Language is important in football management. David Moyes found that out to his cost, once stating during his ill-fated time as Manchester United boss that his side should aspire to be “at the sort of level” of rivals Manchester City, also judging Liverpool to be “favourites” for a trip to Old Trafford to take on the defending Premier League champions.
It became clear very quickly that Moyes didn’t have the necessary mindset to be the manager of a big club, perhaps the biggest club in world football. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wouldn’t suffer from such a problem, it was presumed. This was a man steeped in the glorious history of the club, after all. A man who knew that only the best would be tolerated by a fanbase accustomed to winning.
With every passing week, though, Solskjaer is starting to evoke the spirit of Moyes, and not just because results are on the slide. The Norwegian seems to have lost the edge he demonstrated earlier in his tenure, drastically lowering his expectations as United struggle for traction.
"It's a good point away from home – they beat Feyenoord 3-0."
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was pleased with Manchester United's performance as they drew 0-0 at AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League without recording a shot on target: https://t.co/0zgkhapAY5 pic.twitter.com/v4uMU237Dt
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) October 4, 2019
Previously, a goalless away to AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League would have been met with outright condemnation. Instead, Solskjaer declared himself “very pleased” with the performance and result. “It’s a good point away from home against a difficult opponent and on a difficult surface,” he added. “It’s a good away point. In a group, if you get a point away, win all your home games, you go through.”
Are those really the words of a man making progress in overhauling the culture of mediocrity in the Man Utd dressing room? Or are they the words of a man who has resigned himself to the hopeless situation the club currently finds itself in? Whichever it is, Solskjaer’s relentless positivity doesn’t seem to be what his United team needs right now. This isn’t a big club mentality.
Of course, it’s possible that Solskjaer is telling his players something very different behind closed doors. The Norwegian watched from afar as his predecessor Jose Mourinho’s scorched earth strategy only added to the deep sense of malaise around the club. Maybe he has decided to adopt a different public approach while still reminding his team of the standards Man Utd players are held to.
However, what a Manchester United manager says to fans, of which there are an estimated 1.1 billion around the world, matters. This isn’t Cardiff City. This isn’t Molde. Solskjaer’s words as United boss are scrutinised and analysed like that of no other in the game. What he says to the media will in one way or another transmit back to his players.
Solskjaer is quite clearly the wrong man for the Manchester United job, but sacking the Norwegian would change nothing. United’s issues are deep-rooted. A new manager might provide a bounce, like Solskjaer did following Mourinho’s exit last season, but there would still be a ceiling above what they could feasibly achieve. That ceiling is fourth or fifth place. Is that really the extent of Man Utd’s ambition?
The badge on the shirt might be the same as the one worn by Sir Alex Ferguson’s great teams of the past, but the club forged by the legendary Scot has been killed by poor ownership and leadership. The Glazers and Ed Woodward are culpable and it’s time that United’s fans started a concerted effort to force them out.
Rather than being the cause of Man Utd’s current problems, Solskjaer’s remarks and resigned demeanour should be seen as a symptom. The environment around Old Trafford broke down Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Mourinho, and now the Norwegian looks to have been claimed as another victim, even if he remains in his job for the time being.