In a self-appointed role as the conscience of Manchester United, Gary Neville called for a “reset” in the aftermath of Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Liverpool. And José Mourinho’s sacking suggested a club taking necessary steps with a manager who had nothing more to offer.
The appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as caretaker manager seems something akin to turning the club off and switching it back on again.
The Norwegian’s very name undoubtedly brings back memories of the finest night in the club’s history, the Nou Camp in 1999.
“And Solskjaer has won it, Manchester United have reached the promised land,” as Clive Tyldesley described what he would call “that famous night in Barcelona” for many years afterwards.
What were the criteria for a caretaker role with a cut-off point on June 1?
It appears that candidates needed to have the club at heart, and be on Sir Alex Ferguson’s approval list – which ruled out the likes of Mark Hughes and Carlos Tevez – and not be a member of the “Class of ’92”, a group in which the elder Neville has led a barrage of criticism of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Laurent Blanc was an early favourite swiftly ruled out, Carlos Queiroz, who previously wanted the Ireland job, had his name floated.
But by Tuesday afternoon, it was the former “Baby-Faced Assassin” AKA “the little Norwegian” (he is 5’ 10”) who would be coming in, with Mike “Shorts” Phelan as his assistant, with those deals confirmed on Wednesday morning.
A glance at the pair’s managerial career does not exactly seem befitting of a storied club in the last 16 of the Champions League, with Paris Saint-Germain on the horizon.
Phelan was last seen in English football when being sacked by Hull in January 2017, his team bottom of the Premier League. Solskjaer’s Cardiff finished last in the 2013-14 Premier League season.
But that hardly seems the point. This is already a lost season for Manchester United, so something needs to be rescued. Restoring a link with an increasingly distant past has been plumped for.
This appointment needed to be one of restoration and reparation, and Solksjaer is the ultimate in populist choices. Among United fans, only the hardest heart would have any problem with him.
From scoring as a substitute against Blackburn on his debut appearance in August 1996, he played like a fan hoped they might; delighted to be wearing the shirt and prepared to give everything for the cause.
Along with Liverpool’s David Fairclough, he is English football’s most famous “super-sub”, someone Ferguson said always paid close attention to what was happening on the field rather than idling on the bench in the style of Paul Pogba on Sunday.
When the knee problems that wrecked his later career got too much, he became a strikers’ coach and then reserve-team coach, and after moving back home to manage Molde, kept the United faith.
Last year, he said he was “getting goosebumps” when the idea of his managing United was floated at a supporters’ club meeting. Compared to the mercenary values of Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, two men for whom their personal legacy came first, Solskjaer, helping out the club that made his name ride out a storm, is doing what any true United fan would do.
And here is where the cynicism comes in. Having failed to tame a manager who barely concealed his contempt for Woodward and the Glazer family, someone just glad to be there represents a far easier life for an embattled regime.
The knowledge that Solskjaer worked with Pogba in the youth set-up and has spoken fondly of the club’s most valuable asset represents another quick win.
Starting at Cardiff, an unfortunately bad hand to be dealt by the fixture computer, Solskjaer has a free hit; any hopes of crashing back to the top four are fantastical.
But, he can do something similar to what Guus Hiddink twice achieved at Chelsea, setting up a club for the next manager.
Hiddink’s two half-season stints, in 2009 and 2016, were followed by title wins after waters were smoothed.
That must be the aim for Woodward et al as they seek a real new manager to take on the club.
Negotiations with the likes of Mauricio Pochettino or Antonio Conte may be labyrinthine; United are no longer irresistible.
It should also allow the consideration of a restructuring of the back office; Woodward needs someone else to assume football duties, someone with the contacts and experience to negotiate better deals than the £400m largely wasted by Mourinho.
Such processes have been delayed for too long. United must recognise they cannot rest on the laurels of wealth and history any longer. Solskjaer’s self-sacrifice allows time to follow that through.