Why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be appointed Man Utd manager
The Norwegian showed he is about more than just the feel-good factor against PSG
Can there be any doubt that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will get the Manchester United manager’s job after his side’s miracle in Paris?
It’s not just the result, which was stunning in itself, it was the sheer level of positivity and support he has generated since his arrival at Old Trafford that makes his appointment inevitable.
The players could be heard chanting the interim manager’s name in the dressing room after the dramatic injury time victory over Paris Saint-Germain; Sir Alex Ferguson was in tow as the team arrived back in Manchester; former players including Eric Cantona and Patrice Evra joined the celebrations in Paris and a grinning Gary Neville, working for TV, put his old team-mate on the spot by asking about his salary demands and where he would like his statue placed.
Significantly, United’s co-chairman Avram Glazer was also in attendance and was seen talking to Solskjaer after the game.
Better than Pcohettino?
“Cold, hard logic says that Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, is the shrewder, safer long-term bet,” says Matt Dickinson of The Times. “Solskjaer was, at best, a sticking plaster, a PR exercise for a club with some big problems to address – and look how that has turned out over 11 remarkable weeks. What a gloriously mad game this can be.”
The modest Norwegian, still baby-faced and forced to wear a fluorescent bib on the sidelines by Uefa offcials, has had a “transformative effect” and bought the feelgood factor back to Old Trafford.
Key tactical calls
But in Paris he also showed his ruthless side as he hauled off makeshift full-back Eric Bailly after 35 minutes. “We have been learning fast about Solskjaer and, here, we discovered how long it takes him to correct a significant error,” says Dickinson.
Aside from subbing Bailly Solskjaer made other key calls during the game, said Stoke midfielder Charlie Adam on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“He changed the whole formation three or four times during the game. As a manager you have to make big decisions and he did that with taking Bailly off. For me has has shown again why he should be given the job.
“You would think Scott McTominay had played 100 games in the Champions League and 250 for United. He sat there composed, he broke up play and showed good quality. He never looked out of place. This is why as a manager you trust your players and give them a chance.”
Bailly will be back
It wasn’t the first time that Bailly has been taken off in the first half this season. Jose Mourinho subbed him after just 19 minutes against Newcastle in October. He did not play again for two months after that.
“What is so refreshing about Solskjaer is that he will show faith in Bailly, and the Ivorian will be back in the team - in his favoured position in central defence - before long,” believes Alistair Tweedale of the Daily Telegraph.
“Under Mourinho, every single centre-back at Old Trafford was considered dispensable, and the manager was desperate to splash out on a shiny, expensive new defender,” he adds.
“Solskjaer has insisted on playing two holding midfielders to give a shaky defence added protection, and in doing so he has enhanced the reputations of Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones. He is also clearly keen to help Bailly get back to his best rather than just chucking him into the reserves.”
The Mike Phelan factor
Another masterstroke was bringing Mike Phelan back to Old Trafford, says Tweedale.
“Since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure a link to the old United regime has been lacking. The club went for a fresh start in 2013, but that didn't work. Phelan's return has helped Solskjaer to re-establish the feeling of giddying fun in attack that characterised Fergie's time in charge. Phelan's experience and impact should not be underestimated.”
Solskjaer has faith
United were shorn of ten first-team players through injury and suspension against PSG, notes Mark Ogden of ESPN. But his decision to throw on youngsters Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood in the closing stages of the match was another nod “to United's traditions of blooding youth”.
They, like players such as Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, are enjoying the freedom and faith that Solskjaer has shown in them.
“It is now a matter of when, rather than if, he is appointed,” says Ogden. “Are United really going to risk jeopardising all of the progress they've made under Solskjaer by telling him they have found somebody else?”