Phil Jones says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a “breath of fresh air” at Manchester United.
The 1999 treble hero was rewarded for his exceptional caretaker stint with a contract to stay on as Jose Mourinho’s permanent successor for the next three seasons.
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 arms around the shoulders of people who needed it.
“His man management skills are terrific and he’s definitely what we need going forward. Everyone can see that (he has laid foundations).
“The fans, the media, everyone can see what he’s done and how he wants to play since he has come, and we’ve shown that in quite a few games.
“It’s positive, we’re looking forward and we’re pleased with the result.”
Jones was happy with how United dug deep against an impressive Watford side, but there is little time to relax with Tuesday’s trip to Wolves looming large.
It is a chance to kick on in the race for the top four, after winning a remarkable 35 points since Solskjaer’s mid-December arrival, more than any other Premier League team has managed over the same period.
Asked what that tally says as to how close United are from challenging moving forwards, Jones said: “I don’t think we’re far away.
“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.
🎙ï¸ Let's bring you some more reaction from Ole:— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 30, 2019
"Itâs so tight, with four very good teams challenging for two places. Now weâre almost in the driving seat and itâs given us a fantastic chance." pic.twitter.com/B9spvT6r8R
“That’s the vision for the players, the staff, the fans, everyone involved in this football club (to win trophies).
“It’s a wonderful place to play football and that’s where we want to get back to.”
Even Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster can sense the improved atmosphere under his former reserve boss, and he shares Jones’ optimism about United’s future after seeing Solskjaer’s work up close during his time at the club.
“I am delighted for Ole,” Foster 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 everyone 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 saw him coming off the pitch. It’s the first chance I’ve had to say ‘Well done’ to him and that I am really happy for him.
“He just brings a togetherness. Management nowadays has evolved, where players almost know what they’re doing.
“They just need somebody who can really instil confidence, put an arm around them and tell them that they’re doing a good job. 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.”
Foster has an impressive manager of his own in the form of Javi Gracia, whose side impressed on Saturday and have an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to after hosting Fulham in midweek.
“It’s a really important time for us,” the goalkeeper added. “We’ve got the cup semi-final. For us, we’ve had such a good start to the season, such a good season so far. We just need to keep it going.”