The club is a mess but Solskjaer isn’t the cause of or the solution to Man United’s problems.
There were two moments that suggested that it wasn’t going to work out for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager. The first was when it was reported that the Norwegian was refusing to park in the manager’s designated parking spot at Carrington, the club’s training ground.
Solskjaer is said to have felt this would be disrespectful to Alex Ferguson, his former manager. It was easy to snigger at this, but, if the report is true, the reaction should be one of concern, not derision. The job was clearly too big for him, but that’s not his fault.
The second moment was when Ed Woodward appointed Solskjaer as the permanent United manager on March 28. The Norwegian had recorded 14 wins from his 19 matches as caretaker coach. He had greatly lifted the mood, and improved results, following the misery of Jose Mourinho’s final months. Fans and high-profile pundits were demanding his appointment. However, if Woodward felt it was the right decision to give Solskjaer the job permanently, it was time to sound the alarm.
The club’s executive vice-chairman has shown over the last few years that his football knowledge is almost non-existent. If Woodward thought it was the right appointment, then it clearly wasn’t. Everything that has played out over the last six months has confirmed that Solskjaer is out of his depth and Woodward should stick to signing commercial contracts and leave the football business to an expert.
The Norwegian doesn’t stand a chance and never did without the club also appointing a technical director and implementing a cohesive football plan. But even then, he still wouldn’t be the right man. Again though, that’s not his fault.
It all came to a head against West Ham United on Sunday afternoon. Solskjaer’s side put in a meek, borderline pathetic performance and lost 2-0. If the match was still being played now, the visitors would still not have scored. The result was only a surprise if you were not paying attention. United look to have no chance of finishing in the top four and, at the moment, don’t look good enough to finish in the top half of the Premier League. Since beating Paris Saint-Germain in March, they have won five of their 19 games, losing 10. That game was also the last time they won away from home.
On Sunday, the club were made to pay for all their blunders. Marcus Rashford was forced off with an injury leaving Man United without a recognised striker in their squad. Jesse Lingard played the final 30 minutes of the match upfront. Hundreds of millions spent on players to end up with Lingard, a player without a goal or an assist in 2019, as your only recognised forward. It is staggering. The club willingly made their squad weaker during the summer by allowing Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to leave without securing replacements. One of several senseless decisions the club have made over the last six years.
Over a year ago, they made it known that they were looking to finally appoint a director of football. As the club is the richest in the world, you would imagine they’d opt for the best in class – as Manchester City did when they lured Txiki Begiristain, and CEO Ferran Soriano, from Barcelona in 2012. No, instead, Man United reportedly spoke to Rio Ferdinand and Darren Fletcher, two former players with no experience of the role. Again, this is staggering.
However, even if United had the best director of football available, even if there were a blueprint and a cohesive plan in place, there is nothing to suggest that, even then, Solskjer would be the right coach to make the club competitive again. He showed flashes of promise in wins over Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and PSG, conveying an ability to alter games with tactical tweaks. But he and the side then regressed to the mean. United are now a weaker team than they were a year ago.
Solskjaer is not an elite manager and won’t ever be. He promised an intense pre-season, where he would improve the players’ fitness in order to play the high-pressing, all-action style he wants. Six games into the season, three key first-team players – Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Rashford – have been struck down with muscle injuries. It cannot be a coincidence.
Solskjaer has been overpromoted and is now drastically out of his depth. However, rather than criticise him, it is difficult not to feel sympathy for him. The Norwegian doesn’t stand a chance and never did, so instantly dismiss Gary Neville’s claim that his old friend needs “four or five” transfer windows to put things right.
The former Molde manager will never be good enough, but that’s not the issue for United. Like Mourinho before him, Solskjaer is a symptom, not a cause, of Manchester United’s issues. The problem is his boss, Woodward. Yet, even then, the actual cause of the club’s issues is Woodward’s employers, the Glazers.
On Sunday, Man United lost 2-0. On Tuesday, they will reportedly announce a record annual turnover of £650m. Which result do you think caught the owners’ attention?
Since buying United outright in 2005 – a purchase not funded by their own money – they have extracted over a billion without re-investing any of their own money.
The club desperately lacks leadership and football knowledge. It has become a piggybank for capitalists to drain, a media brand with a football team. The manager in the dugout is just a distraction, a sacrificial lamb to be offered up every so often before the owners and their lackeys get back to the real business of making money. What happens on the pitch is of little concern to them. Their only goal is to monetise their asset.
The malaise has spread throughout all facets of the club. Old Trafford was once the best stadium in Britain. It is now creaky and dated. It was infested with mice a few years ago. United have fallen so far behind Liverpool and Manchester City that they can no-longer legitimately consider either rivals.
Man United are a mess, a crumbling empire drained of their resources by absent owners and run by a blundering administrator. Solskjaer doesn’t stand a chance and never did. He is out of his depth, of course, but should never have been put in this position in the first place. Man United are rotting from the head down.
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