Pending unforeseen and apocalyptic circumstances, I reckon this will be my final piece in this series. However, I do not bid this series farewell with a heavy heart. Quite the opposite. I am brimming with joy and confidence that only can be provided by an unassuming son of Kristiansund, Norway.
There are not many sure things in life, but, if you ask Betfair, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coronation as Manchester United’s next manager is nigh. Currently, a bet of £5 would only return £6 including the original stake; so good on you for placing your bets on Solskjaer when he was first appointed as caretaker.
Since his appointment on Dec. 19, 2018, Solskjaer has posted a record of 12-1-2, and, after every result, someone comes out with a, “yeah but,” to check the emotions of supporters. It made sense at first when Solskjaer’s United were carpet bombing the Premier League’s bottom feeders and it was easy to say, “yeah but,” after United dropped five on Cardiff City.
However, the strong voices of reason started to fade amongst the crowd as Solskjaer picked up wins at Tottenham, at Arsenal, and at Chelsea — despite dropping the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain.
The particular timing of this article is because Solskjaer pulled off some of his greatest managerial feats this week alone, with a home draw against league-leading Liverpool and a 3-1 drubbing of a plucky Crystal Palace side at Selhurst Park.
What’s made Solskjaer’s performance so impressive during this recent stretch is the carnage he’s maneuvered around. Since the PSG match, Manchester United’s training room has been more akin to the army field hospitals you see in the movies — the R-rated movies.
Solskjaer has dealt with the losses of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard (twice), Nemanja Matić, Ander Herrera, and Juan Mata, along with a hobbled Marcus Rashford. The highly-anticipated match between United and Liverpool saw four substitutions in the first half including Solskjaer making all three of his substitutes. Granted, one substitution was a head-scratching error as Lingard was thrown into the match only to re-injure his ailing hamstring that wasn’t 100 percent entering the match. But, to his credit, Solskjaer didn’t let his team’s rhythm become disrupted over the substitutions (sending all the eyeball emojis at you, Herr Klopp). The Red Devils appeared to be the better side despite having 9.5 players on the field as Rashford gutted out a courageous performance on a bum ankle and Alexis Sánchez was put into the game by default.
In the aftermath of the Liverpool match, we were all left wondering how was Solskjaer going to handle this newest test.
Before anyone could get a “yeah but” out of their mouth, Solskjaer slapped some bandages on the lads who could still walk on both of their legs, called up promising youth and Marcos Rojo(?), and traveled down to Crystal Palace to give the Eagles the business.
The starting XI that Solskjaer marched onto the field had four changes from the Liverpool match — all up front — and his bench featured two academy players. The challenge presented by Crystal Palace should have been a difficult one thanks to Palace’s pacey frontline and scrappy players that took several top 6 teams to the brink in recent months. Instead, Romelu Lukaku laced up his finishing boots and bagged a brace while Ashley Young (ASHLEY YOUNG?) found an insurance goal that guaranteed the victory for the zombified United squad.
Analyzing Solskjaer as the bettors’ favorite to be appointed the next manager of Manchester United was always going to follow a slightly different format than the rest of the pieces in this series. Since October 2018, I’ve looked at how different managers may fit into Manchester United, and how their styles may fit with the current roster of players. We’ve seen in 15 matches exactly how Solskjaer fits in the club structure and how his style fits the current roster, sans Sánchez.
Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino was seen early on as the next man up at Old Trafford, and, full disclosure, I considered myself a Poch guy. He definitely had the trajectory and success you like to see from a young manager, and he built a squad of fantastically talented players on limited funds. By all accounts, Tottenham was an annual contender and it was in large part because of Pochettino. But, since the home loss to Manchester United on Jan. 13, Tottenham are 5-0-5, knocked out of the race for first place, and are in danger of losing a spot in the top 4 to United’s and Arsenal’s resurgence. All in all, not a hot look, my guy.
Meanwhile, on the same day that Tottenham lost 2-0 to Chelsea’s Sorry (not a typo) Ball, Solskjaer just picked up his club record eighth straight win on the road. From now on, save your “yeah but” for the person that brings up Pochettino’s name again for the United job.
United’s always been in a low-risk, high-reward scenario since the appointment of Solskjaer. Had OGS not stuck the landing at Old Trafford, the club would still ride the good feelings tour with a club legend while it appointed its manager of the future. There was always the chance that OGS could manage his way into the job, and, in that scenario, United still won because they would get a great manager at a middling cost compared to David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, and José Mourinho.
The timetable of the aforementioned scenario needs to be moved up, however, considering the performance of the caretaker manager and the players. United was within its right to wait until the end of the season to make the announcement, but the team needs to start building for the 2019-20 season, now.
The permanent appointment of Solskjaer would bring a heightened level of stability that OGS already provided to the club. With the man firmly entrenched, major players like David De Gea and Ander Herrera can confidently sign their new contracts knowing that Ole’s at the wheel. Furthermore, the club can begin to court new players who want to play for United and Solskjaer.
Solskjaer’s major blemish, so far, was the home leg against PSG. His team looked overmatched and were beginning to crumble from the intensity of the new system implemented by Solskjaer. It isn’t necessarily an indictment on OGS that his team struggled against a team built for the purpose of winning the Champions League. Instead, it proved that quality won that night at Old Trafford, and United and its future new manager need to be ready to begin addressing its major personnel concerns going into the summer.
From a tactical perspective, Solskjaer has shone in his caretaker role. He was quick to identify the deficiencies in the United roster and do his best to paper over those deficiencies. Whether it was playing an adventurous counter-attacking system that beat teams into submission or playing a more pragmatic 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation that could morph into a 4-3-3 with two wingers and a false 9 in the attack, OGS has shown that he can get United to play attractive football, regardless of the opponent. Backing Solskjaer now will allow him to handpick the players for his system that will turn the deficiencies into strengths and unlock new possibilities for his system for next season.
Solskjaer’s commitment to building up Manchester United’s foundation is an even more intriguing prospect. The man is a former manager of United’s reserves team that featured Paul Pogba, and he saw firsthand the quality that can come out of Manchester United’s youth system. Furthermore, Solskjaer is not afraid to provide opportunities for academy players, and, as they begin to record minutes with the senior team, the prestige of Manchester United’s youth system can grow again and challenge the likes of Chelsea.
Ultimately, putting the tactics and general likeability aside, the reason why Solskjaer will become the next manager of Manchester United is because he is Manchester United. The man was a goal-scoring disciple at the altar of Sir Alex Ferguson (All. Of. The. Respeck.) and he developed many of his future managerial stylings under the tutelage of SAF. Solskjaer’s approach since taking over has been an optimized blend of vintage United play on the pitch and new school man management that can get the most out of players like Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford who prefer not to be managed by the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.
Solskjaer’s appointment is important, not just for the club, but also for the supporters in Manchester and around the world. As an American who didn’t have access to club soccer on his cable package until late in the Ferguson era, I didn’t have the privilege of watching many of the great SAF teams. Instead, I’ve had to catch up on what I missed on the internet in between instances when I was forced to watch the post-Fergie United’s level of play teeter between droll and abominable.
The Premier League continues to become more and more accessible across the globe, and prospective fans, who might be bedazzled by the likes of Liverpool or Manchester City, will now have a link, through Solskjaer, to an era of some of the greatest football ever played in England and across the continent. Manchester United is still the greatest football club in the world on paper, but the club has been without an identity since Ferguson.
Solskjaer has proven through his time as the caretaker manager that he can restore United’s identity while helping evolve it for the modern era, and that is why, according to the bettors and literally everyone on the Full Time Devils’ fan cams, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be the next manager of Manchester United.