Ole Gunnar Solskjær has revealed that fears over safety in the Middle East mean Manchester United have changed their plans to spend the winter break there.
The intention had been to take the team to the region, with Qatar’s Aspire Academy a potential destination, for a pause in the season that begins after Wolves’ visit to Old Trafford on 1 February and ends with the trip to Chelsea 16 days later.
Yet tensions are high after the US ordered the killing of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, Iran retaliated by targeting American airbases in Iraq and Iran accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane.
Solskjær was clear there are concerns. “If there is one thing that worries me, it’s not on the football pitch; there are other things that will worry me more than football,” he said. “We were looking at the Middle East but that is definitely not going to happen. I am going to give them a few days off. I don’t know where they will all scatter around but we will stay in Europe.”
Players are free to travel where they like during their break, including to Dubai, a popular destination.
Solskjær’s more immediate focus is on the FA Cup third-round replay at home against Wolves on Wednesday. With United 27 points off the pace set by Liverpool in the Premier League, this is the seventh season in a row in which the club have failed to challenge for the title. Yet Solskjær’s team are also in the Europa League last 32 and have a Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at Manchester City in a fortnight.
The manager was asked whether there was a danger United could become a team that compete only for cups, as they did primarily in the 1970s and 1980s. “Supporters and the club alike are not happy with not challenging for the top position in the league,” he said. “That is where we feel we should be and many of today’s supporters have lived that period where we won the league consistently.
“At the moment we don’t have that type of team because [over] time we’ve been a bit behind the top ones. It might be that we start with winning a cup and then these players will get the taste … We want to be challenging for the league and the Champions League.”
During the 4-0 win against Norwich on Saturday a section of supporters chanted against Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, and the owners, the Glazers. “We’ve not sat down and talked about it,” Solskjær said. “Our focus is on performing on the pitch and we just need to stick together as a club and be united.”
Asked whether the Glazers would ever be accepted, he said: “Football supporters want to win and my job as a manager [is to do so]. If we keep getting results and start winning trophies – [this] is the main thing for me.”