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Matic, Solskjaer & Man Utd: Why even Alexis can find way back

COMMENT: Whether it's Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard or even Alexis Sanchez. If they're shown the door at Manchester United this summer, none of them can claim it was personal...

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn't hold grudges. He doesn't do rifts. No matter what's been said - or even done - before, there is always a way back under this United manager. It's only about what a player can do for him that matters.

For those and their agents now staring at life away from Old Trafford, none can claim it was about personalities. And the proof is staring at them across the dressing room.

Much has been made about the clear-the-air meeting between Solskjaer and Nemanja Matic at the start of the season. The Serb was struggling to see a way back after largely finding himself sidelined by his manager. With only months, rather than years, left on his contract, Matic was regularly wondering aloud in public where he would be next season.

A meeting was held to thrash out things. But there was no instant reaction from Solskjaer. Indeed, the feedback Matic received during the set-two was positive. It basically came down to numbers and systems. At the time, just as in the previous season, the manager simply saw others - particularly Scott McTominay - ahead of the veteran.

But when the Mancunian broke down on Boxing Day at Newcastle United, Matic spied - and was granted - his chance. And the Serb never looked back.

Significantly, despite the little digs - whether deliberate or misinterpreted - from Matic during the season, "he chooses the team... if we don't win he'll have to answer accordingly". The complaints about a lack of progress regarding new contract talks, "we need to decide whether I leave or stay". Solskjaer looked beyond all that and saw value in recalling a player who had hardly set the world alight earlier in the season.

But what Matic had done was get his head down and work. In training. At Carrington. Matic never skipped a beat. He never let his standards slip. And at the end of it all, it was what Solskjaer was seeking. Consistency. Reliability. These qualities matter to a manager.

"I talked to the club. I told them to the last day I would do my best and be professional...," the Serb saying in public what Solskjaer was seeing behind Carrington's gates.

Today, of course, it's been a complete 180 for Matic. With him anchoring the midfield, United never lost. A run off 11 unbeaten games, at home and in Europe, no coincidence. And even with McTominay's return, Solskjaer found a way to sit the Scotland international alongside Matic, rather than replace him. The Serb has now seen his contract not only extended a further year, but also improved. The reward coming from simply waiting and waiting before grabbing that latest playing chance with both hands.

Nemanja Vidic, the former United captain, summed it up: "You cannot judge the character of every player off the field, but when you see what he is doing on the pitch, you are clear about the personality of Nemanja Matic.

"First, how calm he is. He is also like that off the field.

"He is reliable and responsible too..."

Six months ago, Matic was on his way out. He was a spent force. His legs had gone. His reactions dulled. He was basically about to be pensioned off to Serie A. Or so that was the common line for those on the outside looking in.

But inside Carrington, the door never shut. Solskjaer kept an open mind. And that approach has been rewarded since the turn of the year.

Which is why you can't write off any player on United's squad list today. Not even Pogba, Lingard or Alexis. As frustrating as it may be for some, including this column, Pogba will be given every chance by Solskjaer to re-establish himself in his manager's plans. Ditto Lingard. Despite the social media obsession; the antics of their agent Mino Raiola; if either midfielder can offer value on and off the pitch, all will be forgotten.

And the same, to a different degree, will be the case for Alexis. No-one at United would draw comparisons between the Chilean's attitude and professionalism with that of Lingard and Pogba. But rotten luck with injuries and a confidence crisis has the striker unwanted at loan club Inter Milan and unsure of where he stands with United. But Solskjaer, as he did with Matic, isn't writing off the veteran.

"Alexis will come back in the summer and prove you all wrong," the manager stated in January.

The door's open. And as Matic proved this season, a place in Solskjaer's squad is really for the player to lose. Even if you're name is Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard or even Alexis Sanchez.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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