Every Manchester United captain walks in Roy Keane’s footsteps and most are compared unfavourably with the Irishman, for many the most inspirational skipper Old Trafford has seen.
Harry Maguire wears the armband in an era when Keane has been vocal in his belief United lack leaders, but he rebuffed his predecessor's criticism of the class of 2020, which was broadcast after Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.
“You roll your sleeves up at Man United,” said the captain of the 1999 Treble-winning team. “Things aren’t going your way, and that’s when you look at your leaders and characters. I don’t see any leaders out there.”
If Maguire felt a target of Keane’s stinging criticisms, he disagreed with his verdict. “We don’t bring the negativity into the place, we stay positive and I can for sure say that there’s a lot of leaders in this squad, staff and players,” said the England defender.
Solskjaer, whose upbeat nature has always contrasted with his former team-mate Keane’s negativity, supported Maguire, who he appointed captain. “Roy has always been outspoken,” he said. “I am very glad I have got the players I have here. We have different jobs, and his is to give his opinion.”
United are looking to their leaders on and off the field for direction after a campaign that produces different conclusions.
They are only 15th in the Premier League but face Istanbul Basaksehir Wednesday after beating last season's Champions League runners-up and semi-finalists, in Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig. Maguire struggles to explain the difference in their fortunes.
“It is not something we can’t put our finger on,” he said. “Our league results haven’t been as successful, but we go in with the same focus and preparation.”
Maguire was adamant his own concentration has not been affected by the suspended prison sentence he was given in Greece, a verdict he is appealing.
"My mind is fully focused on football," he said. "Obviously, I had a difficult summer." His form was criticised after the 6-1 defeat to Tottenham and his subsequent sending off as England lost to Denmark, but United's defensive record has improved, with only three goals conceded in five games.
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“We have worked hard since we came back from international break and since then we have been really good. We have conceded two own goals and a soft penalty. We are on the right track but we need to get the right balance.”
Paul Pogba, who conceded that spot kick for a foul on Hector Bellerin, was more blunt in calling it a “stupid mistake.” The midfielder attributed it to being out of breath after running back. “Paul knows that exact incident he could have dealt better,” said Solskjaer. “That is how it is in football, high tempo.”
Pogba had influential cameos as United scored late goals to beat Newcastle and Paris Saint-Germain and started the 5-0 thrashing of Leipzig but it was his first return to the Premier League side since the thrashing by Tottenham, when he also conceded a penalty.
Pogba excelled at times in summer, but has had a difficult start to this season. Four years into his second spell at United, it feels as if his potential will never be realised at Old Trafford. Solskjaer, though, defended the club’s record signing.
“Every player is frustrated after the defeat,” he said. “We need consistency from every one of our players. Paul has had a difficult period with injury, with Covid, so I think we have seen plenty of positives.”
United will be without the injured Jesse Lingard in Turkey but Solskjaer hinted that Anthony Martial, who has been suspended in domestic games, will return in attack.