At the risk of looking very silly this time next year, here I go with five predictions about Manchester United for 2019.
It’s never not an eventful year at Old Trafford, but 2018 was as drama-filled as they come, albeit mostly not in the way fans of the club would want.
Here’s a look at how this year could be a bit more exciting for the right reasons as big-money transfers, a new permanent manager and other major events look in store for United…
1) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to get the job permanently
How’s that for a knee-jerk reaction? Three games in against the mighty Cardiff City, Huddersfield and Bournemouth and here I am tipping Solskjaer to get the nod over Mauricio Pochettino and Zinedine Zidane.
According to the latest from the Sun, Solskjaer is one of the names in the frame despite only initially being brought in as interim manager, and while the Norwegian tactician is less experienced than some of the candidates, he has an edge too.
After a dire few years of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, United finally have a manager who *gets* the club – and the lift in mood around Old Trafford cannot be ignored.
Whatever your definition of a club having a ‘DNA’ – there is no escaping the fact that some clubs will have an aura of some kind, brought about by a combination of historical success, supporter attitude, or simply media hype.
While United are ultimately just a football club like anyone else, and prone to the highs and lows of any team, they ultimately remain a worldwide brand sold on the idea of playing a certain way, and boasting a history the envy of most clubs in the world.
Having played in many of the Red Devils’ best teams under Sir Alex Ferguson, and indeed scoring THE goal that clinched the treble, Solskjaer understands what it means to be the manager of this famous club.
While Moyes was out of his depth from the start, and Van Gaal and Mourinho too consumed by their own egos to depart from their philosophies, Solskjaer has instantly re-awakened something that can’t be bought. No matter how good the likes of Pochettino and Zidane have been in their respective recent successes, neither have spent a decade sharing dressing rooms with Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and so many other greats, doing things the United way.
If United are brave enough to do it – this looks the best managerial appointment for them, and it could end up being their best decision in years.
2) …off the back of breaking into the top four
Of course, United won’t just hand Solskjaer the job just for restoring a few smiles and thrashing lower-level Premier League teams.
The Norwegian tactician’s main job is surely to get MUFC back into the top four – a feat that looked close to impossible a few weeks ago, but now seems well within reach.
United remain eight points behind Chelsea, but there are signs that the Blues’ early promise under Maurizio Sarri is starting to fade. Just above them, Tottenham also showed they are still capable of being ‘Spursy’ by somehow chucking a 1-0 lead to lose 3-1 at home to Wolves.
I think United will somehow manage to grab that all-important fourth spot, and Solskjaer’s reward should be the job full time.
While cup competitions are too unpredictable to be worth mentioning, a piece of silverware could also be possible, and the FA Cup would surely be very warmly welcomed. The Champions League is surely unrealistic for this season, though Roberto Di Matteo might tell you otherwise.
3) Record-breaking Kalidou Koulibaly transfer
United have been strongly linked with Kalidou Koulibaly for some time now, and the latest transfer gossip from Italy certainly makes for interesting reading.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, as translated by the Metro, United are ready to go all out for the signing of the Napoli star, valued at around £108million.
This would make Koulibaly both the most expensive defender of all time, and United’s club-record signing (currently the £89m paid in 2016 for Paul Pogba, according to BBC Sport).
It is the first stat there that is significant, however, with Liverpool benefiting so much from their record-breaking deal for Virgil van Dijk last January.
As noted at the time by BBC Sport, that is the current most expensive defensive signing in history, and he’s looked worth every penny to quickly lift the club to being genuine title favourites.
Koulibaly is another centre-back who’s very much in that league after his immense displays down the years in Serie A, and United will hope to replicate what rivals Liverpool have done to get back to the top.
I’ll stick my neck out now and say this big-money move will happen at some point in 2019, most likely in the summer.