When Manchester United dismissed Jose Mourinho in December 2018, there was a breath of fresh air around Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, one of their own, a club legend who understands the club philosophy from the inside out was finally appointed manager. It was the continuation of a love story of epic proportions.
Mourinho, a serial winner, who, despite enduring a largely underwhelming spell at Manchester United, managed two major trophies during a torrid two and a half seasons in charge was shown the door after series of underwhelming performances that also saw him lose his own dressing room.
Fast-forward nearly three years later, #OleOut has probably set new records on Microblogging platform, Twitter given its frequency as a permanent fixture on its global trends, and a club legend whose reunion with the club was greeted with fanfare and ecstasy is now being stripped naked and forced to run through the schoolyard.
From the outset, Manchester United had provided clarity that the Solksjaer project was a long-term one. With a relatively young and inexperienced side with a lot of promise, it was crucial to build from the scratch rather than opt for the quick fix that had backfired with the previous manager.
However, with the Norwegian now approaching a third year with the Red Devils, the scorecard does not particularly point towards the futuristic project it was pegged to be when he was appointed just under three years ago.
Manchester United had come into the season nursing a Europa League Final defeat to Spanish side, Villareal. However, the summer acquisitions had inspired hope among the club faithful that this could finally birth a first silverware in five years, hope that continues to be diminished by strings of incoherent performances across the board.
Despite an emotional return for an all-time great and five-time Balon D’or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo and other high profile signings in Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, the club has struggled to find a sustained rhythm this term, with a 1-1 draw at home to Everton on Saturday intensifying calls for Solksjaer’s dismissal.
Perhaps more frustrating for the Manchester United fanbase has been the question of performance, and not necessarily results. Solksjaer had in the wake of the draw against Everton claimed that his team had “dominated” the game, a claim which tragically tends to put the beleaguered manager out of tune with the hapless state of his team.
Against Everton, just like the Champions League group fixture against Villareal, Manchester United struggled to establish any modicum of rhythm or understanding of their own game plan, unable to string any decent combination of passes through the middle; and, as characteristic of a team completely out of sorts, resorted to passing the ball sideways and looping in hopeful crosses that opposing defences repelled with majestic ease.
Defensively, they have been sliced open far too easily, holding defensive lines that have left them at the mercy of opposition attacks; and, quite frankly, may have conceded a lot more if their opponents had applied a lot more clinicality in the final third.
If the Solksjaer project was indeed a long-term one, then the honeymoon is over for the Norwegian gaffer. Having now been at the helm longer than his predecessors, who all managed silverware during their time, the Norwegian now faces intense pressure to squeeze out results, something that could prove increasingly abortive with his defiant disposition towards jettisoning unproductive tactics.
Game after game, Manchester United tend to play out a familiar script largely themed by a faulty passing bazaar characteristic of a team without cohesion. Precocious youngster, Mason Greenwood, despite his lethal streak in front of goal, would likely attempt a number of wasted solo efforts, while a flat combination of two defensive midfielders will fail to effect crucial play-breaking interceptions in the middle of the park, and of course, a key part of the defensive midfield problem, Fred, will be handed another start, a managerial gaffe on the part of Solksjaer that could play out to be his undoing.
During Saturday’s disappointing draw, Everton’s goal came from a corner and in the breakaway, Fred was beaten to the ball and then barged off it by Demarai Gray, who has impressed for the Toffees since joining. However, Solksjaer, who has deemed it more productive to treat his players with kid gloves, rose to his player’s defense.
Former Manchester United player turned pundit, Owen Hargreaves explained the brutal way in which former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson would have dealt with the Brazillian for his performance, and, having spent a significant fraction of his playing career with Manchester United under the Scottish tactician, it begs reason and rationality why Solksjaer continues to favour the kid gloves.
Explaining to Premier League Productions what Sir Alex would have done in Solksjaer’s shoes, Hargreaves said: “Never ever, not in a million years [should that goal be allowed to happen].
“That’s what you get paid for, that’s why you’re there, that’s your job to stop that goal. I would’ve taken that personally.
“He’s got two cracks at it, and both [times] he loses.
“It can’t happen. Sir Alex wouldn’t forgive you for that, you wouldn’t have played for a month, seriously.
“He has to win those tackles. And if he loses it, you foul him, you bring him down.
“You’ve got to win that. You cannot get bumped off the ball by Demarai Gray and if he does, you foul him.
“United don’t have control of games, it’s their corner, how can a goal like that happen?
In all fairness to Fred, Saturday’s episode was not exactly his first rodeo. As a holding midfielder, the Brazilian has been culpable of being brushed off the ball too easily on too many occasions, and the repetition of these familiar patterns further calls Solksjaer’s managerial tact into questioning.
As far as Manchester United’s history goes, it is difficult to imagine what moment would top the “and Solksjaer has won it!” moment at the Nou Camp 21 years ago. It was a single moment that etched Solksjaer’s name in the history books forever. However, with his second spell at the club facing down an unceasing smear campaign on social media, the “super sub” as he was known during his playing days desperately has to find the perfect substitution for his ineffectual tactics to avoid blighting this “love story of epic proportions.”
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