“When I listen to Ole Gunnar Solskjær, he sounds like a really nice guy, you know? But I would like to see him a bit more edgy, a bit more mean at times,” a disgruntled Robin van Persie said following Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United on Wednesday night.
“It’s part of his job, just be angry. I see him smiling now, after a game like that. This is not the moment to smile,” the Dutchman added.
Perhaps many may take the view that Solskjær’s predecessor, José Mourinho, was hounded out by many for his consistent negativity and miserable manner and therefore the positivity and long-term vision displayed by the current man in charge should be appreciated rather than criticised. But there needs to be a balance, and van Persie was correct in his analysis.
Solskjær’s interim-appointment was one of the most successful caretaker spells football is likely to see, losing just once in thirteen games, a streak that has been shown to not be easily replicated by Freddie Ljungberg’s time in the hot seat at Arsenal. What made the Norweigan’s impact even more surprising was his previous managerial experience. A three-year spell in his home nation with Molde earned him the opportunity to secure Premier League safety with Cardiff City, but failing to do so, he returned to Molde before becoming the man to replace Mourinho at the biggest club in England. It was, in fact, a dream come true for Solskjær, but that is where the problem lies.
13 months down the line since Solskjær’s return to Manchester and the 46-year-old still seems to be on the cautious side of things in an effort to continue living a dream he had hoped to live for many years. His positivity and regular reminders that the situation is not a quick-fix and insistence that the club are working towards a long-term plan have become as irritating as that one person who will pretend everything will work itself out when your life is falling down around you. At first, you appreciate their words of support, but when they continue to ignore the fact everything is a bit f*cked and think things can be solved in an instant with a positive and happy mindset, they grow a bit tiring.
Take Solskjær’s handling of the Paul Pogba situation for example. The Frenchman, undoubtedly United’s most naturally talented player, has suffered his third ankle injury of the season and will undergo an operation in the coming days in a bid to solve the reoccurring niggle. The media, as the media do, have continuously linked Pogba’s absence with his desire for a move away from the club, forcing the manager to confirm the midfielder won’t be leaving the club in January on multiple occasions. Solskjær has not lost his patience once with the constant reoccurring questions, nor has he grown tired of Mino Raiola’s headline-grabbing comments or of Pogba’s silence when, in the social media age, a player is perfectly capable of at least halting speculation with a simple tweet. Instead, the United boss patiently answers the same repetitive questions from reporters, offers mixed signals in terms of Pogba’s return date in press conferences which leaves fans confused and looks like a man attempting to keep everyone happy and smiling rather than being definitive in his approach to such situations.
The ‘baby-faced assassin’ follows the same safe approach when talking about possible signings this January. The squad currently has two senior central midfielders available in Fred and Nemanja Matić, with Pogba and Scott McTominay on the sidelines. Fred, arguably United’s most consistent performer of late, has only not played 90 minutes in one of the last seventeen games, featuring for 63 minutes in the 3-0 win over Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League in November. The Brazilian has been everywhere in these fixtures too, and an injury should not be unexpected in the coming weeks, or at least severe tiredness. Matić, on the other hand, had fallen out of favour under Solskjær and his recent emergence into the team has only been down to injuries. The Serbian was set to leave the club this month, and there still remains the possibility he will. Despite all of this, and the fact United already needed midfield additions, even when the current crop are fit, Solskjær refuses to be concrete in his demands for reinforcements, instead believing it’s only necessary for the ‘right player’.
“Of course it [injuries] is playing on our decision-making [in January] when you have got two players out. That will give us fewer options and we’ve got loads of important games. But still, it’s got to be right and that’s the big point here,” Solskjær said following the defeat to Arsenal. Though United must learn from forking out £350,000-a-week excluding bonuses on a 28-year-old Alexis Sánchez, nit-picking potential options when the squad and midfield in particular is on its knees is a strategy destined for disappointment. Of course, signing a player for the sake of it will not benefit anyone, but throwing the idea around of only spending ‘for the right player’ is the safe route. The big point isn’t that the player has got to be the right one. The big point is actually that United sit fifth in the Premier League. The big point is that this side haven’t won three games in a row in eleven months. The big point is that the current squad is not capable of displaying consistent performances and results and the level of coaching is not high enough to be able to make up for that lack of quality. And perhaps the biggest point of all is that should Liverpool win against Sheffield United, United will sit 27 points behind Jürgen Klopp’s side having played 21 games, and yet still, the Merseyside club will have only played 20 games.
The lack of authority from Solskjær extends to his team selections and on-field decisions too. Though some may support the slow and carefully managed introductions of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams into the starting eleven, they have made their case to be more beneficial to the team than those they are competing against. In Greenwood’s case, his performances have been to a higher level than Daniel James’ since the Welshman’s drop in form following his bright start in August. The difference in performance level between Williams and Luke Shaw is even greater. Despite the latter playing well against Manchester City, Williams has trumped Shaw in almost every game he has featured, and when consecutive starts look like a no-brainer for the 19-year-old, Shaw, almost out of nowhere, finds himself back in the side. This was the case at Arsenal and so was the delay in tactical changes from the bench.
It was beyond obvious that a change, be it tactically or through personnel, was needed at half-time against an Arsenal side in control despite losing their last four games at the Emirates. United could no longer sit-back and hit Mikel Arteta’s side on the counter – Solskjær’s go-to big game plan – because the Gunners were one goal to the good. In addition, Shaw had been regularly caught out, allowing Nicolas Pépé to open the scoring at the back post, and offered little going forward. But Solskjær was unable to make such a big call and hook a player off at half-time in a huge game, instead, waiting thirteen minutes before replacing James and Jesse Lingard for Andreas Pereira and Greenwood. The performance was shambolic and there was no evidence of improvement in those ninety minutes in North London, but as van Persie had pointed out, there was no visible anger in Solskjær’s demeanour.
Many use the idea that this United squad are inconsistent because of their youthfulness and inexperience, which is certainly a factor, but in reality, what are the consequences when the side do drop points? When Mourinho was at the helm, we asked for a manager that wasn’t so critical of the players in public, but Solskjær, whilst rightly avoiding calling out individuals, rarely shows any unhappiness at all, opting to point out the long-term plan the club have. The downfall for this is a lack of fear from the players in the squad. Again, van Persie put it best, telling BT Sport: “You need a bit of fear for your coach. Yes, firstly, the game-plan, however, you need a bit of worry to your coach. If you’ve got that, you understand that if you don’t make these runs or those who don’t play these balls, you’ll get punished. You won’t play the subsequent game.”
In a bid to protect the players and those above him, Solskjær is only damaging his own chances of success. This squad is incapable of competing with its current lack of depth and quality and it has even fewer options than the one Mourinho had at his disposal, yet the now Tottenham manager still voiced his displeasure at the lack of additions during his time at Old Trafford. Solskjær’s refusal to apply pressure to the board to bolster the squad, at least in the public eye, is as disappointing as it is predictable and because of it, the United legend is writing his own script for the story of a man with the club at his heart who tried his best but ultimately failed, living his lifelong dream in the process. The Red Devils boss has to decide if he wishes to forge a career in football management or attempt to live his dream job for as long as possible. Football is a ruthless place, and should the situation occur where the club misses out on the Champions League again, star players wish to depart and adidas become unhappy, Woodward and the Glazers won’t show Solskjær the same respect he is showing them at this point in time. A nasty streak in Solskjær would be a welcome addition because at least someone at United would show they mean business.
Rate This Post
Out Of Five, How Good Was It?
4.7 / 5. 122
We're Sorry You Didn't Enjoy This!