Manchester United have released a statement officially confirming that Ole Gunnar Solskjær has left his role as manager of the club. After an abysmal run of domestic form including five losses in the last seven league games, even the most die-hard supporters of the Norwegian manager could back the decision to let him go. However, his termination is unlike the terminations of the three managers that preceded him. For starters, he was afforded more time to get it right than Moyes, Van Gaal or Mourinho ever got.
The most critical of United fans would argue that he should have been sacked on at least two different occasions throughout his tenure (after Leipzig in the Champions League and the Europa League final). Moreover, the goodbye messages from the club’s social media accounts and giving Ole a chance to give a heartfelt goodbye sent a clear message that his stature as a club legend and a great servant will not be tainted by recent performances. Hiring a manager of Ole’s repertoire was always bound to result in a few raise eyebrows from the United faithful. With that being said, I would like to dig deeper into his time at the club and truly assess whether he was successful as United boss.
Performances and Results
If I were to judge OGS’ performances as manager based solely on trophies, then the final verdict would be a resounding failure. To put it simply, Manchester United have always been and will always be expected to compete, Ole just simply could not get the club back into the habit of winning trophies. The Red Devils developed a trend under OGS: feel good moments followed by an inevitable collapse at the final hurdle. Think back to when OGS was hired as an interim manager. Jose Mourinho left the locker room in disarray but OGS rallied the troops and lead the team to a lengthy unbeaten streak. The feel good factor culminated on that infamous night in Paris; which, in hind sight, was probably the deciding factor as to why he was offered the full time job eventually. However, the first sign of what was to come was the final run of Premier League games in the closing stages of his inaugural half-season at the reigns. Manchester United could have easily finished in the Top 4 spots and secured qualification to the Champions League, but Ole’s Reds slumped to a run of 2 wins in the last 9 games and finished the season in an underwhelming sixth position, behind all of their main rivals (and Arsenal).
In the following pre-season Ole was given a chance to rebuild a poor squad and spent heavily on defense in hopes that the squad would be able to finish in the top 4; the upcoming season’s main objective. At the halfway point of the season Manchester United were in fifth but pressure was mounting on OGS as results were not going his way. Cue Bruno Fernandes. Manchester United’s newest addition took to the league like a duck to water, quickly becoming United’s talisman and main attacking threat. The Red Devils were able to have a fully fit squad ready for project restart and claimed a top 4 berth on the last day of the season. They fell at the final hurdle(s) again this season as they lost the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and the Europa League semi-finals in characteristically disappointing fashion. While the ending to the season was disappointing, the signs were there that Manchester United were trending upwards with the Norwegian at the helm. The board agreed and decided to give OGS more time.
The goal for Manchester United’s second full season under OGS was simple: A trophy and closing the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City. More signings were added to bolster the previously lackluster squad depth but Manchester United were as inconsistent as they have been over the past seasons. The feelings around the club were very positive that season. At the midway point, Manchester United were top of league. But United fans succumbed to the same old story again, they needed one point from their last two UCL games and lost them both. Then their season just completely collapsed after a string of disappointing league results. Manchester United easily finished second but not close enough to Manchester City to cause them any discomfort. They could not get it done at the final stages of the season losing in the quarter finals of the FA Cup, the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup and lost the Europa League Final in heart breaking fashion in a penalty shoot-out against Villarreal. Many thought that this would be the final straw for Ole but his stature at the club and some good faith from Sir Alex Ferguson and many fond of him within the clubs hierarchy managed to Ole another season to have a go at achieving success as a Manchester United boss.
The story of Manchester United’s current season is a well-documented one. They have a squad capable of winning the league but they did not click. Ole lost his job. It seems like OGS did the bare minimum he had to do to keep him in the job all the while giving the illusion of tactical know how by relying on individual brilliance to deliver results. While it is clear that they made strides forward, they underachieved based on the position they put themselves into in all competitions.
Squad Overall Quality
Ole’s job at the start was a long term project (contrary to the short-term fixes United tried in the past). There was a clear plan in his head: “The United Way”. There was a three-year plan where he would slowly build a title winning squad. To give credit where it’s due; at the start of OGS’ third season in charge, Manchester United definitely had a title winning squad.
Manchester United’s outgoing players under OGS:
- Alexis Sanchez
- Chris Smalling
- Joel Pereira
- Marcos Rojo
- Ander Herrera
- Romelu Lukaku
- Ashley Young
- Antonio Valencia
- Matteo Darmian
- Sergio Romero
- Daniel James
The notable outgoing players were mostly fringe players or players whose best years were behind them. OGS has done a decent job of clearing out the deadwood in the squad, with a lot of the players sold over the age of 30. Manchester United failed to recoup the transfer sums paid for the majority of these players but that is not something to be pinned on the manager.
Players signed under OGS:
- Harry Maguire
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka
- Daniel James
- Bruno Fernandes
- Alex Telles
- Odion Ighalo
- Donny Van De Beek
- Edinson Cavani
- Facundo Pellistri
- Amad Diallo
- Tom Heaton
- Raphael Varane
- Jadon Sancho
- Cristiano Ronaldo
There should be no doubts whether Manchester United’s overall squad quality has increased under OGS. The squad as a unit has enough star power and depth to rival any of Europe’s best teams on paper. It is unfortunate that Ole did not have the tactical knowhow to make it all gel together but whoever comes next will be licking their lips at the prospect of working with such a talented roster.
While tangible results (i.e trophies) were not present under Ole’s tenure, there were several notable moments. Manchester United broke a long standing record by going 29 games unbeaten away from home. Moreover, on all accounts, the squad harmony was as good as it’s ever been. They competed on all fronts for multiple seasons but could not deliver. OGS also gave 16 youth players their debuts, and the likes of Rashford, Greenwood, Martial and Luke Shaw all had their best seasons under the Norwegian.
It is a broken record, but results determine whether or not the manager was successful or not. Ole’s failure to deliver any trophies is his first shortcoming. Moreover, he could not rival the big dogs of the Premier League when it came to tactical ability and suave. Manchester United often played their best football when they played counter attacking football against top teams. However, whenever United dominated possession, they relied on individual brilliance and did not create sustainable chances often enough. I am adamant of the fact that it is not mandatory of a top manager to be a distinguished tactician to succeed. However, these managers are often supported by a top tier coaching staff. Ole insisted on having amateur coaches and friends as his backroom staff, and that was very visible in their playing style (or lack thereof). Finally, Ole failed to take risks, often resorting to his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation with his preferred personnel. His lack of ruthlessness and inability to make tough choices when it mattered cost him big games in knockout competitions.
In conclusion, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s time at Manchester United will always be a topic for debate amongst United fans. Some will argue that he was a much needed appointment to steady a sinking ship, while others will say that Manchester United are no better than they were before he was hired.
I personally believe that Manchester United made a good decision hiring Ole but took too long to pull the trigger on his dismissal. The start of the 2021/2022 season should have been when the team were ready to compete with Chelsea, Liverpool and City and it was evident that they needed a world class manager to do so. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer will forever remain a Manchester United legend and it is truly unfair to say that his time as manager has been a complete failure. His shortcomings as a manager ultimately lead to his downfall. I wish nothing but the best in his future endeavors.