Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s initial appointment in December of 2018, he’s split opinions as to whether he’s the man for the job. Many see trophies as the definitive factor when analysing Solskjaer’s time at the club so far and thus condemn him to being a failure as he’s not managed to pick up any silverware so far, whereas other fans have looked at the wider picture and determine his time at the club not just based on silverware but also the overall impact he’s had on the team and Manchester United as a whole.
When Solskjaer arrived, the club was in turmoil. Fans were unhappy, the owners were unhappy and the players didn’t want to be at the club. Jose Mourinho had started to turn the club sour leaving behind an inefficient recruitment team with many money men and not enough footballing men in charge.
One key success of Solskjaer’s reign so far is his work behind the scenes. He’s managed to move on a lot of the deadwood that was eating up wages not wanting to play for the club. This although expected is quite important as previous managers have failed to do so and instead just brought in more making the next manager in lines job even harder. Furthermore, a key element in the recruitment of this deadwood was the structure inside the club. Within the United ranks, since Ferguson’s retirement many key positions had been filled with businessmen who treat money as the priority over football.
Therefore, when looking at signings they would look at the commercial benefit in particular rather than the effect this player will have on the team. Angel Di Maria is a good example for this as he didn’t want to join the club but was a good signing to bring brand awareness and one to sell tickets and shirts.
This all lights up the eyes of these businessmen, but doesn’t help United on the pitch and actually enhances the issues at the club as it’s likely to create more disagreements in the dressing room ruining the atmosphere which is so crucial to maintaining good morale and subsequently good performances. Solskjaer, on the other hand, through the change in strategy, has brought the likes of John Murtough and Darren Fletcher in who understand the club and understand football and want the best for the team rather than just for their chequebooks.
As a result, United’s recruitment in the transfer window has been better as rather than signing players for the sake of it or signing second or third choice players, United have been bringing in first team quality players. This has seen players like Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane be brought into the club who all massively help United on the pitch and aren’t just their as financial toys. Therefore, in terms of internal issues, Solskjaer has massively improved the club from where they were at the end of Mourinho’s tenure to how they’re doing now.
The style of play is a significant and pivotal factor when managing Manchester United as the club is built on the roots of playing fast fluid football that appeases the fans. Solskjaer has been heavily criticised for his style of play since joining United as he likes to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with two solidified midfielders. Scott McTominay and Fred are the usual suspects in this role and tend to slow play down as they take too many touches, and their ball progression is too weak. This in turn, completely kills the tempo as it takes far too long to reach the final third and lacks any real impetus when attacking.
Many rightfully question Solskjaer for this as it’s his insistence on using McTominay and Fred that hinders the attack. However, this may be due to his lack of trust in his defence. Before the signing of Varane, Solskjaer didn’t trust the Victor Lindelof and Maguire partnership and this meant he felt he needed to play two robust midfielders like Fred and McTominay to cover this.
Now Varane is signing for the club, this may no longer be the case and he may resort to one covering midfielder with two more advanced midfielders either side. This would then help to transition the ball better as it wouldn’t involve taking as many touches and would ultimately speed the play up. We have seen glimpses of this football especially when Nemanja Matic has played as he’s the only natural defensive midfielder at the club capable of running the midfield on his own.
However, due to his age he’s often unable to play too much leaving Solskjaer short in that area. As this position holds so much importance, the board need to back Solskjaer and provide him with his needed natural defensive midfielder as that will likely see an improvement in style of play and provide the fans with the fast, high tempo football they so highly demand.
As managers CV’s go, Solskjaer’s hasn’t got the best as he was sacked at Cardiff City before managing Molde and the becoming United’s caretaker boss. However, since Ferguson’s retirement, the board have often looked at a good CV as the way to take United back to the top as Louis van Gaal and Mourinho were highly respected winners.
Solskjaer, on the other hand, brings a different approach; he brings understanding. As a former player, who played under Sir Alex Ferguson, he knows what Manchester United’s about, he understands the DNA of this football club.
So, despite not having the best CV, and little silverware, he brings an understanding of the expectations of this club and how to bring these standards back which the previous managers failed to do. In terms of progress, he’s moved the club forward leaps and bounds since his arrival improving the club on and off the field as he’s guided the players to consecutive UEFA Champions League qualifying seasons which hadn’t been accomplished since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
Furthermore, he’s reduced deadwood improving the atmosphere around the club and significantly changed the recruitment structure helping United bring in real quality players who are destined to improve United in the upcoming years. Overall, despite the lack of trophies and inconsistent football, I feel Solskjaer is the man for Manchester United right now as he’s steadied a sinking ship, and is making progress to properly improving the football to play the United way.
Then finally, he’s gradually getting closer to silverware and it can only be so long before United finally do go that one step further and win trophies under Solskjaer.
Written by Ethan Bents