Why Ole Gunnar Solskjær Is Still The Right Man For Manchester United


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It’s fast approaching a year since Manchester United made the bold move to relieve José Mourinho of his managerial duties at Old Trafford, replacing the Portuguese coach with Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Results were on the decline and it was apparent all was not well behind the scenes. Whether it was animosity between Mourinho and his players, a few more so than others, or with the board, Mourinho’s departure from the club was inevitable.

Just 24 hours after the dismissal of the former ‘Special One’, the club announced that fan-favourite Solskjær would be given the task of getting the club back on track. The appointment was made on a caretaker basis and it screamed ‘makeshift’, ‘temporary’ and ‘quick-fix’. It was much like when Ryan Giggs took charge mid-season following the end of the awful David Moyes era.

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Solskjær’s last spell in English football resulted in Cardiff City’s relegation from the Premier League. So, what aside from the fact Solskjær was a good centre-forward and the scorer of arguably the club’s most famous goal, made the board believe he was the right man for the job? His managerial credentials were and still are fairly weak.

Here we look at the pros and cons of Solskjær’s tenure to date and try to decipher whether he is the man to lead the club back to the pinnacle of English football.

Let’s start at the beginning of the ‘Solskjær Era’, and what a brilliant start it was. The Norwegian came into a broken dressing room that was bereft of confidence and self-belief. He seemingly brought in a complete transformation within a few days of his return to Manchester.

Quite fittingly, United travelled to South Wales to take on Solskjær’s former club Cardiff City and nobody knew what to expect from the Red Devils. Prior to this match, Mourinho’s pragmatic approach to football had sucked the life out of the players and fans alike. Pessimism was in the air. But this was quickly diminished after a 5-1 thumping at the expense of the poor Bluebirds. United then went onto win their next 7 games, including big away triumphs against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

The football was quick, smart and deadly. United played on the counter when needed against the top teams. The players looked rejuvenated and for the first time in a while- as if they knew what their roles and gameplan was. Most importantly, they were happy with the manager’s instructions. The ongoing mystery that is Paul Pogba looked reborn, Marcus Rashford regained his confidence and the correct starting XI was being picked consistently.

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February saw United halt a rampant Liverpool side at Old Trafford and pick up valuable maximum points away to tricky sides Leicester City and Crystal Palace. A first-leg defeat in the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain didn’t deter the side and the impressive run of form culminated in the ultimate comeback in Paris at the beginning of March. Then it all went a little bit, pear-shaped.

After the triumph at the Parc des Princes, United lost back-to-back games, falling to defeat at Arsenal and being dumped out of the FA Cup by Wolves. It is well documented how much of a drop in form the club suffered following the triumph in Paris. It didn’t add up at all. A humbling defeat at Goodison Park at the hands of Everton, a footballing lesson given by Barcelona and a reminder of just how much better Manchester City are all came before the end of the season.

It demonstrated arguably Solskjaer’s biggest flaw and one that is out of his control; his lack of experience as a top manager. His in-game management was often called into question. His side wasn’t killing games off and it looked as if he was happy to sit back and rest on a one-goal lead which is inexcusable. The top teams have always cemented their leads with 2 or 3 more goals, a further 8 on occasion if you’re Leicester City. This was last season where the backline, excluding De Gea was so incredibly weak. It didn’t make sense to sit back and try to see out games with a back four of such little quality.

Solskjær’s Manchester United side has played a total of 47 competitive games, winning just over 50% of these fixtures. This season alone, United have won 9 out of 18 games in all competitions, this time exactly 50%. His record is inconsistent, to say the least. The best sides are those which are consistently picking up points, home and away and United just simply aren’t a top team on the pitch.

The highest winning streak the club has been on this season is 3 games, and that was against Partizan Belgrade, Norwich City and Chelsea. Aside from Chelsea, you would expect even this United side to pick up maximum points. But this season, when a promising run of form looks to be developing, it is halted. It has already happened 3 or 4 times this season in the league alone.

However, if we discount the unlucky defeat away at Bournemouth at the start of November, Solskjær seems to have got his system in place and a recognisable starting lineup. This has brought positive results, with 5 wins out of the last 6 games. David De Gea looks confident and assured with his new back 4. Fred is beginning to look like a player alongside an always improving Scott McTominay.

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Marcus Rashford has established his starting position on the left-wing, with Anthony Martial leading the line. There is a nice balance and you have to give a lot of credit to the 3 summer signings Solskjaer made. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has made the right-back position his own with Diogo Dalot falling down the pecking order due to injuries and poor form.

Harry Maguire has already become the instant leader of the defensive unit since his record-breaking transfer from Leicester City. Perhaps most surprisingly is the impact Daniel James has made since his move from Swansea City. Yes, he gets stick from opposition fans and perhaps he does go down a little too easily on occasion. However, he is what traditional football fans would call a ‘proper winger’. He picks the ball up, runs with pace at the full-backs and more often than not, produces a brilliant end product or draws a foul. His link-up play with Marcus Rashford so far this season has been excellent.

The trio of new players, along with the introduction of Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams and a few more academy stars, is a credit to Solskjær. They have improved the squad which has given the manager the chance to be cut-throat with the players he doesn’t see in his plans. Nearly every broadcasted game, the average age of the team is mentioned and it shows that there is longevity in this side with so much potential to improve.

There is still deadwood to be shifted but this takes time. However Ole is picking the players on form. Scott McTominay is undroppable at present, as is Marcus Rashford. The players who just haven’t performed, have been rightfully dropped or even sold. Often the frustration fans had with Mourinho was that he would stick with the same archaic formula which ingredients included the likes of Nemanja Matić, Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young. Now instead we see Fred, Andreas Pereira and Brandon Williams. Whilst these types of players alone won’t win you titles, they are evidence that Solskjaer’s decision making when it comes to his team selections is improving in leaps and bounds.

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He understands that it is not a right to play for a club like Manchester United. It is a privilege and it is clear certain players understand this more than others. The club is not experiencing its finest hour right now. But instead of looking at this period in a negative light, Manchester United supporters should be optimistic, hopeful, excited. It is a young squad being led by a young yet enthusiastic man. A legend of this football club who commands respect in the dressing room, on the training ground and in the dugout.

A man who played for the club when it was at the peak of world football under the finest manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson. Thus, attacking football is something that is here to stay with Solskjaer as manager. The atmosphere within the squad is the best it has been for a long time and that transfers to the fans.

United fans must remain just that; united. Patience is key and getting behind the manager and the team is paramount. Questions will always be asked of any Manchester United manager if performances aren’t up to scratch. Perhaps now more so with Mauricio Pochettino looking for work. However for now, and until further notice; Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the right man for the job.

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