And so, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer becomes the latest man deemed responsible for Manchester United’s problems. A dismal run of form culminating in Saturday’s humiliating 4-1 defeat to Watford at Vicarage Road sees Solskjaer out of a job, with Michael Carrick replacing him for the short-term future.
As the Norwegian clapped the travelling support and apologised for the performance, the look of resignation on his face was plain to see. Less than 24 hours later, United were on the hunt for a new manager. The one man that United fans wanted desperately to succeed at the club, had failed to do so.
To say Solskjaer has done a bad job at United would be extremely harsh. When Solskjaer returned to the club in December 2018, United were in turmoil. José Mourinho’s last few months in Manchester were disastrous, and as a result, the dressing room was a fractured and toxic environment.
There have certainly been many high points during the baby faced assassins reign. An unlikely victory over PSG in Paris in 2019, provided United fans with an unforgettable moment. The football has definitely been of a more attractive brand, especially when compared to the style of play employed by both Louis Van Gaal and the aforementioned Mourinho.
A second place finish last season behind Manchester City, led by one of the greatest managers of all time in Pep Guardiola is a remarkable achievement in itself. A slew of semi finals and an agonizing defeat in the Europa League final earned Solskjaer a new contract in the summer of 2021.
For the most part, Ole has managed to keep the dressing room onside for the majority of his time at the helm. The Paul Pogba situation, which has festered for years, has been handled well by Solskjaer. He has managed to keep Pogba relatively happy and even managed to coax some (Semi) consistent performances out of the French World Cup-winning star.
There have been no training ground bust ups, no public spats with players and until very recently, no sign of any serious dissent in the squad. But Solskjaer isn’t immune from criticism.
Even the most loyal, diehard Man United fan couldn’t disagree with the notion that Ole doesn’t have the tactical acumen of a Klopp, Guardiola or Tuchel. Too often this season, teams have been able to effortlessly play their way through the United midfield. The lack of structure out of possession points to a coaching problem, something Solskjaer must take responsibility for.
Certain players at United this season appear to have been guaranteed starters, regardless of the type of form that they found themselves in. Luke Shaw, who Solskjaer helped rebuild his career, hasn’t looked the same since he came back from the Euros. And yet, Alex Telles, a player signed from Porto last summer with a big reputation, has hardly kicked a ball this season.
Aaron Wan Bissaka no longer looks like the ferocious defender we saw for much of last season, yet his place in the side is seemingly never in doubt. Jesse Lingard, who was a revelation on loan at West Ham last season, has played just 69 minutes of Premier League football this campaign. The less said about “McFred” in midfield, the better.
Solskjaer’s handling of the Donny Van De Beek situation is equally perplexing. The Dutchman was one of the stars of the Ajax side that reached the Champions League semi final in 2019. Since arriving in Manchester, Van de Beek has started just four Premier League games in almost a season and a half of football. When Van de Beek came on against Watford at half time, he was by far the best United player on the pitch, raising further questions as to why his involvement has been limited so much.
A frequent criticism of Solskjaer has been his in-game management. The most telling example of this was against PSG last year in the champions League. After Fred somehow avoided a red card in an altercation with Leandro Paredes, Solskjaer kept the Brazilian on, despite the fact that his discipline had clearly gone. Sure enough, with the game in the balance in the second half, Fred picked up a second bookable offense, leaving United down to 10 men and a mountain to climb.
And yet, despite all these things, if Ronaldo had taken one of the chances that fell to him on Saturday, Ole would probably have found himself preparing for Villareal in the Champions League.
But Solskjaer isn’t the only man to blame for United’s poor performances this season. The Manchester United players must take ownership of the fact that their individual performances have been nowhere near good enough. After 15 minutes against Watford, it was clear that Solskjaer had lost the dressing room. United’s players looked so devoid of confidence and energy, allowing Watford to maul them.
Bruno Fernandes looks like a shell of the man that lit up the Premier League last season. Despite his goals, Marcus Rashford has looked disinterested ever since he returned from injury. Anthony Martial was anonymous on Saturday, to the point that after Harry Maguire’s red card, it appeared as though United were playing with 9-men, such was the Frenchman’s lack of impact on proceedings.
Speaking of Maguire, his run of form has been particularly concerning. At the Euros, Maguire appeared to have proven all of the doubters wrong. Strong and commanding, he dominated attackers and looked composed on the ball. These must feel like distant memories for United fans now. His performances this season have been nowhere near good enough.
Goals for England against Albania and San Marino, coupled with a celebration of putting his hands over his ears to “block out the noise”, suggested Maguire might be back to his best. However, the flaws that have plagued him his entire United career resurfaced once more.
Time and again he has dropped far too deep, playing forwards onside and giving them one-on-one chances, as he did against Atalanta for Duvan Zapata’s goal. Time and again, he has lost possession of the ball in dangerous positions, as he did for his red card incident against Watford and against Leicester for Youri Tielemans first goal. And time and time again, he has looked hesitant and nervous when crosses come into the box, as he did against Manchester City for Bernardo Silva’s goal.
Sure, Solskjaer hasn’t set United up tactically to get the best out of the talented squad at his disposal. However, when it comes to the sheer amount of catastrophic mistakes made leading to goals, and the lack of effort made to track runners, United’s players can only blame themselves.
Manchester United is not run like a football club. Instead, it’s run like an entertainment service, designed purely to make money for the owners. It’s a business first, football club second.
There is no one at board level with significant experience of running one of the biggest football clubs in the world. The Glazers have been absentee owners for over 15 years, showing little interest in engaging with fans or getting involved in football matters. Ed Woodward has always seemed to be more business orientated than football focused.
The boardroom at Manchester United is a mess. Jumping from manager to manager, there is no clear logic to any of the decisions that they make. When Ferguson retired, David Moyes was christened as the future of the club. 8 months after being given a 7 year contract, Moyes was sacked. Louis Van Gaal was then brought in to return United to their former glory. An old-school, stubborn, successful coach, the Dutchman seemed the perfect choice for United.
At least in the board’s eyes.
18 months later, Van Gaal was relieved of his duties mere hours after lifting the FA cup. Mourinho then took charge, won a couple of trophies in his first season, before proceeding to fall out with practically everyone in the squad. And then Solskjaer got the job.
Each and every single time the board has been faced with a tough decision, they have gotten it wrong. Moyes perhaps wasn’t up to the job at the time. However, 8 months is not long enough for anyone to make an impact as a manager. Van Gaal’s appointment didn’t exactly light a fire of excitement in United fans, particularly when the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola would have made more sense.
The José Mourinho that United hired was not the same José Mourinho who proclaimed himself a “Special one”. The ending of his time at Real Madrid coupled with his acrimonious departure from Chelsea, should have made United’s board hesitant.
Now Solskjaer has been deemed surplus to requirements, despite the fact that there are no obvious candidates available to take over midseason. Once again, United dragged their heels and missed out on a world class manager in Antonio Conte.
However, while Solskjaer is gone, his backroom staff remains. Michael Carrick will take charge of the squad for Tuesday’s crunch clash with Villarreal. How is Carrick, someone who’s never managed at any level, qualified to take charge of arguably United’s biggest game of the season?
Once again Manchester United are suffering from their board’s ineptitude. Lack of planning and lack of vision are just some of the charges that can be levelled at the board. For the better part of a decade, United have bounced from manager to manager, each one completely different from the last, with absolutely zero continuity planning going into building the squad.
This lack of foresight is best summed up by the club’s “plan” to install a new manager. The plan confirmed by the club is to appoint an interim manager, who’ll then be replaced by a caretaker manager, who’ll then be replaced by a permanent manager. So instead of appointing one manager, United are going to appoint three between now and the end of the season.
This is laughable.
How have United sacked Solskjaer without having anybody else lined up? Why did they sack Ole after the Watford game and not after the Liverpool game, when Conte was available? It’s not even December and United appear to have written off this season as a whole.
The way in which the club has dealt with Ole leaves a lot to be desired. For weeks, Solskjaer has been a dead man walking. Everyone knew he was one more bad result away from being dismissed. Suddenly, leaks from the club pointed to a disgruntled dressing room, with players questioning the ability of their manager.
On Saturday evening, news broke that the United board had called an emergency meeting and that Solskjaer’s time was up. Every person in the world knew that Solskjaer was gone, before the club had even communicated it to the man.
On Sunday evening, United released an interview with the departing Solskjaer. The clubs message was that they respected Ole, that he will alway be welcome at the club and that he deserved the chance to address the fans one last time.
This message came from the same board that leaked the fact that he was about to be sacked.
In the interview, the Norwegian was clearly emotional and honestly, it was a very tough watch. By all accounts Solskjaer is a decent guy. Reports from all corners of the media point to the fact that the players liked Solskjaer personally, but just didn’t think he could take them to the next level.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Ole. Nobody can question his love and commitment to the club. The fact is he was handed an extremely tough job, and was probably just a little out of his depth. Solskjaer isn’t a joke of a manager as some would have you believe.
He’s done a fine job at United, far better than any of his predecessors post Ferguson. He took United from being a laughing stock of a team, to at least being able to challenge the top sides in the division.
No one will be able to take away all he achieved as a player. Nothing can diminish the fact that he scored the single most important goal in the history of Manchester United. And no one can take away from the fact that by and large, he did a fine job as manager.
And so, the Solskjaer experiment has come to an end. One again the board has a massive decision to make with regards to the manager’s job. Will Zinedine Zidane take the job even though by all accounts his command of English is quite poor?
Will Brendan Rodgers get the job, despite the fact that he’s an ex-Liverpool manager and Leicester have had a poor start to the season? Or will Mauricio Pochettino leave PSG mid season, return to the Premier League and reinvigorate a clearly talented squad. The board must get this decision right.
And you know what they say, fifth times the charm….Right?
By: Oisín Doherty / @O_Doherty_99
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Peters / Man United
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