Man United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer explains why he signed ‘top professional player’ on free transfer

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has explained his decision to bring Tom Heaton back to Old Trafford.

The Red Devils announced the return of the goalkeeper at the beginning of the month, with the veteran now poised to challenge Dean Henderson and David De Gea for the No 1 jersey.

He has the backing of his manager, who also elaborated on the decision to give Juan Mata and Lee Grant new contracts.

Heaton came up through the United academy during Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge.

However, with Edwin van der Sar the club’s No 1 at the time, he then departed for Cardiff in 2010 to pursue regular action.

In the time since Heaton has impressed, particularly during a six-year stint with Sean Dyche’s Burnley.

Injuries have, however, hampered him in recent years with the 35-year-old failing to make a single appearance for Aston Villa across all competitions last term.

Heaton’s move to United is certainly a surprise, especially given how Solskjaer already has the likes of Henderson and De Gea at his disposal.

But the Norwegian has now elaborated on the decision to bring the England international back to Old Trafford, 11 years after he first quit the club.

“Tom is a Manchester United player,” he said.

“He’s been here and felt this is coming home and closing the circle. He’s had a very, very good career so far and been a part of the England set-up.

“For him to come in now, taking his challenge, I think is what he needed, that last step now.

“He’s such a top professional and such a top guy to have around and that will help the young lads.”

United recently tied Mata and Grant down to new contracts, despite the pair being unlikely to feature much next season.

And Solskjaer said of those calls: “We are a young squad and that’s been part of the thinking.

“We have the professionals that can be an example day in and day out.

“Our young lads think they know it because we bring the up through the Academy and they do learn good habits.

“But then they come into the first team and see World Cup winners like Juan and the way he conducts himself, even if he doesn’t play.

“He didn’t play as much as he would have liked to last year but he’s never ever letting himself or his team down with his attitude.

“So [they are] good examples and Lee, as well, knows he’s got good goalkeepers ahead of him but the example he sets is something we have to reward them [for] and it makes the group better, and they’re still good players.”

Regarding Heaton, the goalkeeper expressed his delight at returning to United when speaking at the start of the month.

Heaton said: “For me to have the opportunity to come back after spending 13 great years here as a kid, it’s an incredible feeling and I’m really, really excited to get started.

“I’m just seeing it as a fantastic opportunity as I still feel I’ve got an awful lot to give and I’ve got the bit between my teeth.

“I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running. I feel in great shape and I’m looking forward to coming in to compete with the other goalkeepers.”

Mata said he was ‘happy and excited’ about staying with United.

“Yeah, I feel really happy and excited and fresh and energised for a new season,” he said.

“I didn’t know that it was the ninth [season] already, but time flies.

“Of course I’ve lived many good moments at this club, other difficult ones, but yes, I’m staying and I’m very much looking forward for what I hope will be a good season for the team and for myself.”