Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the wrong man for Manchester United. Nice guy, great goalscorer, club legend — the Norwegian is all of those, but when it comes to managing United at one of the most difficult stages in the club’s recent history, he is completely ill-equipped to do the job.
There are many issues that must be resolved at United, but it is negligence on the part of the Glazer family, the club’s owners and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward if they believe that Solskjaer really is the best man available to manage the team. It comes across as the “Dumb and Dumber” approach to running a football club. If being sacked by Cardiff City and two spells in Norway with Molde are deemed to be sufficient qualifications to take charge of United, the 20-time champions of England are likely to be waiting an awfully long time before they can celebrate a 21st title.
As Solskjaer watched from the dug-out as United lost 2-0 at home to Burnley on Wednesday, he wore the expression of a man who knew he had been given a hopeless task: hopeless because of his lack of credentials for the job as well as the absence of quality players to make it easier. Woodward wasn’t there to witness the Burnley defeat or hear the angry chants directed towards him and the Glazers, but despite the obvious shortcomings on the pitch and within the coaching staff, sources have told ESPN that the United hierarchy are still behind the manager and back him to pull the club through their difficult period of transition.
It’s been a long period of transition, too — almost seven years, in fact — and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.
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During that time, United have tried the Ferguson clone (David Moyes), the widely-respected tactical genius (Louis van Gaal) and the trophy machine (Jose Mourinho) in their efforts to restore United to greatness, but now that the club legend (Solskjaer) is failing, which box will they look to tick next? The miracle worker or the firefighter?
Solskjaer is clearly failing, but what is also beyond dispute is that his task is being made so much harder by the institutional failings within Old Trafford that he can do nothing about.
Take the ongoing failure to appoint a technical director as one example, or United’s haphazard recruitment policy that has seen the club lurch from expensive superstars (Angel di Maria, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez) to young, British talent such as Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the raft of teenagers promoted to the first-team in recent seasons. Solskjaer inherited an imbalanced squad when he replaced Mourinho, initially in a caretaker role, in December 2018, but that squad has now been hollowed out to such an extent that injuries have left United looking and performing like a relegation candidate rather than a contender for the top four.
In some ways, it has been an achievement by Solskjaer to even have United in contention for the top four considering the lack of quality within his squad, but to give the 46-year-old credit for getting the team as high as fifth simply highlights how far standards have fallen at Old Trafford since Ferguson retired in 2013.
Back then, the Glazers would never have considered a man with Solskjaer’s limited qualifications to take charge of the club. Moyes proved to be completely out of his depth at Old Trafford, but the Scot could at least point to a sustained career as a Premier League manager at Everton as being enough to land the job. Moyes had earned the right to be the United manager.
Solskjaer was the stop-gap when Mourinho was sacked — nothing more, nothing less — but when his remarkable early run of victories secured him the job on a permanent basis, the wheels began to fall off and his lack of suitability for the position was quickly exposed. And this brings us back to why he is not the man for the job. He wasn’t up to it in the first place and he isn’t up to it now, but he has been placed in a situation by Woodward and the Glazers where he is being asked to reshape a squad bloated by over-paid and under-performing players. Not only that, but he’s being forced to do it with the shock therapy of a clear-out rather than getting the necessary funds for a smoother transition.
Solskjaer’s inexperience and managerial naivety led to him recklessly going into this season with too many holes in every department in his squad. Behind him, his coaching staff also lacks the tools that Solskjaer does not possess, so it is hardly surprising that the United team is performing so inconsistently and without a clear strategy. There is no sense of United being on a road to anywhere other than nowhere and Solskjaer looks as lost as every one of his players.
It is not his fault that he is not up to the job, but it is a reality that will not go away.
United do have bigger problems and those are firmly on the Glazers to address, but that should not obscure the fact that the manager is not capable of arresting the slide on the pitch. The Glazers and Woodward should make a change, for the sake of United and Solskjaer, and hire a man who has the credentials and the personality to drag the club back to where it expects to be.