Manchester United announced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the permanent manager on Thursday morning, a move the owners likely didn’t think was a possibility when they appointed the Norwegian as the interim replacement when they sacked Jose Mourinho.
Solskjaer had done enough in Norway, winning back-to-back league titles with Molde, to prove he knew enough about coaching a team. He had played and studied under Sir Alex Ferguson, meaning he had a good understanding of the club and how great managers achieve success. Finally, he had the experience of Mike Phelan, as well as the more youthful innovation of Kieran McKenna and Michael Carrick to support him.
Ed Woodward was likely thinking of a way to keep the fans happy, or quiet at least, until they could appoint a serious candidate for the long-term. Mauricio Pochettino was the reported favourite, although it would have been interesting to see how negotiations with Tottenham Hotspur’s chairman, Daniel Levy, panned out.
After the situation with Dimitar Berbatov’s transfer a decade ago, where Spurs put him on a plane to Manchester after agreeing a deal with City, only for Sir Alex Ferguson to meet the Bulgarian at the airport, it’s understandable that relations are frosty between the two clubs. Add to that Spurs will be starting their first full season in their new stadium next season, it’s unlikely they would have any intention of doing that without Pochettino.
Still, you can’t argue with the decision, given the ridiculous success that Solskjaer has enjoyed, including beating Spurs away from home after a move they had worked on all week in training lead to the only goal of the game.
With a few weeks remaining until the end of the season, the expectation has to be for United to finish in the top four. While this appeared to be an impossibility when Solskjaer took over, with his team 11 points away from fourth place, it should be a realistic ambition now.
United are currently two points behind Arsenal and have just eight games to make up that difference. Every game has to be treated like a cup final though, with Solskjaer having the added motivation of proving that the decision to give him the job is justified.
While most United fans are keen to see Solskjaer remain at the club, one of the biggest reservations is the worry that he is a yes man who will toe the party line. This season United have spent considerably less than the teams they are rivalling for position, including City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, but also less than the likes of Everton, Fulham and West Ham too.
On the back of finishing second last season, United lost a great opportunity to close the gap on title rivals City, and Mourinho was vocal about it. Seemingly the club had already made the decision that his time was coming to an end though, so ignored him.
If the Glazers plan to offer Solskjaer limited funds and he publicly voiced his dissatisfaction, the pressure would be on them to put up the cash required to bring in the players United need. Would he do that though? Judging from his happy-go-lucky attitude in every press conference to date, it’s unlikely.
One of Solskjaer’s greatest strengths has been boosting the confidence of the players he already has, which has produced excellent results on the pitch. During the January transfer window he talked down the need for us to bring anyone else in, clearly having been briefed that they wouldn’t be spending any money.
There’s nothing wrong with praising the players that the club already has, while also expressing the need for new recruits to come in though, and there are huge question marks whether Solskjaer would make sure that happens. He likely can hardly believe that he’s landed his dream job. Is he going to bite the hand that feeds him?
Still, there is the hope that some of the players on expiring deals will be keen to put pen to paper, now that there is no confusion over what the future holds. To expect players to tie themselves down when they don’t know who they will be playing for next season was difficult.
Marcus Rashford’s contract expires next summer but he has repeatedly sung the praises of Solskjaer and it’s hard to imagine, if he had any reason before now, that he wouldn’t be keen to stay.
The bigger issue is that of De Gea, who could leave on a free next year if he doesn’t agree to new terms. Keeping him at the club will be key to any future success.
There is plenty of uncertainly at the club at the moment, in regards to who will stay and who will be sold, as well as which areas the club will strengthen in the summer window, but Solskjaer’s contract means there’s one less thing for supporters to worry about.
No one can expect for him to get the better of Barcelona over two legs, so the pressure is off there, even if he won’t see it that way. But top four is a must after the progress that the team has made during Solskjaer’s time at the club so far and, given how many points he’s already caught up, you’d fancy him to do it. Mourinho said it would take a miracle, and Solskjaer has plenty of experience in that department!.