Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should land the job of Manchester United manager permanently, given his positive impact on the team
It was great to see Sir Alex Ferguson smiling again, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United hammered Bournemouth 4-1 at Old Trafford last Sunday. A couple of weeks back, the legendary former boss was seen expressing his disgust at Anfield, when Liverpool toyed with their archrivals. Towards the end of the match, United’s executive vice-president Ed Woodward was spotted covering his mouth in a private chat with Sir Bobby Charlton in the directors’ box. The writing was on the wall. Jurgen Klopp–never mind that he is the Liverpool manager–owes a vote of thanks from all United fans, football lovers to be precise, to deliver the hammer blow to Jose Mourinho. Not only United, the English football would be better off without his morbid philosophy towards football and his dark narcissism.
The penny dropped, but it took far too long for Woodward to realise that United need a manager who knows the club inside out; it’s history and culture. Mourinho was the worst managerial signing of all, appointed at the expense of the club’s soul. Bereft of proper football knowledge, Woodward belatedly turned to the great men–Charlton and Ferguson–for advice. Better late than never!
Ferguson was consulted before the 20-time Premier League champions appointed Solskjaer as the caretaker manager for the season. Mike Phelan, who was Ferguson’s No. 2, too, had been brought back as Solskjaer’s assistant. The Norwegian super-sub scored 91 goals in 235 United appearances, the most famous of which was his ‘Fergie-time’ winner against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final. Notwithstanding his unsuccessful stint at Cardiff City as their boss in 2014, Solskjaer was always going to bring the smiles back to Old Trafford, a venue he calls his “home”.
Happiness is contagious. Solskjaer was expected to rip apart the Mourinho non-method and bring the club back to the United way. He made an instant impact. The players started to smile again. The full-backs started to push up the pitch. The team started to play with width. Attacking play became slick. Even the so-called Mourinho players like Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku revelled in the wind of change. The former manager had relegated United’s most valuable possession–Paul Pogba–to the bench. The World Cup winner has become talismanic under Solskjaer. Both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, now liberated, are wreaking havoc on the opponents. While Mourinho killed the players’ confidence–his grumbling started pre-season despite spending £391.5-million on new signings in two-and-a-half years–the new manager helped the boys regain their mojo. “We have a fantastic squad,” Solskjaer had said on his arrival. His positivity has rubbed off on the players.
Solskjaer has become the first United manager since Sir Matt Busby to win his first four matches in charge. A victory against Reading in the FA Cup would see him match the legend. Fourteen goals have been scored in four matches under the caretaker manager. Under Mourinho this term, United had just 36 shots on target in 17 matches. More importantly, they have now closed the gap on fourth-placed Chelsea to six points in the race for a Champions League place. Not many moons ago, the gap between the fourth and the sixth had been 11 points.
Of course, it’s not yet “the greatest comeback since Lazarus” and tougher challenges lie ahead, starting with the away fixture against Tottenham Hotspur next Sunday. But Solskjaer has also impressed with his tactical nous–his substitutions against Newcastle United at St James’ Park. It was a tough match against a well-organised team under a shrewd tactician, Rafael Benitez. Also, it was United’s third game in seven days, thanks to the very busy, festive period Premier League schedule. The players were understandably a little leggy. So, after the hour mark, Solskjaer introduced Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. The former scored inside 38 seconds of his arrival, while the latter set up Rashford for the second.
United are a top-heavy side. They have an awesome forward line, but defence needs reinforcement. A centre-half of Jaap Stam’s vintage appears an immediate requirement. Victor Lindelof has improved by leaps and bounds, with Solskjaer giving him the licence to build from the back and move high up the pitch. He needs a partner who can intimidate opponents.
Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli appears a possibility, but true to the club tradition, Solskjaer has outlined his commitment to bring young players through the ranks. “As Sir Matt once said, if they are good enough, they are old enough. We are built on that tradition. We need young players coming through,” he said, sitting at the Jimmy Murphy Centre at Old Trafford.
United finished the Bournemouth game with Pogba, Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Angel Gomes as their front four–all academy graduates. Gomes already got game time. His mates in the U-18 squad–James Garner, DJ Buffonge, Ro-Shaun Williams and Tahith Chong–have travelled with the first-team. The Class of 2018 will surely get their opportunities under Solskjaer.
Mauricio Pochettino has worked wonders at Spurs. He is said to be the United hierarchy’s preferred choice to be the next permanent manager. But from United’s point of view, it would be better if Solskjaer succeeds and lands the job permanently. The enormity of this club can gobble up even a very talented manager, if he is an ‘outsider’. David Moyes should attest. Solskjaer, on the other hand, is a United man through and through, mentored by Ferguson.