Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to be given a contract extension, but the Norwegian should never have been considered for the job.
On the surface, Solskjaer deserves more years at the club. When he took over the club were risking the failure to qualify for the Champions League, a money-spinning whirligig that the bottom line needs, and they managed to arrest the decline well enough to secure a sixth-placed finish. What got him the job was not the final league position, but the departure of Jose Mourinho inevitably lifted the ambience at the club, and a brilliant victory against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes convinced Ed Woodward the club were on the way up.
There was and is nothing beyond mood music that marks Solskjaer out as the exceptional candidate for the job at Old Trafford. Mauricio Pochettino, Max Allegri, Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel are more talented and experienced candidates than Solskjaer, and they have all had plenty of offers over the past couple of years, and perhaps that is the point.
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Solskjaer can point to one indisputably impressive spell at Molde, but his time at Cardiff was a miserable experience. None of the fans were impressed by what was a dreadful job to take. Whether badly advised, arrogant or just desperate, the job set him back and he went back to Molde. From there, one would have expected him to spend the rest of his days there, maybe with a spell at Salford City when they needed someone in a push.
Instead, it was Woodward who was up against it. Every one of his managers - David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho - had been a failure, and eventually his bosses would have to ask if they really needed to keep appointing all these mistakes, and perhaps even wonder if the mistake was their executive vice-chairman. The truth is that for each of his managers he had underdelivered in the transfer market, when he had delivered at all, and both Van Gaal and Mourinho had the stones and reputation to let it be known that they needed more. The Dutchman was promised Sergio Ramos, and ended up with Phil Jones, again. Mourinho was rewarded for second place with Fred, Lee Grant, and Diogo Dalot. At a certain point, one would have to wonder if Woodward was choosing to do his job sarcastically.
That transfer window, and the ones that followed, made it clear that a director of football was needed. Last summer, Solskjaer had requested a central defender and a right winger, and instead was given a left-back, central midfielder and an ageing striker. None of them were dreadful signings, but they weren’t what was needed or requested. It was typical Woodward, doing what he could and not what he should.
The club had hinted at the recruitment of a transfer guru for years. Every time a manager fell away, the talk was of a new, overarching strategy. Instead, Woodward always remained the man in control. The stories say that he enjoyed the limelight, basking in the glory of big-money signings, never taking the blame for anything else that happened. Control, rather than competence.
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And now they do have a director of football. Not only that, but a technical director too! In a literally incredible coincidence, it turned out that the ideal candidates, after years of strategising, were at the club all along. John Murtough and Darren Fletcher took the respective jobs, after impressing... never before in those particular roles anywhere else. It is, then, Solskjaer mark II and III. Men with links to the club, but without the CV that demands these jobs. The common thread is that all of these men are not obviously qualified to be in their jobs. A sceptic should ask how they have ended up here.
While a sceptic should ask the question, a cynic can answer it. This isn’t jobs for the boys, as it used to be, it’s that Woodward has identified three patsies. No longer does he need to worry about being taken to task by men who know better.
Instead, there are men who know they can never do any better. The ex-Molde and ex-Cardiff manager Solskjaer can’t tell Woodward where to get off, because he will never have it this good again. If he leaves now, PSG, Real Madrid, or any other top-tier club will never be stupid enough to give him £9 million a year. He can't answer back. Murtough, a sport scientist given his break by Moyes, is apparently the best to provide the club’s overall strategy. Fletcher, a hard worker and... what else? As a technical director one would expect him to have some appreciation of the technicals at play in football. For all his efforts and achievements, that was never on show on the pitch or off it.
When Solskjaer took over, United were rudderless. Now, they are second. They are a club with momentum once again, and they are still a club who will look to Woodward for their strategy in the summer. This is a club that needs expertise to bring in talent on a budget, as United struggle with the limits of the Glazers and Woodward, coupled with the impact of the coronavirus. And they need a manager who can put pressure on his bosses to give him what he needs, if they are to ever win the league again. Unless Woodward has pulled off his first ever miracle, they have none of these.
Phil Jones, by the way, is still there.
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