United discuss ‘worst-case’ racial abuse scenario as they head to Belgrade
Manager of Partizan says he expects the game against United to be ‘a celebration of football’
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during a press conference at the Partizan stadium in Belgrade, Serbia. Photograph: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
Europa League Group L: Partizan Belgrade v Manchester United.
Kick-off: 5.55pm Irish time, Thursday. Venue: Partizan Stadium. On TV: Live on Virgin Media Sport and BT Sport 2.
Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire have drawn on the experience of Bulgaria fans racially abusing England team members to prepare Manchester United for the “worst -case scenario” when playing Partizan Belgrade on Thursday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face the Serbs at Partizan Stadium in their third Europa League Group L match. Their opposite number have already been ordered by Uefa to play two games in the competition behind closed doors due to racist abuse from supporters.
Rashford and Maguire were part of the England side that twice had its Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia halted due to racist abuse. While Solskjaer hopes Thursday’s game will be a “celebration” of football, his players have been primed.
“We’ve spoken in general on subjects but of course Harry and Marcus who were in Bulgaria, they were freer to talk about the atmosphere, how it was, what we can expect, what’s the worse-cast scenario,” said the manager. “In the aftermath of what happened in Bulgaria we had a meeting with the boys and, as Harry said, we’ve gone through the protocol.
“But I believe in people, and I’m sure the atmosphere here will be fantastic. We’ll try and keep them quiet by playing good football. We trust Uefa and as Savo [Milosevic, Partizan manager] said, hopefully it’s a celebration of good football.”
Maguire said: “We will trust Uefa to follow their protocol with the three steps. Obviously Sofia was a sickening atmosphere; it was something I don’t want to be part of again. We’re positive tomorrow night will be a great atmosphere, one we’re all looking forward to playing in.
“If something does goes off then we’ll follow the three-step protocol and I’m sure there will be people on and off the pitch doing their bit to make things better for the future.”
The protocol first asks that a match is stopped and announcement made to supporters to stop the abuse. If it continues teams are then taken to the dressing room and another announcement made. If this fails the match is abandoned.
Milosevic said: “I expect everything to be fair and in the spirit of the sport. We know of our supporters, we are aware of the importance of the game, and we are also aware of the problems we have had in the past. But tomorrow [Thursday] will once again be a celebration of football, so I don’t expect any problems in that regard.”
On Tuesday, United issued an indefinite ban to a fan for the alleged racist abuse of Trent Alexander-Arnold during Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Old Trafford. Asked if this was a one-off or something more deep-rooted, Solskjaer said: “I’m happy the club have identified – what do you want to call him. It’s something we feel strongly about, and are going to stamp down on as much as we can.”
United and Partizan both have four points from their opening two group games. The visitors’ Premier League form is more disappointing, however, with United having secured only 10 points from nine games, seven away from a Champions League berth. Yet Solskjaer believes United can still finish in the top four. “We are still not in November,” he said.
“Roy’s quite straightforward, isn’t he?” said Solskjaer, a former team-mate of Keane’s at United. “There aren’t many [Robert] Lewandowskis [Bayern Munich striker] and Harry Kanes. They’re like [Alan] Shearer, [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy – fantastic goal scorers.
“Ours are different types of players, but I have to say I like someone who can finish half a chance. He’s one of the best, but he’s a Tottenham player.”