Let’s get one thing straight. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done an excellent job as Manchester United manager and two losses on the bounce does not change that. The rumours that Solskjaer would be appointed Manchester United manager over the international window are worrying however, and threaten Manchester United with the type of PR crises that afflicted the early days of the Ed Woodward tenure at Old Trafford.
Thinking back to December, and Solskjaer was nobody’s preferred choice for the interim job. Michael Carrick was preferable, as were the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Laurent Blanc. Solskjaer was managing a League of Ireland level club in Norway and his only top-level experience in the Premier League had been an unmitigated disaster.
But Solskjaer was a success. ‘Smiles on the faces’ and all those horrible clichés that might threaten to antagonise United fans in years to come should his reign not be a success. It began a new way of thinking, that sometimes certain managers don’t necessarily need to slum it at lower levels with lesser clubs. Some ex-players, like those with big clubs, just know how to make big clubs tick.
It’s the Zidane factor; that notion that Zinedine Zidane was rated by few for his managerial nous, yet led Real Madrid to three Champions League titles. Luis Enrique’s treble at Barcelona in 2015 despite underwhelming at Celta Viga and failing at Roma is another example. Solskjaer’s success at Manchester United would lend to this paradigm and augment it in the English game.
It could open up Manchester United to a world of potential new managers. The Moyes archetype; that dogged, successful-at-lower-levels type, failed at United. As did the unequivocal success at top European clubs archetype, in Mourinho and Van Gaal. Solskjaer’s success would negate Gary Neville’s failure at Valencia and suddenly open up the possibility of his own day managing Manchester United. The reticence of Ryan Giggs to get into the managerial realm at lower levels would no longer be a factor.
Solskjaer’s managerial nightmare at Cardiff has not appeared to affect his ability to lead Manchester United since December. His successes have been plentiful. His supporters would point to the failure to beat PSG at Old Trafford and say that naivety may have played a part, but that this was rectified in games such as Liverpool at home and Chelsea away in the Cup.
In the Premier League, United have won 10 games, drawn 2 games and lost only 1 game since Solskjaer’s arrival; meaning that they have out performed every other team in that timeframe. Moreover, from being the team with a zero-goal difference, United have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the league (11 goals) while scoring 29 goals (second to only Manchester City and Liverpool, who have played an extra game).
Solskjaer’s United have had all the trappings of a high-speed train, built on smiles and momentum, but the rumours of his appointment over the international break has all the hallmarks of a PR nightmare for Manchester United, a team who have strived in recent years to leave such foibles behind them.
It is without question that Solskjaer has earned the job.
Dissenters might point to Mourinho-like performances against Burnley, Arsenal and Wolves, but the Norwegian has proven himself up to the challenge. The problem in appointing Ole now is that having just been knocked out of the FA Cup, should United’s fight for fourth place end without success, it would leave Manchester United looking foolish having appointed Ole on the basis of an extended ‘new manager bounce.’
Manchester United currently sit fifth in the Premier League table, two points behind Arsenal with eight games to play. The bookmakers currently favour Arsenal and Tottenham to make the top four ahead of United, as United still have tricky fixtures on the horizon such as Wolves away — again — and City at home.
Should United miss out on the top four, Solskjaer should still get his chance to manage Manchester United next season, but the aesthetics of appointing the Norwegian now are all wrong.
Solskjaer wants the job and is not looking to parlay his interim management of Manchester United into a different job at a different club. There is no need to rush and appoint him now, but the risk of looking foolish appointing Ole and then seeing the wheels fall off in a difficult run-in could be another PR nightmare for the Red Devils. In waiting until the summer, ideally it would keep the team hungry, eager to work hard and embellish and embolden the reputation of their beloved interim manager, while hopefully proving the bookmakers wrong in the process.