Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was at Manchester United when they broke their transfer record twice in two months in the summer of 1998, with Jaap Stam for £10.7m and then Dwight Yorke for £12.6m. He was there when Alex Ferguson did the same again in 2001, signing Ruud van Nistelrooy for £19m, and Juan Sebastian Veron for £28m, and then the following year when Rio Ferdinand broke the club‘s record transfer fee again at £30m.

As a £1.5m footballer from Molde, whom neither Everton nor Manchester City had considered worth the risk, the burden of a transfer fee was never one United‘s current caretaker manager had to contend with, although he knew what came with it. Ferdinand tells the story of how, in his first training session drill at United in the summer of 2002, he miscontrolled the ball and Solskjaer wondered aloud to the group, “How much did we pay for him again?”

The United manager laughed when he was reminded of that moment in a small room out the back of Arsenal‘s tunnel, an hour after he had eliminated them from the FA Cup, his eighth straight win since taking the reins. He has still not changed his mind. “We paid 30 million! And that touch was not worthy of a 30 million player. It‘s true though!”

The conversation had turned to how some players thrive and some disappear at United – not that many, because it is hard to make mistakes when one is buying at the elite world level. There have been those who just could not make an impact, like Veron, Angel Di Maria and, at £52m, the jury is also still out on Fred.

We are discussing Alexis Sanchez, the brooding, occasionally magnificent Chilean whose transfer to United last summer felt like the power-plays of old. The days when United were capable of breaking a rival‘s heart with a signing like Ferdinand, or Robin van Persie.

Solskjaer has done such an astonishing job it would be no surprise if he reignited Sanchez, and taught him how to play the piano. For now he settles for Sanchez‘s fifth goal of his United career in his first start under Solskjaer. It feels like some meeting of minds: the man who rarely smiles and the man who never stops.

“We speak in my broken English or maybe in his broken English,” Solskjaer said. “Of course you try to sit him down and speak to him. He is a really hard-working, proud man. He is really determined to prove his worth and he has been fantastic since I came. His work-rate has been brilliant in training. Unfortunately he‘s had the injuries but [the goal against Arsenal] is a big step forward for him.”

The Sanchez signing has to work for United, given the money invested in his contract and because United need to look once again like the kind of club where big players can do big things.

Ultimately, Sanchez will be the responsibility of the long-term successor to Jose Mourinho, which may well also be Solskjaer, and the No 7 will have to be cajoled, encouraged and fitted into the United that emerges in the next eight months, starting with Burnley at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

There is always a lot said about all players being treated equally, even if the opposite can often be the case, and certainly was when Sanchez was at Arsenal dining alone in the canteen and generally looking fed up with everything. At United, however, his place in the hierarchy remains unfixed – he is a big name but five goals in 12 months does not entitle him to set the mood, and that rebalancing of his influence may yet be good for him.

“Everyone gets treated the same,” Solskjaer said. “Because when you come in and look around the dressing room and there are so many good players you have to prove your worth. You don‘t just live off the price tag. I am not interested in what they have cost or what they are earning.”

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It was that eye-catching substitution with the game in the balance at 2-1 when Solskjaer sent on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial after 72 minutes and eventually broke Arsenal with another goal. Rashford is the first choice of the attacking six currently, and Lingard and Martial are starting to feel that way too.

“It‘s amazing to have six attacking players that can change the game in a minute,” Ander Herrera said. “Freedom” was the theme of what Herrera had to say, and perhaps that will be what unlocks Sanchez.

He is the last of the attacking six – Rashford, Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Juan Mata being the others – to come to the boil but he is coming into a team where standards are rising, competition for places is intense and the season is full of promise. That was once the very least a big United signing would expect.




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