OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJÆR’s job at Manchester United is under constant surveillance: by the media, by the fans and by the club’s owners and board. If you believe all you read, then OGS is just one more big defeat away from the sack. Every week that passes, the popular Norwegian’s future appears to hang by a thread – every match is the “biggest of his managerial career”.
Other United managers have experienced the same routine: David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho have all been subject to trial by fixture list. United are by no means the only club where this dynamic exists – managers like Arséne Wenger and Maurizio Sarri were being judged on a daily basis as their careers with Arsenal and Chelsea came to an end.
The consensus on a manager’s worth changes like the wind, along with the attitude of the fans. It is a fickle world and a manager can go from hero to zero and back again in the space of three games. This week, as United won 3-1 at Everton, Solskjær came through his latest test after two successive defeats. Should United lose their next game, doubtless the gallows will be assembled outside Old Trafford once more and some clever wag with a bit of cash will charter a biplane to underline public sentiment.
Solskjær knows every manager eventually gets his marching orders and his tenure at Manchester United has been characterised by a decidedly temporary feel to the role. If, in fact, his career has hung on a single result (would he have really been sacked if Everton had beaten United?) then nobody has truly been too convinced from day one.
It is interesting, and a sign of human nature, that the manager gets the blame for the performance of a team that was probably designed by a combination of committee, big data and scouting. The coach has little to do with buying players, the major clubs employ people who go into the market like fantasy football managers. But when the nasty stuff collides with the extractor fan, the manager of the team is the one to take the blame.
United’s player acquisition record in recent years is not good, their wage bill is high and the club’s playing success has diminished since Sir Alex Ferguson departed. There are number of players who have not delivered, such as Paul Pogba, who has been with the club since 2016 and is now 27 years old. The hoped-for flourishing of an undoubtedly talented young player hasn’t really happened – certainly, the club has not had £ 90 million’s worth from the mercurial Frenchman.
Similarly, sizeable fees have been paid for Ángel Di María, Memphis Depay, Romelu Lukaku, Fred and Harry Maguire. The most recent, Maguire, now looks overpriced at £ 80 million, but another, Bruno Fernandes, appears to have been a good piece of business at £ 47 million. Too many of United’s purchases simply don’t seem to work out anymore.
Solskjær’s future depends on a mish-mash of a squad that lacks consistency and, in some cases, the heart to get United out of their current situation.
OGS’s win rate at United is 54.9%, which is better than Van Gaal (52.4%) and Moyes (52.94%) but lower than Mourinho’s 58.3%. With Tottenham now flying high under the “special one”, the wisdom of appointing Solskjær will surely be questioned again. Most pundits, including former players who fear upsetting a fellow professional like OGS, have been blaming everything else other than the manager’s failure to blend a group of individuals who appear to lack cohesion.
Solskjær did exactly what he was asked to do when he was made interim manager, winning 14 of his first 19 games, but the United board were seduced by the effect of players trying to impress a new coach after the more restrictive Mourinho era. At the time, there were fears the United management had acted too quickly and should have waited for the close season of 2019 to make a permanent appointment.
Of course, the modern game is an impatient beast and club owners insist on quick solutions to problems. In United’s case, the rise of Liverpool and Manchester City adds greater pressure and tension to the issue. There are remedies to United’s problems, but time is not a commodity in great supply. Hence, Solskjær’s future is very predictable and sadly, will result in him being replaced. There are a few big managerial names who are out of work at the moment, notably Mauricio Pochettino and Max Allegri. United won’t want to miss out, but they too will be expected to bring instant success to the club. There are no such jobs as permanent managerial roles in football, in fact, the manager has become a temporary employee that can be disposed of easier than unloading players.