In response to claims that he should utilise Callum Hudson-Odoi more frequently, Maurizio Sarri told reporters “I’m not the coach of the fans.” It was a statement of autonomy, power and superiority.
It suggested he would take a wider view than that of supporters in the running of the club. The manager must make tough decisions, weighing options both short and long term for the betterment of the team.
It’s an admirable approach but one that does not always necessarily pay dividends. It is akin to the ‘you must stick by your new manager’ mantra that hung around the necks of Manchester United supporters in the aftermath of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
There is a sense that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United is not merely a coach for the fans, but also a coach for the long term.
Since his arrival, he has made populist decisions. He has liberated Paul Pogba, put trust in Marcus Rashford and gave Mason Greenwood his debut. These have been moves for which the fans have been clamouring. Solskjaer even sold Fellaini — a difference maker in games (a phrase which could be interpreted in a number of ways) — an intensely popular move with the fans.
And yet, on the back of three defeats in four, Solskjaer is now facing accusations of lacking a Plan B.
Perhaps Fellaini should never be the Plan B at a team of Manchester United’s calibre, but Solskjaer could have utilised the big Belgian on occasion, especially when Manchester United were experiencing a midfield injury crisis around the time of the Liverpool game.
United have been roundly outclassed against Arsenal and Wolves (twice) in the past four games. Even Watford, the losing team at Old Trafford last weekend, would have reason to be disappointed with the final score in their 2-1 defeat.
This is not the time to re-evaluate Solskjaer or wonder whether Ed Woodward jumped the gun in appointing Solskjaer so soon. He was the right man to appoint, even if the timing was peculiar over the international window.
The real measure of a manager is never during their initial ‘new manager bounce,’ but rather how they handle adversity when it first appears.
Solskjaer is now facing that adversity with the winds of fan support strong in his sails.
How Ole Gunnar responds to his current adversity will be the true measure of his impact as a manager and the likelihood of his long term success at United.
It’s a surprising thing to say, but supporters rarely wholly trust the intelligence and integrity of their managers.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the rare benefit of knowing that supporters thoroughly trust his desire to make Manchester United a force in English football again in both the long and short term.
The supporters know that Ole loves the club and trust that he will do everything in his power to make them great again. Unlike with Sarri at Chelsea, the motives and intentions of Solskjaer will never be questioned as supporters know his devotion to the club.
As he now handles United’s current slump, Solskjaer can possibly look to another former Champions League winner for inspiration in how to handle early adversity at your dream club.
Pep Guardiola famously waited three matches for his first win as manager of FC Barcelona in 2008. Having brought a new playing style to the Camp Nou, Barca lost to Numancia away and then failed to beat Racing Santander at the Camp Nou a fortnight later.
The Catalan press were already uncertain of their new manager, who himself was having a crisis of confidence. He was then visited by Xavi, then a stalwart of the Barcelona team, who assured his new manager that things would come right.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a similar moment, and a similar bolt of confidence to guarantee to himself and those around him that Manchester United can rediscover their form of two months ago, harness the spirit of Paris and produce a barnstorming finish to the remainder of the Premier League season.