How quickly the mood can change. On Saturday, Manchester United were *back*. Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming followed the script perfectly, with a brace against Newcastle delivering a 4-1 win that sparked talk of a new era, and a mood so buoyant that there’s even been talk that just one game has persuaded Paul Pogba to rethink his future at the club.
Here we are on Wednesday afternoon, however, once again questioning Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s credentials after a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Young Boys. It’s a few days that almost seem to sum up the Solskjaer era perfectly – the kind of win that sends expectations unrealistically high, followed by the kind of defeat that sends the club right back into crisis mode.
Much as that is the nature of the modern game, there does also have to come a time when this is a thing of the past for Solskjaer, who is no longer the caretaker manager coming in to rescue a miserable squad from the misery of the Jose Mourinho era. This is his squad now: Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Donny van de Beek, Edinson Cavani, Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane, and, of course, Ronaldo, have all joined under the Norwegian tactician. All but one of those was involved against Young Boys.
Man Utd need a manager to match the players
There’s no getting away from it now – this is a very different job to the one Solskjaer took on. He’s been backed in the transfer market with funds that managers everywhere would envy, with some of the biggest names in world football. So what remains the problem for United when their line up consists of world class talent like Ronaldo, Fernandes, Varane and Sancho? When their Galactico squad is lacking a Galactico manager.
Ed Woodward and the Glazers need only look at the immediate impact Thomas Tuchel had at Chelsea last season. The German tactician replaced Frank Lampard at the end of January, with Roman Abramovich giving up on the long-term project being overseen by a popular but underqualified club legend, and in just a few months, with no signings, delivered the biggest prize in club football in convincing style.
This is no Roberto Di Matteo-esque fluke – the best managers tend to win these big games, and can stamp their authority very quickly. Antonio Conte inherited a Chelsea side that looked a mess and finished 10th in 2015/16, and more or less the same squad stormed to the title just a year later.
Conte availability is sure to tempt United
Funnily enough, Conte is now probably the most high-profile manager currently available, and that will do Solskjaer no favours either. The Italian tactician won yet another league title with Inter Milan last season before leaving the San Siro due to a dispute over finances, and it surely won’t be long before he’s back in a big job.
Everyone at United needs to answer honestly – would Conte do better with this squad than Solskjaer? Yes. Would reuniting Zinedine Zidane with Ronaldo and Varane give the Red Devils a markedly better shot at winning the Champions League? Yes. Would even the likes of Mauricio Pochettino or Maurizio Sarri make visible changes to the way this team plays? Yes, probably after just one training session.
The board at United will know this. Some disgruntled fans will slam their ambition and question if they care enough to make this change, but they’ve shown their willing to fork out on players to make a difference; if a Galactico manager is the next piece of the puzzle, they’ll do it.
Solskjaer has been afforded the kind of time and patience that many would not have been, but the nature of the job and the expectations associated with it have now changed. Now it’s up for him to change too, or it seems inevitable that it will be a change in the dugout that’s seen as the next step for United as they seek to climb back up their perch.