By Will Guthrie
Following the departure of such a godfather figure as Sir Alex Ferguson, it was always expected that Manchester United FC would struggle to continue their English Premier League dominance, but few would have thought it would be this turbulent. Recent seasons have seen phrases such as “worst start” and “lowest amount of goals scored” in the same sentence as a club renowned for attacking football and dramatic late wins. After four managers in seven years following the departure of Sir Alex, it seems United may have finally found their man.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, on paper, Ole Gunnar Solskjær is underqualified for his role as manager of one of the world’s biggest football clubs. His only other management attempt in the UK was a dismal spell in charge of Cardiff City FC, seeing them relegated, with his only other senior management experience being at Molde FK in his native Norway. He may have been the baby-faced assassin as a player, but as a manager, there’s a lot to be desired.
What he does have working for him is his football DNA. He spent so long at United as a player that he knows exactly what it means to represent them and from the minute he walked in as caretaker after Jose Mourinho’s sacking, he set about instilling this into every facet of the club. It’s ingrained in Solskjær that United always tries to win, has exciting players to lift fans off their seats, gives youth a chance and is humble off the pitch, yet arrogant on it. No player typifies that last part more than new cult hero, Bruno Fernandes, a humble and intelligent player who has a thirst for success and an arrogance on the field that seems very in keeping with the Sir Alex-era United. His post-match interview with MUTV (United’s in-house TV channel) after a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur FC recently was telling of who he is; he wasn’t content with the draw whilst he also refrained from denigrating Tottenham in any way. Put simply, a draw for a United team is never good enough in his eyes. It spoke volumes about the culture being established.
Whilst Solskjær hasn’t been a roaring success so far, there’s mounting evidence that he has righted the ship and is gaining momentum. Undefeated in 12 games in all competitions following the Covid-19 enforced break in the season, with star players Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba back fit and young academy graduates Scott McTominay, Brandon Williams and Tahith Chong all signing new long-term contracts, there seems to be a feel good factor within the club that’s a stark contrast to the final days of the Mourinho reign. What’s also been evident is a willingness to make tough decisions; high-profile players on big money have been shipped out to make way for those who genuinely want to play for United and a much more focused transfer strategy has been put in place. This has seen the club not only recruit players of the quality of Fernandes, but also British players with bright futures or plenty of years left in the tank, such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire. It’s a refreshing approach to transfers following the scattergun and, it should be said, calamitous signings of the David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Mourinho eras, which saw United spend eye-watering sums of money on flops and over-the-hill players.
With the United culture being re-established, a strong faith being shown in youth and the full backing of Chief Executive Ed Woodward, the board and the Glazers (club owners), it looks increasingly likely that Ole will be at the wheel for some time yet.