We could be nearing the end of the road for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager as yet another experiment in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era proves a failure.
Solskjaer has little in common with any one of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, or Jose Mourinho, but the one thing they all share is that they’ve failed to restore the glory years to the club and have, in their own different ways, clearly under-achieved.
In fairness to Solskjaer, who was perhaps the biggest gamble of the lot of those, he started well and is probably the only name who’ll come out of this job with his reputation enhanced, but there are still things he’s got badly wrong as he’s shown himself to be unsuited to such a big job.
See below for our pick of his five biggest errors as Red Devils boss…
Poor transfer planning
Since this feeds into much of the rest of the items on this list, why not start here? Of course, it’s not all going to be Solskjaer’s fault that United’s signings have continued to under-perform; this was very much the case for his predecessors as well. Still, Solskjaer is understood to have had more of a hands-on approach than the other post-Fergie bosses, taking on the more traditional role of manager, as opposed to merely being a head coach.
United chased Jadon Sancho for a long time before eventually signing him, and now he barely gets in the team. Donny van de Beek’s spell at Old Trafford has been a disaster that perhaps offers a glimpse of where Sancho could be heading. Cristiano Ronaldo was not a target until it looked like Manchester City were going to get him, and now Solskjaer has failed to rebuild his team around the player, having put himself into a position where he can’t get away with attempting anything else.
One-dimensional playing style
That poor transfer planning has led to a totally dysfunctional team on the pitch, with midfield a clear issue for some time. If Van de Beek is going to continue to be overlooked, then why wasn’t he moved on and replaced with someone who add a bit more craft and quality to the side than Fred and Scott McTominay?
Man Utd are far too one-dimensional, and that one dimension was never particularly sophisticated in the first place – early on, Solskjaer had some luck with his counter-attacking football which seemed to surprise even the rest of the big six sides, but he’s been figured out now, and seems to have nothing else. Relying on the goals of Ronaldo seems to be the main approach so far this season, but it’s not going to work unless the team creates more chances for him, works harder for him, and doesn’t leak too many goals, which brings us to our next point…
If everyone’s fit, almost that entire back four was assembled, at great cost, by Solskjaer. Only Luke Shaw was here before the Norwegian, and he’s been by far the best performer in it for some time now. Harry Maguire has not justified his price tag, Raphael Varane is already showing signs of the fitness issues that marred the end of his time at Real Madrid, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka hasn’t developed his game at all in over two years, continuing to lack anything like the kind of quality of the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker or Reece James at their rivals.
Most importantly, this United team continues to let in floods of goals, with the concentration often not there in the early stages of games in particular. Sometimes, the side has enough in them to mount dramatic comebacks, as we saw against Atalanta last week and on several other occasions, but other times a better team will simply punish your sloppiness and put you to bed early, as Liverpool did in ruthless fashion yesterday.
Failed Pogba gamble
Does anyone have any idea what Solskjaer’s strategy with Paul Pogba is? If United want to keep him, why isn’t Solskjaer making him a key part of his plans and doing everything to tie him down to a new contract? If he isn’t in Solskjaer’s long-term plans, then why wasn’t a decision made to cash in on him in the summer, so the club can avoid losing him on a free?
On top of that, Solskjaer has struggled just as Mourinho did to make Pogba’s role at MUFC work at all. He’s played defensive midfield, attacking midfield, and even wide on the left, with the whole saga just smacking of indecision from the manager.
One thing Solskjaer has done well is connect United to its glorious past. He’s talked up United’s traditions and brought back habits from the Ferguson era, such as pre-match suits. Ferguson himself has also been far more visible in the last few years than he had been before.
The problem with this, however, is that while it served as something to lift the mood after the dire end to the Mourinho era, it inevitably opens you up to even more criticism when things go wrong. Solskjaer may be a Fergie disciple, but he’s nowhere near the same calibre of manager, and this is nowhere near the same calibre of team. There may be more talk of a ‘United way’ and other romantic platitudes, but for the most part, Solskjaer has mostly just contributed to making the glory of the Ferguson era feel even further away than ever.