By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Manchester United will trust UEFA to implement the governing body’s three-step protocol in case there are any outbursts of racism during their Europa League match at Partizan Belgrade on Thursday, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
The Group L fixture, to be played under tight security in the Serbian capital, comes after England’s black players suffered racist abuse at their Euro 2020 qualifier at neighbouring Bulgaria on Oct 14.
England manager Gareth Southgate informed the UEFA delegate after the first incidents and a public announcement was made, with play stopped.
The abuse continued and the Group A match, which England went on to win 6-0, was again temporarily suspended by the referee under a three-step UEFA protocol for tackling abuse.
“In the aftermath of what happened in Bulgaria we had a meeting with the boys,” Solskjaer told Wednesday’s news conference at Partizan stadium.
“We’ve gone through the protocol but I believe in the good in people and I am sure the atmosphere is going to be fantastic.
“We’ll try to keep them quiet by playing good football but we trust UEFA.
“Like (Partizan coach) Savo (Milosevic) said, hopefully it’s going to be a celebration of football.”
United centre back Harry Maguire, who played for England in the Bulgaria rout, echoed his manager’s views.
“We will trust UEFA to follow the three steps,” he said.
“Obviously it was a sickening atmosphere in Sofia, something that I don’t want to be a part of ever again.
“We’re positive that it will be a great atmosphere tomorrow night, one that we all look forward to playing in. If something does go off, we’ll follow the three-step protocol.”
Partizan played the home leg of their Europa League playoff tie against Solskajer’s former club Molde and the group stage match against Dutch rivals AZ Alkmaar behind closed doors for offensive chants by their fans.
Milosevic acknowledged earlier on Wednesday the club could ill-afford another such incident against a club of United’s stature with their former trophy-laden manager Alex Ferguson watching.
“We are privileged to have Sir Alex in Belgrade and the match should be a feast for everyone,” said the former Yugoslavia and Aston Villa striker.
“I expect sportsmanlike support from our fans and they should be aware just how significant this match is.”
Partizan top the group with four points from two games, ahead of United on goal difference. Alkmaar have two points and bottom team Astana none.
Asked whether he saw winning the Europa League as an easier route to Champions League football next season rather than what looks like an unlikely top-four finish in the Premier League, Solskjaer said: “The Europa League is important for us, we won it the last time we were in it but you can’t rely on winning cup tournaments.
“It might be luck, it might be injuries. Champions League next season is an aim, if it’s through the top four or the Europa League it doesn’t matter for us.”
United, who won Europe’s second-tier competition in 2017 under Solskjaer’s predecessor Jose Mourinho, are 14th in the Premier League on 10 points from nine games.
They trail leaders Liverpool by 15 points and are two points above the relegation zone.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Christian Radnedge)