For the millennials, he has got some credit in the bank as a footballer, for leading Blackburn Rovers to the Premier League title in 1995. But Sherwood is a failed manager and going by his comment on tele, he reveres Jose Mourinho.
He sort of mocked Solskjaer’s efforts to steady the ship at United, claiming that things had been better under Mourinho in terms of winning trophies. Yes, the Portuguese did win a couple of tropies during his stint at Old Trafford — an energy drink cup (read, Carabao Cup) and the big vase (read, Europa League and the term is borrowed from The Guardian’s Fiver). But when he was sacked in December 2018 — he lost the dressing-room — Mourinho had left a scorched earth behind. By appointing Solskjaer, United went back to the club’s core values to move forward.
Mourinho destroyed almost everything that was United, the club’s ethos to start with. United is not just another club. It’s a family club, but more importantly, it’s a sentiment. The club’s foundation was laid by Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy and mother-henned by Sir Alex Ferguson. United is about Duncan Edwards and the Flowers of Manchester. It’s about Law, Best and Charlton. It’s also about Fergie’s Fledglings – the Class of 92. United is not about mercenaries being appointed to win trophies. Those who fall for glory-hunting, Chelsea offer an escape route.
Solskjaer came, reset the team culture, created a team and secured the top-four finish in the Premier League in two consecutive seasons; for the first time since Sir Alex retired in 2013.
“Trophies are an ego thing for the managers. It doesn’t reflect true progress,” Solskjaer had said last year, inducing hate from agenda mongers. Yes, for a club of United’s stature, trophies are a must. Then again, the club regressed after winning two trophies under Mourinho. Arsenal under Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup in 2020. Even die-hard Gunners fans will admit that real progress didn’t happen.
Trophies at times can paper over the cracks. What United badly needed following Mourinho’s departure was a rebuild and everybody in the boardroom agreed that it would be a five-year process, with the club seriously challenging for the Premier League and the Champions League titles during Solskjaer’s fourth season.
Mind, Sir Matt took six years to build a champion team. Same with Sir Alex. Patience is in short supply among a vast majority of modern-day football fans hooked to FIFA, the computer game. Football on the pitch is not so simple. Even a manager of Jurgen Klopp’s genius took four years to make Liverpool great again. Over the last two-and-a-half years, United have been going through steady resurrection and denying that would be churlish.
They were just one penalty kick away from winning the Europa League last term, although the final will remain a blot in Solskjaer’s managerial career. He was too slow to react and failed to stay ahead of the game. But like United, Solskjaer, too, has been growing on the job and the club hierarchy is happy with that. From executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to director of football John Murtough, the club management is well aware of the mess Solskjaer inherited and the following course correction. Solskjaer deeply cares. He has a United DNA and no he isn’t doing this for money. A contract extension for him and his coaching staff attests the support.
Expectations have grown this term after an excellent transfer window that saw United sign world-class players – Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho. But new arrivals need time to bed in. Varane is a serial winner, but even he has admitted that the intensity in the Premier League is at a different level, something he is getting used to. Sancho is 21-year-old, who has come to the world’s toughest league from Bundesliga and this season should be seen as his apprenticeship period. Ronaldo has returned to his old club after 12 years and just 10 games into the season, the team is still trying to adjust to a system with the master marksman at its focal point.
In a Covid-ravaged football economy, United weren’t going to sign a high-value, holding midfielder after forking out around £130 million in the transfer market. Solskjaer admires Declan Rice and he would be the top transfer priority next season. Until then, a top-class box-to-box midfielder will remain the missing piece of the jigsaw. Building a winning team is a process. Under Solskjaer, world-class players have joined United. Connection with the fans has been re-established and from canteen staff to laundry ladies, club insiders are smiling again. Under Solskjaer, the right structure has finally been put in place, from appointing a director of football and technical director to the overhauling of the scouting system.
OleOut is an overwhelming trend on Twitter, every time United lose a game. This has now become boring and as Solskjaer says sarcastically, every loss at this club is termed as a crisis. This season, United’s losses have been down to individual mistakes, from Jesse Lingard’s back pass against Young Boys to Bruno Fernandes’ penalty miss against Aston Villa and Harry Maguire’s horror show against Leicester City.
Solskjaer made a mistake by playing a half-fit Maguire against Leicester. But he had the honesty to put his hands up and admit it after the game. The manager is not without his flaws. He needs to trust his squad players a lot more, the likes of Donny van de Beek and Eric Bally. Flexibility is one area that calls for improvement from Solskjaer.
Big-name managers didn’t work for United, mainly due to the club’s uniqueness. Now, the club has invested heavily in Solskjaer and it’s way too early to take a U-turn. Appointing Antonio Conte, despite his trophy-winning credentials, would be a backward step. Zinedine Zidane doesn’t appear to be a smart choice either.
Match-goers and season ticket holders offer their unwavering support to Solskjaer, as was evident during United’s Champions League fixture against Atalanta. And the way the team bounced back in the second-half to win 3-2 showed that the manager hasn’t lost the dressing-room.