Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in 2013, the job as manager of England’s biggest and most successful football club has been a poisoned chalice for all that have tried their hand at it. David Moyes was left in ridicule, Louis van Gaal was sacked after two underwhelming seasons and most recently, Jose Mourinho’s spell left the club in complete disunity. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the latest in line to try and replace Ferguson, having been brought in ‘on loan’ from Norwegian outfit Molde. It is understood that should Solskjaer do well during his interim management, he could be offered the job on a permanent basis.
Many would argue that appointing a man whose previous managerial experience include finishing bottom of the Premier League in 2013/2014 with Cardiff City and losing a match to a semi-professional Northern Irish side, Glenavon, in the Europa League qualifiers earlier this year (Molde did end up qualifying) is a sign of how far Manchester United have fallen. However, Solskjaer is a true United legend, most famous for his last minute winner in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, completing the final part of their historic treble. He has been brought in to bring a smile back to the faces of the Old Trafford faithful, to return the feel-good factor to the fans and players alike.
So what can we expect from Solskjaer? It is unreasonable to expect an immediate return to their status as Premier League title challengers given the circumstances in which the club finds itself in, but we must remember that this is Manchester United. Success is not expected, it is demanded. If the Norwegian still wants to be the manager of the club beyond the end of this season, significant progress is expected to be made.
Until the shocking run of results that led to his sacking this week, the biggest criticism of Mourinho during his reign at Old Trafford was always his style of football. Over the years the Stretford End has witnessed some of the finest attacking talent to ever grace the game, with names such as Best, Charlton, Cantona, Giggs, Rooney and Ronaldo all donning the red of Manchester United, playing breath taking football that helped build the club into what it is today. Mourinho failed to deliver this, instead focussing on a more measured approach (to put it mildly) and this resulted in his downfall, culminating in the pathetic display at Anfield on Sunday, which left his future as boss in no doubt. Quite simply, Solskjaer has to restore the attacking style of football that made Manchester United the biggest club in world football.
And that is exactly what Solskjaer is going to do. Mourinho was foolish to base his play around a defence that consists of, at best, mediocre Premier League defenders. David de Gea aside, not one member of the back line can be relied on to produce a 7/10 performance week in week out. Fortunately for United fans, although their array of attacking stars does not rival the likes of Ronaldo or Best, there are some extremely bright players with untapped potential.
Despite his critics, Romelu Lukaku should go on to become one of the highest scoring strikers in Premier League history. With 107 English top flight goals to his name at the age of just 25, as well as being Belgium’s record goalscorer with 45 strikes in just 78 appearances, the stats are there to prove that he could develop into a legendary striker. He is often judged for his poor first touch and size, but his pace and power is a real weapon which Solskjaer could utilise to its maximum potential.
In Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, United have two of the brightest young forwards at their disposal. Allowing them to play with freedom and realising their potential could be key to any future success. A system that could bring the best out of this exponentially talented forward line could include a hard working midfield three consisting of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard. Although it isn’t the most skilled midfield, they could do the dirty work which allows the front three to flourish. It is ludicrous to rely on a defence that simply isn’t up to scratch. United must play on the front foot and simply have a goalscoring mentality, something that Solskjaer will surely introduce at Old Trafford.
One major question remains: what to do with Paul Pogba? World Cup winner, formerly the most expensive player in world football, 11 major trophies won as a senior professional and an abundance of untapped talent. If Solskjaer can find a way to unlock his ability, it could be a huge difference maker in landing the Norwegian the job on a full time basis. Alexis Sanchez falls under this category too. Two players on massive wages, both of which have been considered as world class players until recently. In a squad devoid of world class talent, getting Pogba and Sanchez fit and firing would hugely bolster United’s chances of achieving anything this season.
Solskjaer’s first four games in charge are all very winnable; trips to Cardiff and Newcastle either side of home fixtures against Huddersfield and Bournemouth should allow United to get off to a flyer under Solskjaer. For this campaign to be considered anything more than a write-off, starting well and building momentum is vital. Picking up twelve points from these four games will make their rivals sit up and take notice that a United side under new management is one to be taken seriously.
Ultimately however, things cannot exactly get worse for the Red Devils. Even if Solskjaer’s record proves to be worse than Mourinho’s, if United find themselves slipping down the table and have a real fight on their hands to stay in the top six, it doesn’t really matter. They were never going to reach the top four under Mourinho, and if Solskjaer can, at the very least, make Manchester United fans feel happy again, make them look forward to the football at the weekend and restore some of their lost identity, then it will prove to be a shrewd acquisition by the much maligned Old Trafford board. Should he exceed expectations, and somehow drag United back into the race for the top four, producing the exciting and attacking brand of football that he was once a part of as a player, then maybe, just maybe, Manchester United will have finally found a worthy replacement for the great Sir Alex Ferguson.