Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been such a breath of fresh air at Manchester United that defender Phil Jones senses the “same buzz” as when Sir Alex Ferguson was manager.
Having superbly steered the ship on a caretaker basis after Jose Mourinho’s December sacking, the 1999 treble hero was rewarded on Thursday with a three-year deal.
There was a celebratory atmosphere ahead of Watford’s visit to Old Trafford on Saturday, when Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial goals sealed a narrow 2-1 win on an uncomfortable afternoon.
Solskjaer knows it was a “sloppy” display and Jones accepts it was far from their best, but the long-serving defender is excited for the future and loving life under the Norwegian.
“The lads are buzzing,” the England international said. “He’s come in, he’s been a breath of fresh air for us.
“He’s put the arms around the shoulders of people who needed it. His man-management skills are terrific and he’s definitely what we need going forward.
“I think everyone can see that (he has laid foundations).
“I think the fans, the media, I think everyone can see what he’s done and how he wants to play since he has come, and I think we’ve shown that in quite a few games.
“It’s positive, we’re looking forward and we’re pleased with the result today.”
Ferguson was at Old Trafford to see his former striker win his first match since becoming permanent manager.
The feel-good factor and return to United’s traditions have led to comparisons the Scottish great – talk that Jones, part of Ferguson’s league-winning side in 2013, understands.
“Yeah, I definitely I feel the same sort of vibe about the place,” the defender said.
“The same buzz. The same… I don’t know, like you can’t really put your finger on it, but I know exactly what you’re saying.
“You can see similarities in that stage between now and back then. It’s nice, it’s refreshing and we’re all enjoying it.”
That enjoyment is bringing results. Having been 11 points off the top four when Mourinho was sacked, Solskjaer has won a remarkable 35 points since December – more than any other Premier League team has managed in that period.
Asked what that tally says how close United are from challenging moving forwards, Jones said: “I don’t think we’re far away. I think obviously we had a poor start to the season.
“It’s sort of like a story of two halves of the season, really.
“He’s come in and done a terrific job. I’m delighted he’s here now and we can move forward and progress under him.
“I think that’s the vision for the players, for the staff, for the fans, everyone involved in this football club (to win trophies).
On to Molineux for our next @PremierLeague game!
📆 Tuesday 2 April⌚ 19:45 BST pic.twitter.com/5yDyiTZyfj
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 31, 2019
“It’s a wonderful place to play football and that’s where we want to get back to.”
Even Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster can see that United are on the up under a man he saw up close during his time at Old Trafford.
“I am delighted for Ole,” he said. “He was actually my reserve manager at United once I’d been bombed out of the first team!
“He was great, though, Ole. I’ll always have a really good word to say about him, as will probably anyone who has ever met the guy.
“He’s a top bloke and I am sure the lads will enjoy playing for him as well.
“I just saw him on the pitch coming off. It’s the first chance I’ve had to say, ‘well done’ to him and that I am really happy for him.
“But he just brings a togetherness and I think management nowadays has evolved, where players almost know what they’re doing.
“They just need somebody who can really instil confidence and stick an arm around players and tell them that they’re doing a good job.
We maybe deserved more but we can be proud we have it a good go! Big week coming up👊
— Ben Foster (@BenFoster) March 30, 2019
“I think that’s what they’ve been lacking in the last couple of years.”
Asked if he had noticed a change in the atmosphere at his former club, Foster said: “Yeah, it just seems a better place, a happier environment and that’s what Ole brings.
“When I was playing for him when I was in the reserves here, he was just brilliant.
“Everybody loves playing for him, you go out on the pitch with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.”