As bad as things were for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, at least he wasn’t suffering like Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino were.
Indeed, the plight of the two North London managers gave the Norwegian something to point at to justify his own continued employment as Manchester United manager.
If Arsenal and Tottenham were showing patience in their struggling coaches, why shouldn’t Solskjaer get the same thing at Old Trafford?
That metaphorical barrier is no longer in place, though. Pochettino and Emery were sacked one week after the other leaving Solskjaer exposed as the Premier League’s last remaining underperforming super-manager.
Arsenal and Spurs, who wasted no time in hiring Jose Mourinho as Pochettino’s replacement, are now starting new eras whole, while Man Utd are left repeating the same old mistakes and expecting different results.
Those different results show no sign of coming any time soon.
Sunday’s home draw with Aston Villa means Solskjaer has led United to just four wins from their opening 14 league fixtures of the season, putting them much closer to the foot of the Premier League table than the top. The only sustained thing about Man Utd this season has been their mediocrity.
All the while the spectre of Pochettino looms large over Old Trafford.
Of course, the Argentine was widely believed to be Man Utd’s top target before the appointment of Solskjaer. His availability has only heightened the pressure on Solskjaer in much the same way Mourinho’s available following his sacking at Chelsea did on Louis Van Gaal.
Just as was the case back then, there is a certain inevitability about the prospect of Pochettino one day replacing Solskjaer.
“I think there’s loads of evidence these boys are closer to winning games than losing games,” the Norwegian insisted after the 2-2 draw at home to Aston Villa at the weekend. “To tip margins in our favour we’ve got to work on different things. These boys will learn and improve. Sometimes inconsistency will happen with young boys. We have to become a better unit.”
At first, Solskjaer’s relentless positivity was refreshing after the emo malaise of Mourinho, but the Norwegian is increasingly starting to evoke Emery in the way he continually refuses to face up to reality.
Is being closer to winning games than losing them, as Solskjaer put it, really good enough for a club of Manchester United’s stature?
While Tottenham’s decision to replace Pochettino with Mourinho was widely questioned, their quick and decisive action painted the picture of a proactive club intent on resolving its issues. Even Arsenal, often accused of dithering on big decisions both towards the end of the Arsene Wenger era and more recently, recognised that they had passed the point of no return under Emery.
Man United have frequently reiterated their desire to commit to a long-term project.
The Old Trafford outfit have previously been criticised for ploughing through four different managers in the six years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, but what if the long-term project they have seemingly committed to under Solskjaer is taking them in the wrong direction?
Wouldn’t it be even more negligent to let that continue for longer than necessary?
Indeed, the further The Red Devils continue down the wrong path the longer it will take them to claw their way back to the top.
There are of course bigger problems at Old Trafford than just the manager.
United have deep-rooted issues that not even Pochettino would be able to fix, but the Argentine might stand a better chance than Solskjaer of masking them.
Arsenal and Spurs are a long way from redemption, but they have at least given themselves a shot at a fresh start. That’s more than Man Utd can say.