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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Does 2021 Signal the End for the Charming Assassin?


Dear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, thanks for the memories, but I think it’s time to go.

Managerial Merry-Go-Round

As a Manchester United supporter, you need to be patient. Patience is a prerequisite, especially since the Reds last won their Premier League title in 2013. I’m a very patient person, but football sometimes tests my limits. Supporting United has been a rollercoaster ride ever since the great Sir Alex Ferguson left the place where he built a footballing dynasty. Since 2013, United fans have seen the likes of David Moyes, Ryan Giggs, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the reins with mixed success. Rebuilding United–for the most part–has been a complete failure.

Now, there have been many factors that have led to that failure. You can also blame the managers. You can blame the board. You can blame Ed Woodward. You can blame the scouting department. You can blame the Glazers, which a lot of fans, as of late, have done. You can also blame some of the players. They just haven’t been good enough. Many individuals need to be held accountable. First, let’s start with the people in charge. Ever since the Glazers took over in 2005, United has been on a downward slope. Granted, at the time, United was one of the best teams in Europe, let alone England. They were winning major trophies, including back-to-back-to-back Premier League titles from 2007 to 2009. They were a dominant side in football and commercial terms. However, there comes a time where change is needed, and the club has to adapt.

This change came in 2013, when the great Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from football, stepping down from managing the most decorated club in English history. During his famous farewell speech at Old Trafford, Sir Alex appointed David Moyes as his successor, telling the United faithful,

“your job now is to stand behind the new manager!”.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous farewell quote. Should the same be applied to Solskjaer?

Now, David Moyes is a respected figure in English football. His work is recognized not only in England but in Scotland as well. He is well known for turning Everton to a formidable midtable side, helping them qualify for European football from 2007-2009. However, his United appointment was similar to giving a 13-year-old the keys to your vehicle. In the end, the job became too much for the Scotsman. Moyes only lasted a handful of months before getting sacked with four matches remaining in the 2013/14 season. Ryan Giggs took over as the interim manager for the last four games.

Van Gaal’s Red Army

Following Giggs’ four-game spell, the board appointed experienced Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal. Van Gaal had won plenty of trophies in the past with Ajax and FC Barcelona. Fresh from a successful World Cup campaign with the Netherlands, Van Gaal took over the reins as a respected figure in football. His takeover changed United’s philosophy, as the Reds went from being a team that attacked, attacked, attacked, attacked, attacked to a team that kept passing the ball for ages.

United played possession-based football, holding on to the ball the same way a jealous ex holds on to their previous partner. Yes, Van Gaal landed United the FA Cup in 2015–the first trophy that United won in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era–but the fans were not happy with the style of football. After a couple of seasons, Louis Van Gaal was let go by United, and his only contribution in two seasons was that FA Cup triumph. Now, one thing he and David Moyes had in common was that they needed more time United. Moyes, in hindsight, needed at least six more months, if not another season. Regardless, neither manager could fill the void left by Sir Alex’s departure.

The Special One

Van Gaal’s tenure ended after the announcement of Jose Mourinho’s arrival. Mourinho’s appointment was met by surprise, thanks to his previous affiliation with Chelsea. Mourinho is known for his defensive first, park-the-bus style of football. His style isn’t the greatest and the most eye-pleasing form of football, but it came with success. The Portuguese won the FA Community Shield, the League Cup, and the UEFA Europa League in his first season in 2017, and he famously started his second season with multiple 4-0 wins. United were dubbed “4-0 FC” under The Special One, but a combination of third-season syndrome and lack of signings in the transfer window culminated in Mourinho’s sacking midway through the season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

December 2018 saw the arrival of the Baby-Faced Assassin, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Solskjaer had previously managed the Manchester United reserves from 2008 to 2010, before guiding Molde to multiple Norwegian League division titles in the Norwegian league and getting relegated with Cardiff City during the 2013/14 Premier League season, following Malky Mackay‘s sacking. Many fans saw Solskjaer’s appointment as something for the short term. Solskjaer started his interim role with eight wins on the bounce, as the likes of Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford looked rejuvenated. However, like all good things, United’s new manager bounce came to an abrupt end. Following the famous UEFA Champions League Round of 16 comeback win over PSG in 2019, the Reds went back down to earth, getting humbled 4-0 by Everton at the Goodison Park. A tame, 1-1 draw with (already-relegated) Huddersfield Town at the latter stages of the season encapsulated United’s unpredictable form.

Despite the poor results, Solskjaer was awarded with another season in charge of the club, reaching three semi-finals–the Europa League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup in 2020–but managed to lose all three of them. So what is the issue with Manchester United? The abundance of problems with the club makes that question a complex one to answer.

Looking Ahead

This past season, United made some progress by finishing second and making it to a European final. However, you can chalk that down to the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, and Arsenal having a stinker of a season, domestically. United was actually in a “title race” at the beginning of 2021, but that title race lasted as long as it takes for minute rice to cook. Manchester City put their head down, hit the gear, and sped to the finish line before anyone could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The Noisy Neighbors ended up winning the Premier League and the League Cup, and are now one cup-final away from securing their first-ever UEFA Champions League title on Saturday when they go up against Chelsea.

In contrast, Solskjaer’s United got knocked out of the League Cup by Manchester City, lost an FA Cup semifinal to Leicester City, and bottled the Champions League thanks to a shocking group-stage loss at the hands of Istanbul Başakşehir. The Reds also lost the Europa League final on penalties in a heartbreaking fashion. Solskjaer was essentially one penalty kick away from securing his first-ever trophy as United manager. For two and a half seasons, United progressed in multiple competitions without having anything to show for it at the end. Moreover, fans are still not happy. Even if United has progressed slightly, they ought to do much better. They are not ticking all the boxes but instead barely scraping by to meet expectations.

Once again I ask, what is the problem?

For starters, the supporters understand the Glazers are inept, greedy, and are unwanted guests to a house they loosely own. Unfortunately, that issue is not an easy fix. The fans also know that Ed Woodward is on his way out, and that’s largely thanks to the work the fans put in to take matters into their own hands. The fans have every right to protest, especially after the European Super League nonsense that we witnessed this past month.

Ultimately, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be held accountable. The lack of in-game management, such as not bringing on substitutes until extra-time against Villareal is simply not good enough by United’s historically high standards. The lack of playing time given to the likes of Donny Van de Beek and Phil Jones is criminal, while Jesse Lingard‘s successful loan spell with West Ham proved why Solskjaer should’ve rated him highly.

Manchester United’s issues are way more complicated than just the manager. However, with the summer transfer window quickly approaching, the time has come to find a proper solution. In my opinion, that starts with letting go of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Hope you enjoyed this piece on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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"I eat, sleep, and breathe football. I'm not mad, I'm just passionate" — Thierry Henry