Solskjaer Sacking Inevitable, But He Brought Man Utd Light When Skies Were Grey

The Norwegian was fired on Sunday after almost three years in charge
12:24, 21 Nov 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived on a grey winter’s day at an increasingly grey club. Manchester United had tried the ‘Chosen One’, the ‘Respected One’ and the ‘Special One’, each with their appealing positives having given way to difficult-to-swallow negatives, and what Jose Mourinho was leaving behind was a culture of toxicity that was far from befitting of the club.

When you attended appointments around Carrington or Old Trafford back in the latter days of the Portuguese in 2018, the air around the place was pretty horrible. You’d end up apologising from bringing up subjects such as football or results, replaced by small talk which steered conversation away from just how much everyone hated seeing a sporting institution being contaminated from within. Players were bullied, shamed in press conferences, lectured like schoolchildren over slight misunderstandings, and the naturally low demeanour which developed in the squad was carried across all departments.

Solskjaer changed that. He came in and immediately transferred his own baby-faced smile back onto the dials of players, staff and fans. A 5-1 win at Cardiff in his opening game was the first of an 11-match run of 10 victories and one draw to begin his reign, and in his 17th in charge he helped to inspire the spectacular turnaround against Paris Saint-Germain which effectively nullified his only defeat to date in the home leg at Old Trafford.

THE WIN OVER PSG EFFECTIVELY WON HIM THE PERMANENT GIG
THE WIN OVER PSG EFFECTIVELY WON HIM THE PERMANENT GIG
ZIDANE 11/8 FAV FOR MAN UTD JOB - BETFRED

After being handed the permanent gig a couple of weeks later things began to become more difficult. A 3-0 hammering in the Champions League by Barcelona and a 4-0 humiliation at Everton helped Solskjaer to identify those players he wanted on the journey with him and those who wouldn’t last long in his squad. That summer he brought in British players with a strong desire to prove themselves at the country’s biggest club.

While he always suffered occasional significant defeats during his three-year reign, there was also clear progress. United were scoring at will again in a way which hadn’t been the case under any of the three managers who came before him. Fives, sixes, even a nine appeared on the scoresheet as the Norwegian found a knack of getting the Red Devils attacking with gusto, even if it was largely on the counter.

The problem he had was trophies. Or lack of them. In 2020 there were semi-final defeats to Manchester City in the League Cup, Chelsea in the FA Cup and Sevilla in the Europa League. Twelve months later, they eventually made a final but Solskjaer’s decision not to force the agenda with earlier substitutions was identified as one of the keys in their eventual defeat on penalties to Villarreal. It was a result which left United's board wondering privately whether the time was right to make a move but they stuck with their man, albeit on a short leash.

UNITED'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL LOSS LEFT SOLSKJAER NEEDING A FAST START TO 2021-22
UNITED'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL LOSS LEFT SOLSKJAER NEEDING A FAST START TO 2021-22

And in 2021-22, when progress was needed to prove that he still had something to offer, he just couldn’t get them going. Over a year after his signing from Ajax, Donny van de Beek continues to be underplayed amidst rumours that he was a signing instigated at boardroom level rather than at Solskjaer’s. How apt that the Dutchman should score the last goal of the manager’s spell. Cristiano Ronaldo’s return took away from the plan to make fellow summer signing Jadon Sancho a key part of United’s forward line.

While the Portuguese has scored goals at will, they have often come against a backdrop of chaos elsewhere, with the overuse of Scott McTominay and Fred at the base of midfield a constant source of frustration. To that end it was an inevitability that Solskjaer would be moved on sooner or later. The 4-1 loss to Watford on Saturday just ensured that it was sooner, emphasising an inability to learn from the chastening home defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City which had preceded it.

But when the mist clears and a new manager is appointed – Zinedine Zidane is the early 11/8 favourite with Betfred – it will be well worth remembering what Solskjaer has brought to Manchester United over the last three years. He has injected some pride back into the club, instigated some proper Man Utd football at times and brought a lust for goals that had been noticeably lacking for years before.

As the song goes, he made United fans happy when skies were grey. The next man has a far better platform to succeed than Ole had.

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