Paul Pogba?
"Paul Pogba is so frustrating to watch because you look at all of the assets that he has to his game – the pace, the power and the athleticism – and it’s impossible to think that he shouldn’t be dominating games every week. He has all the ability in the world to score goals, create goals and singlehandedly drag his teams to a win, but he doesn’t do it anywhere near as often as he should do.
"I don’t know if we expect too much of Pogba because we cannot forget his price tag. He can lose concentration in defensive areas and it has cost the team on numerous occasions, but everyone would forgive that if he performed to his potential when going forwards. Pogba should be the Roy Keane or Bryan Robson of today’s generation but I’m beginning to doubt if he has that mentality or leadership qualities. He shows flashes of brilliance but nearly as often as he should do."
Should Chris Smalling have been handed a new deal? Do you think one of them will be offloaded this summer?
"I was surprised to see Chris Smalling and Phil Jones sign new contracts at Manchester United. I think they have become symbols of the club’s poor recruitment since Sir Alex Ferguson that they’re both still regular starters despite the money that has been spent. I don’t think Smalling or Jones should be too comfortable though as Manchester United might have extended their contracts just to increase their value in the transfer market.
"I actually think that Smalling can get a raw deal from the Manchester United fans and he can be a little too harshly treated. He is a central defender that offers no thrills but who gives everything for the badge and absolutely loves to defend. The issue is that he has been at Manchester United for a long time and he has never been able to shake that feeling a mistake is waiting to happen from his game. If it hasn’t gone by now, I don’t think it ever will. Smalling is a good squad player but shouldn’t be first choice for a team hoping to win the Premier League."
Do you think Manchester United can rely on Victor Lindelof?
"I think Lindelof has all the qualities to become a world class defender and I’ve been very impressed with how he has improved this season after a shaky start last year. He is quick and strong and he looks like he loves to defend. I think Mourinho really hindered our defence by destroying their confidence and filling them with fear. I expect Lindelof to be our first-choice central defender next season, with a new signing alongside him."
Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo haven’t had much game time this season. Do you think they will leave this summer?
"Rojo will leave Manchester United this summer because he has never proved himself at the club and has rarely played in the last couple of years. I think Bailly is a different story. Bailly looked very good when he first arrived and he has something of a cult following among a section of the fans. I thought Bailly would go on to achieve great things at Manchester United but he hasn’t kicked on so far and has regularly been hampered by injuries. I think he could be first choice defender and form a partnership with Lindelof next year if he gets a pre-season."
Do you think Ander Herrera and Juan Mata will be allowed to leave Manchester United on a free transfer?
"For players of Mata and Herrera’s calibre to leave Manchester United on a free transfer would be absolutely scandalous. It would be criminal to let Herrara leave the club at this point in time when he has so much energy and talent left to offer. There’s talk about a lack of leaders at Manchester United and he leads by example with his work ethic on the pitch and his desire to perform for the badge.
"Juan Mata is a different story and I can understand why Manchester United would be willing to let him go, but it would be criminal for him to be let go on a free contract. It shows a real lack of leadership and accountability at the top that the club has so many players who are nearing the end of their contracts who now hold all of the cards in negotiations. Manchester United will likely lose players they don’t want to lose or not get the value they want for their players and that all comes from the top."
Do you think David de Gea will sign a new contract in the summer?
"I wouldn’t be surprised if De Gea were to leave Manchester United this season if we don’t qualify for the Champions League. He only has a year left on his contract so the club has reached the crossroads whereby he either signs a new deal or they have to cash in this summer. It would be a massive disappointment because I still think De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world, despite a few tough games recently.
"I don’t understand why Manchester United haven’t offered De Gea that he has asked for. He has spent almost a decade making unbelievable saves and he has shown great loyalty to the club by staying through tough times under a few different managers. Not only is De Gea irreplaceable, but it would cost the club more money to sign a lesser goalkeeper than it would to give him what he wants. We have seen with the likes of Alisson and Kepa last summer that it would cost a fortune to sign a world class goalkeeper anywhere near the quality of De Gea, plus they would expect a very good contract as well. Manchester United should reward him and be happy knowing they have the best goalkeeper in the world between their posts for the next four or five years."
Lukaku has endured a quiet season at Old Trafford. Do you think he will stay at Manchester United?
"I think Manchester United have a decision to make with Lukaku this summer. It is a difficult one because he does tend to score goals, though rarely against the top teams. However, the main issue is that you need to play to Lukaku’s strengths otherwise he is of little value on the pitch. You almost need to forget that he is big, strong and powerful or don’t bother expecting him to play as a traditional no.9 because his first touch and hold up play aren’t world class. He can’t play up front on his own with wide men either side so something needs to change otherwise Manchester United should cash in this summer.
"If Lukaku is to stay at Old Trafford, I think he needs to play on the right wing in a similar fashion to how he does for Belgium. He does have a surprising amount of pace and he can still cut inside onto his favoured left foot to shoot or cross the ball. The other option would be to revert back to the old fashioned partnership up front with Rashford playing alongside him and feeding off of him."
Paul Pogba has been linked with a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid this summer. Do you think Paul Pogba will leave Manchester United?
"Pogba is continuously linked with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but I have serious doubts whether he would fit into either of those teams. I definitely don’t see him as a Barcelona type player because he isn’t mobile enough getting around the pitch or reliable enough in possession of the ball. Real Madrid might look at Pogba and think he fits into their transfer strategy of buying big name players with huge marketing potential, while Zidane might feel confident he can get the best out of his countryman on the pitch.
"I think it will be tough for Manchester United to keep Paul Pogba if they fail to qualify for the Champions League. However, I do think that Pogba is one of the few players who genuinely cares for the club and he loves Solskjaer. I think he is a lot more honest than people give him credit for. Pogba might be convinced to give it another season on the basis he can move on next summer if Man Utd don’t qualify for the Champions League again. "
Who would be your dream centre back for Manchester United next season?
"There’s no doubt that Manchester United badly need to sign a new central defender after conceding so many goals this season. I’ve seen reports linking the club with the likes of Koulibaly from Napoli and Sule from Bayern Munich, but I think we need to look closer to home in the Premier League.
"I think Toby Alderweireld would be an excellent addition to the Manchester United squad. I’d take him tomorrow if they can steal him from Tottenham. Alderweireld has been spoken about for the last 18 months or so at Manchester United so I would love to see the club take advantage of the clause in his contract this summer. Alderweireld would be a great addition to the current squad as he knows the Premier League and is an excellent defender."
Do you think Manchester United need to buy a right full back in the summer transfer window?
"I think Manchester United have to prioritises signing a new full back this summer. It is hard to believe that Ashley Young is first choice despite his age and being a converted winger. That should never be allowed to happen.
"I’ve been impressed with Dalot’s debut season in the Premier League. He looks very comfortable on the ball and he is clearly a fantastic crosser of the ball so he might actually be wasted playing in that full back role. Soskjaer has pushed him further forwards on a few occasions so I wonder if that’s where his future might be at Manchester United.
"Wan-Bissaka could be an option for Manchester United next season after a very strong year at Crystal Palace. The club will be looking at someone who has had a good season in the Premier League so Wan-Bissaka would be a prime target who ticks those boxes. I think he has really benefitted from working with Roy Hodgson too who has a reputation for being very organised and defensively sound. He would settle in very quickly at Manchester United so it’s a move I would like to see happen."
Manchester United have been linked with young England internationals Callum Hudson-Odoi and Declan Rice. Do they fit the profile?
"Declan Rice would be ideal for Manchester United because they’re in desperate need of a shield in front of the defence and Matic is on his last legs. Rice has had a good season at West Ham and he is composed on the ball. It’s in Manchester United’s DNA to have a strong English contingent and it would be great to see that continue.
"Callum Hudson-Odoi is another player who might be able to fulfil his potential at Manchester United, but I don’t see that move happening. I’m not sure the club will have seen enough of him during his time at Chelsea to convince them he is worth paying the reported fees involved. There’s also the big question of Chelsea’s transfer ban so I doubt they’ll be in the mood to lose anybody. If Manchester United are able to prize anybody away from Chelsea, I would love it to be Kante who fits the bill perfectly and is not being used correctly by Sarri. "
Harry's Heroes - the Full English
How much did you enjoy filming Harry Redknapp’s Full English?
"It was so much fun filming Harry’s Heroes: The Full English for ITV. You really miss the dressing room environment and all of the banter that goes with it once you have retired so it honestly felt like going back to school again. The lads are all just bonkers when we get together and we spent the entire time laughing. It was a great excuse to reconnect with the guys and get back into a gym routine to shift some weight we had all told ourselves didn’t really exist. The show did a great job at editing and I think it was a great series that gave an insight into a lot of different things that go well beyond the football that fans tend to see on TV."
You were put through your paces with a personal trainer. How difficult was it to lose weight and get fit for the show?
"We would only meet up as a squad once a week to undergo fitness training with the coaches so a lot of it was having to motivate yourself to stick to the regime while trusting your teammates are doing the same. I’ve got two young children both under 3 years old so I was up all night dealing with that before going to the gym at 6am every morning. It was very tiring and you realise sleep is a valuable commodity."
Who do you think still has that talent with their pure footballing abilities?
"I think the lads who I was surprised most by how they’d retained their abilities were Paul Merson, Robbie Fowler and Matt le Tissier. They’re obviously not as fast as they used to be and they don’t have that endurance anymore, but when they get the ball it is magic to watch. All three of them still have amazing abilities and it’s brilliant to see."
Do you think there’ll be a second series of Harry’s Heroes?
"A sequel to Harry’s Heroes: The Full English is definitely in the works. The entire squad enjoyed it and we’ve all said we would love to do it again. I think ITV are happy with how the series went and I’d like to think the fans were too. We’re waiting for the squad to be announced and it feels like the old days waiting for the phone to ring to find out if we have been picked or not! Watch this space and there might be a second series to tune into."BET NOW