Sat. Mar 6th, 2021

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MICAH RICHARDS: Waving the white flag shows Man United have lost their aura

6 min read

Sometimes it’s the little things that show you just how big a change has been. I felt that way when listening to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last week.

‘We’re not talking about winning the title,’ said Solskjaer after second-placed Manchester United’s 3-3 draw with Everton. ‘We’ve come a long way with this team and we should not be considered as title contenders.’

Micah Richards pens his thoughts every week, exclusively for Sportsmail

Micah Richards pens his thoughts every week, exclusively for Sportsmail

That is not an attitude I associate with Old Trafford. When I was a youth team player at Manchester City, we felt the United lads were cocky and had football arrogance. 

You don’t tend to talk to each other when you are football rivals but, later on, I became friends with some members of their team.

I know Chris Eagles, Aaron Burns and Fraizer Campbell who all came through at United and are a similar age to me. In recent years, I’ve asked them where the attitude came from.

Chris was an outstanding player at youth level, while Aaron and Fraizer were a partnership like Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. They all said the same thing.

Every day they were at training, the message was drummed into them from the coaches — a message which came down right from the top of the club: you are the best there is and you are here to win. It was a mantra that made them feel invincible, an attitude that rubbed off on everyone.

You could see it when you turned up for England. I remember Gary Neville would say at the end of each camp: ‘Right lads, three points on Saturday then, normal service resumes!’

Despite being just off the Premier League summit Man United look to be waving the white flag

Despite being just off the Premier League summit Man United look to be waving the white flag

United saw themselves as the standard-setters, they had confidence, there were no insecurities.

They became so used to winning, they did not have to fret about what was coming next.

‘We are Manchester United — what do we have to worry about?’ The confidence from the club emitted around the city. United fans carried a swagger that came from knowing they were watching the best.

Excuses were never part of that culture but now it feels like they make excuses all the time if something goes wrong. Reds will dismiss me as a ‘Bitter Blue’ for raising this but, believe me, I’ve nothing but the greatest respect for their club.

When Solskjaer was getting criticism at the beginning of the season, I stuck up for him. When they have had big victories or their players have done well, I’ve always been positive about them. I raise the point now because Solskjaer’s words were so surprising.

Ole Gunnar Solskajer's words after his side's late draw to Everton came across as defeatist

Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s words after his side’s late draw to Everton came across as defeatist

It is a far cry from the United glory days when a winning mentality was drilled into the team

It is a far cry from the United glory days when a winning mentality was drilled into the team

How can Manchester United not be considered title contenders? This is Manchester United! They are five points behind City with 15 games to go. The teams play each other at the Etihad Stadium in three weeks — anything is possible in this most unusual season. Why wave the white flag now?

It’s not the United way to concede. I know the club has been in transition since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and there were difficulties for David Moyes (who had the hardest task of all), Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho but Solskjaer’s appointment brought stability.

After that honeymoon period, when Solskjaer revived the atmosphere, their focus had to be about winning once again. No matter how much the people at a club change, the values should never alter: United exist to be successful, they are one of the biggest clubs in world football, they are not some over-achieving mid-table team.

Let’s be honest: if you sign for United — or City, Chelsea or Liverpool — you do so because you think you can win the Premier League.

What other reason would you go for? Harry Maguire is 28 next month, he left Leicester because he felt it was the final step forward in his career for honours.

The likes of Edinson Cavani (right) did not join United with the aim to be finishing in second

The likes of Edinson Cavani (right) did not join United with the aim to be finishing in second

Edinson Cavani didn’t join United to just see out time. Look at him — he’s had an incredible career and is still in peak physical condition. Are you telling me that he would be happy to just sit back and settle for coming second? No chance. It’s never been in his nature.

Perhaps there was some reverse psychology in Solskjaer’s words and he is telling his squad privately that they are ready to attack with everything they have got. The thing that sticks in my mind, though, is the way they performed at Anfield last month.

I said that day they would not win the title playing in such a way and I stick to it. Liverpool were vulnerable and had players missing. Anfield was empty — arguably no other stadium in the country has been so dramatically changed by no fans — and the opportunity was there for United to take advantage.

City took advantage last weekend, pouncing when they saw the opening appear. United, if they truly believed, could have done the same but they were too passive. Looking at that match again, it makes Solskjaer’s admission after the draw with Everton feel even more significant.

United have been expensively assembled and the players should be ready to deliver. In a one-match shootout they are capable of beating anyone, as they showed away at Paris Saint-Germain in October. But where has the belief gone to show that performances like that can be sustained?

It says, to me that the culture has changed and standards have been allowed to be lowered. That was never the Manchester United way.

From endless trophies and constant challenging the standards at United seem to have lowered

From endless trophies and constant challenging the standards at United seem to have lowered

Davies has come of age

Tom Davies announced himself to the British football public with a man-of-the-match performance and a goal for Everton in January 2017 during a 4-0 win over Manchester City.

He was only 18 and it was surely a day he will never forget but, in some ways, it was also a curse for him.

Those with only a passing interest in Everton would have wondered why he wasn’t repeating those efforts every week. His owns fans — who demand so much from local players — would have expected it to be the norm.

Lots of pressure was placed on Tom Davies following his stunning 2017 debut against Man City

Lots of pressure was placed on Tom Davies following his stunning 2017 debut against Man City

Legendary manager Carlo Ancelotti sees the qualities in Davies and is helping him thrive

Legendary manager Carlo Ancelotti sees the qualities in Davies and is helping him thrive

Football doesn’t work that way, particularly for teenagers. Davies had a lot of growing up to do to cope with the Premier League, and he also had to deal with a lot of scrutiny, with some critics saying he was more bothered about fashion because of his unconventional dress sense.

But he’s put his head down and worked and I was delighted to see Davies play so well in the draw against Manchester United and then again against Tottenham in the FA Cup fifth round this week.

Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti knows everything about football. For him to be picking Davies in his midfield tells you everything you need to know about Tom’s ability.

MICAH’S MOMENT OF THE WEEK 

For all the focus on the problems with social media in recent weeks, it must be pointed out there is also a good side to it. 

This past week there were plenty of laughs on my channels, not least thanks to the people who got to work on Jamie Carragher.

For those of you who don’t know, let me explain: during the Liverpool-Manchester City game, Carra let out a groan as Liverpool’s defenders got into a mess. The best way to describe it was somewhere between a groan, a yelp and an angry bull letting off steam. 

It was quickly picked up on and has now been added to songs by John Legend, Justin Bieber and Whitney Houston — and I’ve laughed myself silly at each one! Carra has joined in with all the laughter, too.

I used to think he was ultra-serious but having worked with him on Sky, as well as for CBS in the Champions League, I know what a good lad he is. It’s clear he’ll never be a singer, though!

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