Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a man whose current position at one of the biggest clubs in the world has constantly split opinions. The Norwegian was appointed as Manchester United’s interim manager following Jose Mourinho’s sacking last December, but few expected what was to come next.
Solskjaer got United bouncing again. The players who seemed like they were going to retire at the end of the season because of how much they had fallen out of love with football under Mourinho, suddenly seemed revitalized and desperate to get going again. The romance of the beautiful game encompassed the dressing room once more, and the smiles around the entire club were a stark contrast to the gloom and doom of the Mourinho era.
Attacking football had returned to the Theatre of Dreams, Solskjaer had reminded the squad of the infamous ‘United DNA’, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Emotions were at an all time high, and it peaked after the remarkable Champions League comeback against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes. It got the fans feeling like it really could not got better than this.
Unfortunately for them, they were right. It didn’t.
After that miraculous night in Paris, the draws and the defeats started to arrive one after another. While Liverpool and Manchester City were neck-to-neck in the title race, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and United were seemingly having a battle of who could slip up more before the end of the season.
After a shocking start to the season, Solskjaer had dragged United back into the top 4 race and helped his side into a very promising position to secure qualification for this season’s Champions League. It was a magical upturn in form and prompted the board to act on impulse and hand Solskjaer the job permanently.
Since his full-time appointment though, the flip switched back yet again. United ended the season with 2 wins and 2 draws from their last 9 games – one of them being the utterly embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park.
Solskjaer’s appointment in itself raised plenty of eyebrows. While the club seemingly turned things around, there was nothing on the Norwegian’s CV that showed he was capable of sustaining that good form for a long period of time.
United are well away from the club that was guaranteed success. There is a blatant lack of quality in the squad that Mourinho and his predecessor were trying to fix, but weren’t awarded the appropriate support from the board to do so.
Despite his moderate success at Molde, his last experience in the Premier League dugout saw him relegate a hapless Cardiff City. There was nothing to suggest that if the going ever got tough again, that Solskjaer could inspire his players to be tough enough to get going too. Halfway through the season, unfortunately, there still isn’t anything to prove otherwise.
The statistics don’t help his cause either. Since his appointment, Ole has a shambolic record of just 13 wins from 33 games – a jaw-dropping win rate of just 39%. That record would have been enough to see a manager at a Championship club sacked, let alone one that claims to be among the biggest in the world.
So why should Solskjaer be treated any different? Some might argue that sentiment prevails over rational judgement given his legendary history with the club as a player. At the moment, it would be hard to disagree.
Of course, a lot of the blame does fall on the squad. Several of the club’s key players have failed to step up to the plate, while Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Axel Tuanzebe have all missed extended periods of the season.
Paul Pogba is the biggest miss, having spent the last two months on the sidelines after picking up an injury against Rochdale in the League Cup. Scott McTominay has become a key player for Ole during Pogba’s absence, but even he sustained a serious injury and was sidelined for around four weeks before coming on against Tottenham this week.
Has the squad let Ole down? Undoubtedly so. But to place the blame solely on them would be nothing short of delusional. The manager is the main person who picks the team, makes the substitutions in-game, drops players when they aren’t performing, finds a system that works and sticks with it. Ole has hardly done any of that, and a majority of the tactical calls he has made have all failed too.
The most recent being the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, where he inexplicably took off Anthony Martial for Mason Greenwood and replaced Brandon Williams with Luke Shaw. He replaced a defender with a defender and took off their best attacking player when the side were desperate for a goal.
When he first joined the club, he stated his intent to play attacking football and press from the front. That tactic has worked stupendously when implemented, but it rarely has been. United’s best form of defense is their attack, but Solskjaer often implements a system where they soak up pressure and then attempt to push back instead. It just doesn’t work with the poor midfield and defense that they’ve got.
The only real credit Solskjaer can take away from the season so far is the chances he’s given to United’s youth players. His summer signings have also been decent so far, especially Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but the decision to opt against signing Bruno Fernandes still remains a baffling one.
Ole is a very amicable man and one of the nicest in football. However, it is the results that dictate whether you deserve a job at one of the biggest clubs in football. At the moment, Ole simply isn’t getting them.
Mauricio Pochettino has been flirting with the United hot seat for a while now, and if the results don’t improve, he may just get his wish turned true.