As the managerial merry-go-round heats up in the Premier League, one manager that should be fearfully looking over his shoulder is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.
His £145m worth of signings last summer, combined with apparent fallouts with high-profile players such as Paul Pogba have heaped pressure on the club’s former striker who was brought in to transform United’s fortunes on the pitch.
However, with the club languishing in 9thin the Premier League, the United board face another monumental dilemma (their third since Sir Alex) in shaping the future of the football club. This situation, more significantly, has been exacerbated by the fact that a number of high-profile managers with proven track records are now available. None more coveted than ex-Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino.
When Solskjaer was appointed back in December 2018 on an interim basis, he must have thought that managing in the Premier League was just as straightforward as in Norway, where he earned his stripes at Molde with an impressive 55% win ratio.
SOLSKJAER AND CARDIFF CITY
His first match in charge was ironically against a team that he had previously managed in the Premier League, Cardiff City. Many voices coming out of the Cardiff City Stadium believed that Solskjaer was single-handedly responsible for the club’s immediate relegation back to England’s second tier.
When the Norweigan was brought in in January 2014 after the not-so-pretty sacking of predecessor Malky Mackay, Solskjaer had one objective: avoid the drop. Cardiff sat 17th and a solitary point above the drop-zone and had developed a knack of grabbing vital points in a workmanlike and energetic manner under Mackay.
This was Solskjaer’s big break and an opportunity for him to showcase his managerial nous to the world. What transpired next still haunts Cardiff City fans. Unlike Mackay, Solskjaer was told that there were funds available to keep the Welsh team in the Premier League. The Norwegian consequently went back to his roots, bringing in no fewer than three of his compatriots from Molde to help parachute their new club up the table.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem, Mats Moller Daehli and Jo Inge Berget cost Cardiff City almost £10m and accumulated just 21 top-flight appearances between them. Don’t get me wrong, that figure doesn’t come close to what he has spent at United thus far although it demonstrates Solskjaer’s weaknesses in the transfer market. Wilfried Zaha (where is he now?) was brought in on loan from Manchester United and was met with excitement. Yet Solskjaer couldn’t get him firing and often played him out of position. The Bluebirds were relegated and finished rock bottom of the Premier League with Solskjaer picking up just three wins along the way. His stint in the Championship ended after three defeats in seven.
Manchester United fans should be concerned. The Norwegian struggled to find a consistent identity on the pitch, made no impact in the transfer market and alienated the fans. Quite frankly, he was out of his depth. There is a worrying correlation to what those at Old Trafford are witnessing this season.
HAS OLE LEARNED ANYTHING?
In last Sunday’s topsy-turvy 3-3 draw at Brammall Lane, United were trailing 1-0 at the interval. Solskjaer made a change at half-time, positively yes, by taking off the hapless Phil Jones and replacing him with Jesse Lingard, another player who has seemingly fallen off a cliff under his new boss. Some fans praised this instinctive substitution, but nothing changed in terms of tempo for United and it was, in fact, the hosts who took a richly deserved 2-0 lead with Lys Mousset in acres of space in between the Reds’ midfield and defence.
What transpired on 72 minutes was a goal out of nothing through youngster Brandon Williams. This is when United seemed to turn the screw and not through any inspired tactical changes from their manager but through sheer youthful energy. Mason Greenwood nicked an equaliser before Marcus Rashford made it 3-2 two minutes later. United’s tails were up, they were ahead for the first time and Sheffield United were all at sea. Once bouncing Bramall Lane had been silenced.
Inexplicably Solskjaer then changed the whole complexion of the game by taking off Anthony Martial and reverting back to a back three with the introduction of Axel Tuanzebe. Why? The negative approach gave United their just desserts and The Blades salvaged a deserved point in a thrilling contest.
The naivety shown by the manager on that occasion was plain for all to see and I have seen nothing to convince me that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will take Manchester United forward.
Back in December 2018, would any other Premier League Club, or Championship club for that matter, have taken on Solskjaer based on his managerial record? No. United wanted a former cult hero to transform their fortunes and bring a return to the “United Way”. It’s ironic to think that almost a year down the line from the appointment, nobody knows what that “way” is anymore.
The board at Old Trafford were cock-a-hoop after Solskjaer won 14 out of his first 19 games in charge. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and since signing his three-year contract, Solskjaer’s record reads: Played 30, Won 11, Drawn 8, Lost 11. Is this a record that breeds confidence?
The United boss clearly has skills but are they enough to make his team a dominant force domestically and in Europe? He has not learned from the mistakes he made during his first spell in management in England and there is a belief that the board need to discard sentiment by, in a nutshell, discarding Solskjaer.