Television punditry has a fair amount of clout in the actual footballing world these days, to the point where managers are often asked about comments made with regards to their side.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been known to respond when probed by the media, especially when the criticism comes from an ex Manchester United player, usually a former teammate of his, such as Gary Neville or Roy Keane.
You can put Paul Scholes in a rather more understated category of pundits, yet the former midfield magician can be outspoken when the situation demands. He was in one of these moods following United’s lacklustre yet inconsequential 2-1 victory over LASK at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
One of the BT Sport pundit’s main points, after Jesse Lingard scored his second United goal in as many games, was to question the future of the Warrington-born midfielder.
“I just think at United now he’s become a squad player,” Scholes observed, quite rightly.
“[He is] 28 in December, he should be at the peak of his career. Does he want to be playing 10, 15, possibly 20 games a season at his age? I don’t think so. I think he still has ambitions to get into the England squad and he needs to find some form for that.”
This was all fair enough. Lingard’s struggles over the past 18 months have been well documented, with the player admitting himself that he’s been affected by off-field family matters. But with two recent goals boosting his confidence and Lingard stating his desire to remain at United and earn himself more game-time, the timing was a little strange for Scholes to be suggesting an exit.
Scholes added: “Is he going to get that chance? I don’t think so at United unless there’s a lot of injuries and a lot of people out. I don’t see him getting a lot of games unless he moves to a club, say a mid-table team like Everton, West Ham.
“Jesse is a good lad, there’s a lot of ability in there. He just needs a run of games to do it and I don’t think he’ll get that at United.”
Scholes is right in many ways on this. Lingard certainly has ability and needs regular games to return to his best form, which we saw in the 2018 World Cup with England. But with the 27-year-old again approaching something resembling form — scoring goals and looking confident — it feels like he merits a squad role under Solskjaer.
The United boss has always backed him and you suspect Lingard’s name won’t top the exit list this summer. United need attacking options and, with Daniel James woefully off colour, Tahith Chong on the verge of a loan exit, plus doubt surrounding Andreas Pereira’s future, Lingard has more than a chance.
He has a chance even if United land their top transfer priority and sign Jadon Sancho this summer.
That is why Scholes’ next point, that United should be looking to sign a centre-forward instead of Sancho, made such little sense. Scholes believes Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford should be filling the wide positions at Old Trafford, with Tottenham’s Harry Kane the ideal addition as a focal point.
But that’s not how Solskjaer is building his United attack, so Sancho and Lingard as well as the three aforementioned attackers, could all form a part of the squad.
“I don’t think it’s a major priority,” Scholes added on the prospect of signing Sancho. “Don’t get me wrong, he is a top-quality footballer. He would improve Liverpool, Man City and Barcelona.
“He is a goalscorer and would make lots of goals. But we have three wide-stroke-centre-forwards who are very similar to Sancho. They might not be as good as him but they could be.
“If that was Harry Kane we were talking about, I think we would be more desperate. We need a centre forward but Ole doesn’t seem like he wants that type of player anymore.”
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Solskjaer may listen to the likes of Keane, Neville and Scholes on occasion. But the United boss knows what he wants in the transfer market and he knows lots of fluidity and versatility in his forward line are needed. That’s why United want to sign Sancho, and why an on-form Lingard should be retained.
Scholes speaks with passion about United, you can see he cares. But his advice is well wide of the mark this time.