CHRIS WHEELER: A shadow of his rivals, Ole was never the right man to take the Manchester United wheel… Solskjaer was out of his depth from the start and his downfall was an accumulation of shame
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was always out of his depth as Manchester United boss
- Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola would get more out of this United squad
- Confidence was disintegrating and there was a lack of game plan from Solskjaer
The publishers of an excellent biography about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s path to the Manchester United hot-seat settled on a title of The Red Apprentice.
It felt apt. Accurate too. It is also a damning indictment of Solskjaer’s three-year reign at Old Trafford. No Manchester United manager should be learning on the job. That isn’t Solskjaer’s fault, of course. He answered the call from his old club when United sacked Jose Mourinho in December 2018, initially as a caretaker, and who could blame him?
‘I suppose it was like coming in on loan,’ Solskjaer wrote candidly earlier this year in another book on leadership. ‘It wasn’t like, “come in and change the club and put your stamp on it”. It was “come in, you know the club, you know the expectations, make them smile, play attacking football and give youth a chance”.’
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was always out of his depth as the manager of Manchester United
So there was never a long-term plan for Solskjaer. It wasn’t meant to be this way. He arrived with a mediocre c.v. showing success at Molde and failure at Cardiff City, qualifications that wouldn’t normally qualify a manager for the United job. He lasted longer than anyone expected, including the man himself.
But the brutal reality for a thoroughly likeable and decent human being is that he was out of his depth from the start.
Circumstances and a misplaced sense of nostalgia conspired to mask that fact. United gave Solskjaer a new contract when they were high on a Champions League win in Paris the following March and another one this summer.
To his credit Solskjaer leaves behind a better squad at United to the one that he inherited
The stop-gap had become a spiritual leader; responsible for putting smiles on faces, resetting cultures and restoring DNA post-Mourinho. To that end, Solskjaer deserves great credit.
He also leaves behind a better squad than he inherited, helped of course by more than £400million spent on new signings.
But when it came to giving United the kind of leadership and coaching acumen that Manchester City and Liverpool are blessed with in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, it always felt as though Solskjaer was a pale imitation.
Would Guardiola and Klopp get more out of this United squad? Without a doubt. Would they walk into another top job tomorrow? Of course. Solskjaer? Unlikely.
It is highly likely that Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola would get more out of United’s players
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was criticised for taking too long to end Solskjaer’s tenure
It was his misfortune to be in charge when United’s two biggest rivals were so high in the ascendancy. The 5-0 defeat by Liverpool last month was utterly brutal. Surrender to City in the Manchester derby was just as painful.
In truth, the rot had set in before then. In the defeats by Leicester, Young Boys and Aston Villa and the draws with Everton and Southampton. ‘This has been coming,’ confessed defender Luke Shaw after the Liverpool debacle.
If Mourinho was sacked because of the intolerable toxicity that had built up around the club, then Solskjaer’s downfall was an accumulation of shame.
Given the chance to prove United had recovered from the embarrassing defeats against Liverpool and City, they went to Watford and got stuffed 4-1. When the fans turned on Solskjaer and he responded with a farewell wave, we knew it was all over.
Support from the stands was the last bastion. The fans had wanted this to work out more than anything. So did Solskjaer and the majority of the players — not that they showed it with the way they have let him down.
The money men in charge of United allowed themselves to be carried away by sentiment too, convinced that the hero of 1999 could restore the club to greatness even when it became clear he couldn’t and the ‘Ole’s at the wheel’ chant turned into a taunt.
Solskjaer was said to be too soft on his players and there was an accumulation of shame
They wanted to wait until the summer to make a more considered change but the speed of United’s collapse has surprised everyone.
Never mind DNA, it had become difficult to detect even a game plan in Solskjaer’s team. Confidence was disintegrating by the week.
He was said to be too soft on his players, an accusation reinforced when he gave United’s non-internationals a week off during the recent break and went home to Norway with his family.
He returned last week talking about the players being refreshed, but behind his back they were busy discussing the rumours of his imminent departure and the candidates to replace him. There were complaints of favouritism towards certain players. It’s a bitter irony that the final goal of his reign was scored by the little-used Donny van de Beek.
It was difficult to detect a game plan in Solskjaer’s team with confidence disintegrating
Like Solskjaer, there also were concerns that his young backroom team were learning on the job with the exception of 59-year-old Mike Phelan, Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant who signed a new contract last month while privately admitting that he has minimal input.
When United needed a short-term replacement for Solskjaer, they turned instead to Michael Carrick, another of their ex-players who may well have a bright coaching career ahead of him.
At least this time the apprentice won’t be left at the wheel for long.
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