The 63-year-old met with the media to preview our Premier League final-day trip to Crystal Palace, where a win would definitely be enough to secure a place in next season’s Europa League.
Ahead of that visit to Selhurst Park, Ralf was quizzed on the latest team news, if he had spoken to Erik ten Hag and about recent pitch invasions in England.
Ralf, good to see you, hope you're well. First of all, what's the team news ahead of Sunday?
"We once again unfortunately have quite a few players missing and another couple of players with question marks. We have to wait for tomorrow's last training session, but as it stands now, there will be quite a few players missing but I'm still positive that we will have a strong starting XI and finish the season on a higher note than we did at Brighton. I'm positive that the players want to get things right and show and prove to everybody that they are capable to play a lot better than we did at Brighton. I am also positive that they would much rather play in the Europa League than the Conference League. They will have to play Thursday evening instead of Tuesday or Wednesday, but it's still a big difference if a club like Manchester United plays in Europa League rather than Conference League. You could see that the day before yesterday [Wednesday] when Eintracht Frankfurt, who finished in the lower half of the table in the Bundesliga, won the Europa League and by doing that qualified for the Champions League I think for the first time, maybe in club history, since the Champions League exists. This should also be an incentive for everybody to make sure that we qualify for Europa League at least on Sunday."
Who are the players you have got question marks over? And, you mentioned the last day, the last outing, how important is it that you do finish on a high and you do have a good performance?
"Yeah, there are a few players definitely missing, please understand that I don't want to name all those names right now. A few are still question marks, Luke Shaw's wife gave birth to their second baby today and he was supposed to be back for training tomorrow but apparently he isn't, so we have to wait and see if he would be at least available for the bench on Sunday. In two days' training, we had at least one or two players leaving the training session a little earlier because they couldn't finish the session because they had problems. That was Jadon [Sancho] and Phil Jones, so we need to wait until after the session tomorrow."
Ralf, have you had any further discussions or discussions at all with Erik ten Hag? We know he's in the country, have you been involved in any dialogue with him, and will you meet up with him on Sunday? Is he going to be at the game?
"We've been in contact via WhatsApp and hopefully we'll have the opportunity to meet and speak in person, either over the weekend or on Monday morning at the latest. I'm looking forward to speaking with him in person and getting to know him in person."
Just away from that, there's been a real issue this week with fans invading the pitch. Do you see this as something particular to England, given your experience of working abroad? Is it something that happens there often? Is it something the authorities in this country need to get to grips with?
"I think it's new, it hasn't happened in the last couple of years, as far as I know, at least not in Germany. But it also happened in Germany on a couple of occasions in the last weeks and months so there seems to be unfortunately some sort of trend that this happens. It depends what's happening but what happened yesterday at Goodison Park, I didn't see it in person, if coaches or players of the opposite team are being involved... as long as they celebrate with their own team, everything is okay. As long as everything stays peaceful it's also okay but other people getting involved with the opposite team, I don't think that should happen."
Will you play any of the Youth Cup winning players? That's obviously one of the few positive things that's happened at this football club, and it happened since the Brighton game... will some of them play this weekend?
"Unfortunately, Alejandro [Garnacho] was ill in the last couple of days. He was training with us until midweek last week but then he had to drop out because he was ill, and I think today was the first training session that he was back again. He might well be in the squad but I'm not sure if he's physically, after this illness, capable and fit enough to play."
How frustrated have you been that you've not been able to find the answers to the issues that you've been talking about? Defensive issues, structural issues, not scoring goals when you needed to or as regularly. How frustrating has this period been for you?
"We spoke about that quite at length in the last couple of press conferences, you have to see it in different areas, periods of time. I think until we dropped out against Atletico, and I think this was a vital blow, I think since then we've lost confidence and energy in the team. But until then, I think we stabilised the team defensively compared to the team that shipped four goals against Watford away. Until that Atletico game, we were stable defensively, we also had a few games where we scored goals, when we played well. We spoke about that. But what didn't happen was this development didn't happen in a sustainable way. So, we couldn't keep that on a regular level. Either we had problems to score goals, or we had problems to prevent goals from being scored against us. Since the Atletico game, we just didn't find our form, our shape again and this has got to do with confidence, a little bit also maybe with mentality, team spirit, togetherness and we just fell short in those areas. This for me is the biggest disappointment, that we didn't manage to develop, how should I say, a certain team spirit that helped us even in the difficult parts of the league. This happens also to other teams. This is for me, the biggest issue in hindsight."
We spoke about the issues of the club over the last few months, what would you tell Erik ten Hag that are the positive things that he will be getting?
"I still strongly believe that there are a core of players that are top, that are well worth and good enough to play for this club and hopefully most of those players will still be here next season. As I said earlier on, if the board, Erik, the scouting department will help them with all the issues that I can bring in to help them. If we bring in the right mentality players, the right quality players, I'm positive that we can not only bring this club back on track, but back to the top and this is what it's all about in the next couple of weeks. Maybe, it will not happen and be possible in one transfer window, but I'm very positive that it can happen in the next two or three windows."
With your role, having spoke briefly to Erik, do you have more clarity on what it will be, how much he wants you to be involved?
"Yeah, we spoke about that in detail, about all the different areas where I could maybe be of help. It's not that easy or not that difficult to know which areas this could be. I think we showed that in the last 15 years with Hoffenheim and Salzburg and Leipzig, that even for clubs that are not that prominent as Manchester United, it's possible to identify, develop and even at one stage, sell, and I know that Manchester United should not be a selling club but rather a developing and buying club, [but] that this is possible. What is most important is that the club finds players for whom it is the next logical step in their career, to develop their sportive career and if that happens, I'm more than positive and I can hopefully be encouraging our fans and being positive towards our fans that we will bring Manchester United back to the top."
Published : May 21, 2022
By : THE NATION