By Santu Mukherjee and Deep Guha
At last, the love affair ends. After losing to Watford 4-1, Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer part ways. But was it the right decision at the right moment? And what has Ole achieved after taking the reins from Jose Mourinho?
If we look at the statistics Ole has faired well against the other post-Ferguson managers in terms of played-win ratio as Solskjaer has won 91 of his 168 games in charge across all competitions, a better number than Van Gaal, Mourinho, and Moyes. But a team like Manchester United that plays in probably the most competitive football league in the world shouldn’t get off with justifying that. Under Ole’s tenure from 2018-2021, United has reached the knockout stages of some top-flight football competitions, but that was it. Van Gaal won the FA Cup in 2016, Mourinho won a double, but Ole failed where his predecessors succeeded and it did not bode well for the ‘baby-faced assassin’.
Perhaps the reason for Ole’s downfall was his tactics and loss of focus. While it might not be clear to the eyes, but somewhere down the line this season, Ole lost the fan as well as the control over the dressing room. Failing to bring out the best in players like Varane and Sancho, buying a player like Donne Van de Beek and making him sit in the reserve bench begged sharp criticism while bringing Ronaldo back to Old Trafford was also questionable at best. Defensively, United has faired worse than any other ‘big’ team. They have too often given the ball away and failed to win it back. The team’s ineffectiveness in the final third has also contributed to their current form. While he created a better squad than what Mourinho had at his disposal, his tactics didn't quite click. But one thing is for certain, Ole isn’t the only one to be blamed for United’s current run, the club board is equally responsible.
Fans and ex-players have time and time again vocalized their dismay at the workings of the Glazers as well as the outgoing Ed Woodward. A string of criticism has been pointed at Woodward, who since 2013, replaced David Gill, a man who worked in synergy with Sir Alex to make magic happen at the Theatre of Dreams. Woodward, while having helped keep money coming into the club’s stream, has failed with assisting the club in terms of on-field functionality. And those who feel club executives don’t have influence over on-field play, look at what Michael Edwards of Liverpool F.C. has achieved while working in tandem with Klopp. The Glazers on the other hand have been at odds with the fans for a long time as they have been called out for caring about the profits and dividends more than the club’s legacy and the fans' hunger to win trophies. The United board has made(or haven’t for that matter) choices that have led to the regression of this fine footballing institution.
The transfer policy that the board has chosen to stand by gets blown out of the water when you see what their biggest rivals have done in the past years. While Mourinho was in-charge, United suffered from the lack of a quality center-back and a good defensive midfielder. Transfer market decisions such as buying Fred have backfired as he couldn’t live up to his full potential. The post-Ferguson transfer decisions regarding Pogba and Sanchez were ones that came under fire and still polarise fans and pundits. Spending 80 Million Euros on Harry Maguire left people scratching their heads. While it is true that he became a key player in the United backline, his overall performance doesn’t match up to the quality that a team such as Manchester United ought to have and his leadership skills in the United dressing room needs to be looked at. While players like Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, have kept the hope alive, the United transfer policy under the Glazers and Ed Woodward needs restructuring otherwise disaster is bound to strike again.
A change of captaincy might bode well for the team with the obvious choices being De Gea, Ronaldo, and Bruno; but for what it’s worth, the armband should go to the Spaniard since he’s been the only consistent United player throughout most of the seasons and his loyalty to the team can not be questioned by anyone.
But the real question now is, where does United go from here? While Michael Carrick has been handed the ropes as interim caretaker for United, rumor mills are already churning about who will take on permanent managerial responsibilities.
Out of the many, some names have been speculated about more than others.
First comes France and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane who has proved that he can transform a high profile club lagging in winning streaks and he already has a very good working relationship with Christiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane. And he can certainly deliver top-tier trophies if backed properly and can adapt to the Premier League.
Luis Enrique was a popular choice up until now but his “April Fool’s Day” statement has made things clear for the moment. Brendan Rodgers is another popular choice but seems unlikely because as well he has done with the Foxes, his profile doesn’t match up with the likes of Guardiola, and Klopp which is the kind United should look for.
But as of this moment, the one most likely to land the job is PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentinian was the initial choice to replace an outgoing Mourinho. And now when there are rumors swimming that the PSG boss actively wants to leave mid-season, there’s a good chance Pochettino might return to the Premier League. He knows the turf, he reached the UEFA Champions League final with Tottenham and has the necessary experience to pull out United from the regressing situation. While the Manchester giants might look towards other options, Zidane and Pocettino might be the ones that serve as their saving grace.