Manchester United are heading in the right direction under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to Juan Mata, who has credited the Norwegian for injected much-needed “positivity” into the squad.
United appointed Solskjaer to replace Jose Mourinho on an interim basis in December 2018, following a poor run of results which left the team well off the pace in the race for Champions League qualification.
He oversaw 15 wins from his first 17 games at the helm, and was rewarded with a permanent three-year contract, but results then took a turn for the worse.
A drop in collective fitness levels and standards on the pitch saw the Red Devils limp to the finishing line in sixth, without a single piece of silverware to show for their efforts.
United’s inconsistency continued in the first half of the 2019-20 campaign, despite the arrivals of British trio Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James.
However, an upturn in form has coincided with the signing Bruno Fernandes from Sporting in January, with the midfielder injecting a new creative dimension into the starting line up.
United are unbeaten in their last 11 matches, and nine clean sheets have been recorded during that period, easing the pressure on Solskjaer amid reports of ex-Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings to take his position.
Mata says Solskjaer’s reputation at Old Trafford preceded him when he was drafted in to succeed Mourinho, and that his continued presence in the dugout serves as proof “things are going okay” for the Red Devils as they approach the end of a frustrating transitional period.
“Of course, I heard much about him as a player. About that goal, about the many goals,” Mata told United’s official podcast.
“So we had a meeting between us, the team, and they said: ‘Listen, it’s probable that Ole’s going to come. He’s going to take care of the team until the end of the season. He’s coming from Molde in Norway.’
“As soon as he came in, you could see the positivity. You could see the Man United DNA. He knew everyone, he felt like a proper United fan, and he was happy and smiley and full of energy. So we stay with him, and I think that’s a good sign of things going okay.”
The Spain international went on to offer an insight into his relationship with Mourinho, the man who sanctioned his move to Manchester while he was in charge at Chelsea in 2014.
Mata insists the pair have always had a “mutual” respect for one another, despite reports suggesting otherwise upon his Stamford Bridge exit, which continued when they reunited at Old Trafford.
“The respect is mutual, and we never had any personal problem,” he said. “The situation was a football situation. He played in a certain way that maybe didn’t suit perfectly my qualities as a player, and that’s it. Sometimes it happens in football.
“But my mentality [when Mourinho joined United] was: ‘Okay, I’m going to try’. My family was a bit scared. The fans were telling me, ‘What are you going to do?’ But I had it clear in my mind that I’m going to stay and prove that I can play much more than people think, and I did.
“And it’s one of the things that I feel very proud of in my career: having made that decision, testing myself and keeping going and playing, at the end, the Carabao Cup final, the Europa League final, and feeling an important player in the squad.
“That’s how I felt before, and how I felt with him.”