Opinion: Manchester United must sack Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after pitiful performance
It was a mistake to ever appoint Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as permanent manager of Manchester United, but their shambolic start to a new Premier League season should cost the Norwegian his job, writes Alexander Netherton.
Manchester United's Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford
Published 04/10/2020 at 18:15 GMT | Updated 05/10/2020 at 08:24 GMT
Manchester United should dispose of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after their collapse at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur.
Jose Mourinho administered a punishment beating of United with a ruthlessness that he was rarely able to exercise at Old Trafford. For all his faults in his time under Ed Woodward, he won a Europa League, then finished second in the league, and his ultimate reward was the arrival of Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant, then the sack.
Woodward was ultimately right to remove Mourinho when he did. The Portuguese had orchestrated such a toxic atmosphere at the club that it was essentially a mix of industrial action and a dirty protest. He had been given his marching orders but realistically Woodward and the United board should consider their actions little more than constructive dismissal.
Solskjaer was named as his replacement in a canny move from Woodward. As a club legend he would be insulated from the most vituperative criticism. Fans would be reluctant to attack the Norwegian as a result of his past heroics for the club. He also got United to commit to an attacking style of football, and for a period it worked.
There was a post-Mourinho honeymoon period, when morale improved and the results came. A famous comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain earned him a permanent contract as Woodward was overwhelmed by the scent of his own genius. Other managers should really have been considered but it would have been only the hardened sceptic who would have argued against the appointment at the time.
The following season, Solskjaer did an adequate job. The storming run back up the table in the second half of the season was undeniably impressive, but the defensive fragility of the side was evident. There was spirit and resilience in temperament, perhaps indicative of the fact that Solskjaer is apparently a popular man on the training ground. But there could be a reason for that popularity - it is clear that he is not making the players knuckle down.
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Dan James arrived at the club and burned like phosphorus down the wings, but once the season got underway properly his performances were more sulphurous. He whiffed, and Solskjaer did not take proper care of him. There is a player of promise there but he has already been earmarked for the exit rather than training and assistance. Paul Pogba has been indulged and accommodated with infinite praise, which has resulted in zero impressive performances as a thank you.
But the biggest problem is the defence. Luke Shaw keeps getting picked. Victor Lindelof remains scared of footballs, and Harry Maguire has regressed alarmingly after appearing to be an effectively straightforward centre-back for Leicester City. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who started last season like Jaap Stam in the tackle but limited going forward, now is just a meek presence. All this can be laid at the feet of Solskjaer, who should be able to coach improvement. If he can't, well, he should not be a coach.
The startling thing about United is that all these problems were evident in the Europa League. Every team had the excuse of lockdown, but United were pitifully unfit. They have had an arrested pre-season, just as every other club has, but they are consistently outrun. They were and are a defensive mess. This is a club with plenty of talented players in their squad and they need perceptive coaches. Instead they have Micky Phelan, sacked by Hull, and Michael Carrick, who failed to improve over a decade at the club. There is nobody to look to for leadership or as an example of technical excellence, except Bruno Fernandes, and he seems to have been dragged down by his teammates rather than dragging them up closer to his level.
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While Mourinho went too far in his attacks on Woodward’s underperformance, Solskjaer knows his place. That is a problem. After claiming third place and the Champions League he briefly had capital that his CV alone had not afforded. He promised United could exploit a distressed market, and instead United have simply distressed their fans. Perhaps he knows that the United job will be his only managerial job of note and he will put up with almost anything to make it last. It has allowed Woodward to prevaricate and dither.
Perhaps Woodward knows that without fans, and with increased security around his house, there is no fierce, direct criticism to withstand. He can simply turn off Twitter and the television, safe from the threat of fans outside his estate or screaming at him from the stands. While nobody should have to experience the threat of physical violence, it is of course a motivating threat. That has been neutered by the coronavirus, and so instead of a busy summer, fans and manager were given a dawdling autumn.
This should cost Woodward his job. It won’t. This should cost Solskjaer his job. It will, just probably not soon enough. United have their fall guy and the Glazers will consider it a shame to waste him in these exceptional circumstances.