Surely Ole has earned his chance? 21 Feb 2019 21:29

Why Ole Gunnar Solskjær has surely done more than enough to be given a chance at managing United permanently.

By Philip Meese

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Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over as interim manager back in December, a massive cloud has been lifted from above Old Trafford that had been there for over five years. This was mainly down to the fact that for most of that time, the football on offer has been dull and uneventful. Despite Manchester United always having plenty of attacking options during that time, the style of play has been so defensive that the club weren’t getting the best use of those players.

When Solskjær first stepped in, he had a favourable run of fixtures against teams that United would be expected to beat, and duly did. The critics’ point of view, seemed to be that his real test would be against the bigger teams. Two months later, he has won all but one of the fixtures where United were not clear favourites. One or two pundits have speculated that a win against Liverpool this Sunday would guarantee him the permanent position.

Regardless of how United do in this weekend’s fixture, and the rescheduled derby against Manchester City later this season, surely the Norwegian has done enough to justify giving him the job on a permanent basis?

Return of the Attack

In Solskjær’s first game in charge United won 5-1 at Cardiff City, the first time they had scored five goals in one game since 2013. It was almost inevitable that Cardiff would be on the receiving end of at least a comfortable win once José Mourinho had been sacked. One of the sticks used to beat Solskjær with was that all he had done was simply let them off the leash, without any real tactical nous. There seemed to be a hint of jealousy in Paul Ince’s belief that he could have done just as good a job.

Fast forward two months and it is a slightly different picture. United have played away games against the ‘big three’ London teams, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, and won them all. Although David de Gea (for a change)pulled off some unbelievable save against Spurs, in all of those games, Solskjær showed that he is up to standard tactically, without sacrificing the attacking football the fans have carved for the last half decade. Monday’s game at Stamford Bridge was a masterclass; it never even looked like Chelsea would get back into it.

The only real blot on his copybook was the home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, but even this needs to be put into perspective. PSG were hot favourites to win the tie, even without the injured Edinson Cavani and Neymar, and for forty-five minutes United matched the French giants. It was only when Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial went off injured that the whole game changed. Their replacements, Juan Mata and Alexis Sánchez are totally different type of players to Lingard and Martial. Suddenly, the counter attacking football that had devastated United’s opponents wasn’t an option. After all, it’s not as though United can currently claim to have a better squad than PSG.

The important thing is not only that he has returned to an attacking style of play, but he has got the squad playing like most fans knew they could. It’s a style that reminds them not to neglect their defensive duties, but also one that lets the opposition worry about what United can do to them, not the other way around. They’re enjoying their football and certain players at Old Trafford, Marcus Rashford being an obvious example, have never before been permitted to do that.

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Same Players, Different Outcome

The only change Solskjær has made to United’s squad since taking over is the departure of the much maligned Marouane Fellaini, a decision popular with most fans. It’s unclear whether he was given any money to spend during his interim period and chose not to, or whether Ed Woodward told him to work with what he had. The important thing is that he has the same group of players that Mourinho did, minus a certain Belgian plan B, and has gotten a much better tune out of them.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, United have regularly struggled to beat teams that, with the players they have had, they should have been winning comfortably. This is exactly what the Red Devils have been doing since Solskjær stepped into the hot seat. Old Trafford is on the way to becoming a fortress once more, one which few teams will relish coming to they way the team are playing right now.

If he does get the job permanently, he will no doubt be given funds to spend in the summer. Knowing how meticulous Solskjær is in his planning, it’s probably safe to assume he has known for some time exactly who he would bring in to strengthen the squad; and who he would get rid of. The fact that Antonio Valencia’s United career seems already consigned to realms of history seems testament to that.

Following the defeat at Anfield, which turned out to be Mourinho’s last match, a top four finish looked beyond United. But that’s where the club are at the moment, and most pundits are backing them to remain there.

The Pochettino Effect

Whether or not Woodward has already made his decision regarding Mourinho’s permanent successor is hard to say, but until it is announced officially then the rumours that Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino will be appointed will persist.

The link with the Argentine manager is understandable, given that he ticks the main boxes required of a Manchester United manager. Like Solskjær he firmly believes in promoting youth players and he plays attractive attacking football. Another attractive prospect for the board is that the fantastic job he has done in North London was achieved on a budget which is fraction of that which he would receive at Old Trafford.

Although he would cost a lot of money to prise away from Spurs, there is a bigger issue that should concern Woodward. Another club that have made no secret of their admiration for Pochettino is Real Madrid. What if United did appoint him and later down the line Madrid come calling? He wouldn’t be the first player or manager unable to resist the lure of the Bernabéu.

Surely the smart thing to do would be to let Madrid have him first, seeing as they go through managers quicker than Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. Let them do the negotiating with, and pay the huge amount of compensation to, Daniel Levy. Nobody stays at the Bernabéu any longer than three years and once he has got Madrid out of his system, assuming United need a new manager, maybe then they could appoint him.

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The Goods in the Back

One of the first things Solskjær did upon returning to Old Trafford was to immediately appoint Ferguson’s last assistant manager, Mike Phelan alongside him. With Michael Carrick already on the coaching staff, he has the basis of a good backroom team, all of whom understand exactly how the club works. Maybe David Moyes might have had half a chance had he not been so quick to dispose of the staff already at the club when he arrived.

Some have speculated that Solskjær is merely the face of this coaching team, the shop window if you will. So what? If it works, which it has done so far, then who cares. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Since this coaching team took charge, Manchester United seems to have gotten its identity back.

It’s all about the club

The most endearing thing about Ole Gunnar Solskjær is that he seems to care more about the club itself than his own role in it. Make no mistake, this is his dream managerial job, and he probably couldn’t believe his luck when he was given the opportunity, but first and foremost he is a United fan. This was demonstrated a couple of times when he was Cardiff manager. In his first game, ironically at Old Trafford, when asked what the most difficult thing about the game had been, Solskjær replied “not celebrating when United scored”. Later that season he was asked about Liverpools title chances and declared “couldn’t care less.”

The man is United through and through and just wants what is best for the club, unlike Mourinho and Louis van Gaal where it was all about their own egos. If Solskjær is to be appointed the club’s full-time manager, it’s a good bet he will be more bothered about the money in his transfer budget than what he is getting paid. It’s probably also fair to say that if the job went sour and he didn’t know how to fix it, he would probably walk away rather than just wait around for the board to sack him so that he gets his contract paid up in full.

Final Thought

Many people seem to believe if United beat Liverpool on Sunday, the job will automatically be his. The reality is that he has probably done more than enough to secure the job, even if they lose. The last two managers have been among the most decorated of the last 25 years, and look what a disaster that turned out to be.

It’s about time they gave the job to a young, hungry manager who looks more at ease in the job than either van Gaal or Mourinho. The fact that he is a United legend, who bleeds red, white and black, is an added bonus. It would also give Woodward and the Glazers some much needed browning points with the fans, most of whom have no love for either.

It is even possible that Ole Gunnar Solskjær has already been given the job, but if so, that would probably be kept under wraps until the end of the season. The board wouldn’t want to risk upsetting the momentum the team have built up as the business end of the season approaches.

But give it him they should. He’s earned it.

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