The five principles Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has reinstated at Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became the caretaker manager of Manchester United after the sacking of Jose Mourinho after the clubs 3-1 defeat to Liverpool back in December 2018. In the time that has since elapsed, Solskjaer has reinstated five principles that have not always been present at the club, at the same time, since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

1. Man management

It is no secret Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s style of man management is more inclusive than his predecessor Jose Mourinho. Criticism has been traded for encouragement, in press conferences player’s strengths are highlighted instead of flaws. In December 2017, Mourinho bemoaned Marcus Rashford’s “childish decisions in front of goal” after he missed a chance coming off the bench against Leicester City

Fast forward a year and Solskjaer is at the helm, in press conferences he highlights Marcus Rashford’slack of fear”,frightening pace,” and “great link-up play”. It’s no surprise then that this belief from his manager has coincided with the best form of his career. Perhaps more surprising is why Mourinho is so insistent on his approach when it has been observed many times that football is a confidence sport.

Building players up was a theme of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure. Did he believe Phil Jones would be United’s best ever player? Perhaps not. But he knew by saying so the centre back would be a hell of a lot closer. 

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2. Squad rotation

The modern game is physically demanding and fixture lists are crowded. As such modern managers should be able to successfully rotate their squad. Mourinho stubbornness meant he did not do this. For example, in the 2017/18 Premier League season Nemanja Matic only missed two games and Romelu Lukaku only missed four. This tendency for favourites resulted in those on the periphery of the squad losing motivation. 

Under Solskjaer, the message was clear – “everyone will be given a chance”. This chance for many came against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday 6 March 2019. United was able to write history becoming the first team ever to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the home leg. What’s more, is they did this with ten first team players missing.

An overworked Lukaku under Mourinho would not have given the same tireless performance. Similarly, would an ostracised Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Fred have played with the same desire? Ferguson would have been proud. It’s this type of management that brings out the best in peripheral players. He may have been reminded of a certain Solskjaer substitute appearance scoring four goals in ten minutes vs Norwich.

3. Tactical Flexibility

Under Solskjaer we have seen United play in various formations; 4-4-2, 4-1-2-1-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-1-2. Importantly United are now able to change formation in play. Meaning they are versatile to deal with in game developments. This was a hallmark of the Ferguson era and in particular many formations were deployed throughout his 2007/08 double winning season. 

Ferguson opted for a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 in European games that season. A similar tactic was used by Solskjaer versus PSG away as he deployed a 4-5-1 from minute 60-80 in order to consolidate his player’s energy and limit PSG’s attacking space. Leading in to the final minutes he went 4-3-3 in search of a vital goal. A shrewd tactical plan that paid off for United.

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4. Giving youth a chance

Since Solskjaer took charge United have scored 40 goals and over half have been scored by players who have graduated from the clubs academy. Part of the reason United attract such a wide audience is the community feel of the club. There is a pride that comes with educating the next generation of footballers.

Bryan Robson mentored Paul Scholes who mentored Michael Carrick who is now mentoring Paul Pogba. This is a deep history that had been forgotten since Ferguson’s departure. A tradition which allows youth players to express themselves and senior players to stand taller. Every football fan should be celebrating its return. 

5. Delegation 

Perhaps Ferguson’s biggest quality was his ability to delegate tasks. As put by Rio Ferdinand – “the best traits that Ferguson had were that he delegated and trusted other people”. He expands on this saying one of Moyes failure was his inability to relinquish any form of control – “Moyes’ hands were on everything at the club”. Micro-managing leads to those around you switching off, your colleagues and employees will no longer observe the work they are doing. 

Since Solskjaer’s arrival, there have been signs of change, the manager of the month award was a collective photo rather than individual. Tactical decisions are discussed rather than enforced. Interesting that David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho were often fraught figures at United. While Solskjaer seems to be enjoying the ride. An open hand was Ferguson’s way of maintaining the tightest grip. He let go to keep control. Solskjaer seems to be doing the same. 

Written by Chris Barnes

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