December 7, 2023
Europa League: Usain Bolt gives his verdict on Manchester United's season so far

Europa League: Usain Bolt gives his verdict on Manchester United’s season so far

Although, given United’s struggles in recent years, perhaps enjoyment isn’t quite the right word.

Since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013, the club has won just three trophies and is yet to mount anything close to something resembling a serious Premier League title challenge.

After a difficult start, this season has provided cause for optimism, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team going on a impressive run to climb to second in the table, but United’s defensive frailties too often prove to be its undoing.

Those shortcomings saw the club fail to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League and drop into the Europa League, where it will now face AC Milan in Thursday’s round of 16 second leg following the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last week.

“It’s not been the best season,” Bolt admits. “In fact, I’m actually surprised we’re in second place, you know what I mean, because it’s been so up and down.

“So I’m just happy that we’re in the top four. Now hopefully we get at least one trophy this year because I think we definitely need one. So I just got to cross my fingers and hope for the best!”

Usain Bolt on the pitch at Old Trafford with a United shirt displaying the time in which he won the 100m final at London 2012.

Ole in or Ole out?

Solskjær enjoyed a sensational run after being appointed United’s caretaker head coach in December 2018, but it’s fair to say the path since has been rocky.

Under the Norwegian coach, United has been one of the most bewildering teams in the Premier League; scintillating one game and then capitulating the next.

There have been the highs of the recent derby victory over bitter rival Manchester City and the lows of a 6-1 defeat to Tottenham, but Solskjær is yet to deliver what fans crave the most: silverware.

Bolt remains torn on whether the club legend is the right man to lead United to trophies.

“If he changes … he’s too nice,” he says. “That’s the only thing I can say, he’s too nice. He never really says anything bad about any player, even if they don’t play good and that’s the only thing.

“But if he changes and really pressures the players, you know what I mean, calls them out sometimes when they really didn’t put their all into it, then I feel like he should stay because he is cool and the fans love him.”

Fans around the world regularly discuss which players should start and which should be dropped from the lineup, but what changes would Bolt make if he were the one shouting orders from the technical area at Old Trafford?

“I think Fred should not be in the midfield,” he says. “I think he is lacking so much. He works hard, but he’s lacking passing and he gives away a lot of cheap fouls in bad areas — and we definitely need more strikers, somebody that’s really a pure striker.

“I think [Edinson] Cavani needs to play more. I definitely feel like as long as he’s fit, he should be on the field, you know what I mean, and overall I think we need to just pressure all the players. I feel like they’re so comfortable now because they know they’re going to start.

“If you’re sure of your spot, then you don’t play as hard as you should. So it’s just one of those things I feel like needs to change and we’ll be fine.”

Brilliant Bruno

Few signings in recent years have changed a club’s fortunes as quickly as Bruno Fernandes has at United.

In little over 12 months at the club, the lithe Portuguese midfielder has become something of a talisman. There is no question he is now the most important player in the squad.

Fernandes is the joint second highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season and also boasts an impressive 10 assists, but Bolt is concerned the team is becoming over reliant on his talents.

“It’s been brilliant,” Bolt says of his impact. “He’s outstanding, but it worries me to know that if Bruno doesn’t play, we look shaky, we don’t look like a football team, you know what I mean.

“He has to play every game, but I love his energy, I love he always wants to be playing, even if we’re leading by 10 he wants to be on the field and that’s how players should be; he always wants to be on the field, always wants to do well and always just push yourself to be the best version of himself.

“If he continues at this pace, I feel like maybe next season when he gets a lot more players around him, hopefully, some different strikers, he’s going to be great, because it’s going to be less pressure. You have a lot more space to roam and do more. So if he continues like this, he’s going to be outstanding.”

Usain Bolt recreates his famous celebration on the pitch at Old Trafford.

Another of Manchester United’s best players this season, Marcus Rashford, has also drawn much praise for his work off the pitch

His successful campaigning not once, but twice forced the UK government into a U-turn on policies to help feed children from low-income families and the England forward has also since launched a book club to help provide more kids from underprivileged backgrounds the opportunity to read.

“It’s massive,” Bolt says of Rashford’s work. “It’s our duty as superstars — or however you want to class us — to actually use our fame to really help in any way we can because most of us, we came from nothing, so we understand the struggles that people actually go through on a daily basis.

“So in any way you can help, you should. So for me, I tip my hat to him for a fact, because he has done a great thing and helped a lot of kids.”

Bolt himself enjoyed a brief foray into professional football, scoring twice on his debut for Australian side Central Coast Mariners in a pre-season friendly back in 2018.

The Jamaican had also been training with Borussia Dortmund and Norwegian side Strømsgodset, before playing in Australia.

However, he hung up his football boots after failing to reach agree a deal with the Mariners.

“It’s something that I really enjoyed,” Bolt says fondly. “The only regret … I think I would have gotten a better chance if I had stayed in Europe, but I was worried about the European press. You guys are savage!” he laughs.

“So I decided to go [to Australia], but it was a lot of fun. Now I just play six-a-side of my friends, just for fun.”