Goodbye Ole — Always A Legend
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the player gave us a lot of joy. He was one of the best finishers in the Sir Alex Ferguson era and played a massive role in helping us win the Treble — not just the winning goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final but also the winning goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup 3rd Round. Besides that, he has contributed to United winning trophies in his time at the club with his goals. At this point as well, I want to point out that aside from the goals, he was a team player. In the 2002–03 season, he played a part in United winning the league title playing out wide on the right as an outside forward. That is Solskjaer, the player.
As a manager, he came at a time where I hope a former player would be the manager but I didn’t think that Solskjaer was the right profile but was open to being surprised. He did a great job when he entered a fractious dressing room; he improved the team’s mood, united the team and gave the team a feel-good factor. He went on an incredible run of unbeaten matches which culminated with a shock Champions League Round of 16 elimination of Paris-Saint Germain. I felt we got lucky that day and it was celebrated too exuberantly, influencing the owners to offer him a permanent contract. The results nose-dived after he got the contract prompting doubts that maybe he was offered a contract too soon. A benefit of the doubt was given that it was not a Solskjaer team and one that he had inherited.
Solskjaer’s First Full Season: A Season Of Promise
The following season in 2019–20, he was able to build his squad by signing players he wanted but it took United until January 2020 to finally hit form. We played some great football in that run and picked up some big wins. We went on a run to the semi-finals of the League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League and lost all three — we were outplayed by Manchester City in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final, made mistakes and didn’t play well against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and were unlucky and profligate to lose against Sevilla in the Europa League semi-final. The season ended positively with qualification to the Champions League in third place.
Red Flags Appear
The 2020–21 season, was the first time I noticed red flags in Solskjaer’s management. He wasn’t helped by a terrible and rushed transfer market and a lack of a pre-season. It took United some time to get going. An early-season mauling by Tottenham Hotspur shaped United for the rest of the season; from the free-flowing attacking football that we ended the previous season with, we became more cautious and pragmatic. This season saw the birth of the infamous Scott McTominay and Fred (McFred) centre-midfield partnership and with that the frustration at the performances. The emphasis was on keeping it tight at the back rather than taking the game to the opponents. Some teams were there for the taking but we squandered the opportunity. We struggled to break down teams that sat back and defended. In a lot of the games, we won thanks to individual quality rather than team play. We were top of the league for a brief period but that didn’t last long. We ended the season in 2nd place but were miles away from the top spot. In the Champions League, we were in a tricky group and did well enough to be in a great position to qualify for the knockout stage only to squander qualification. We qualified for the semi-final of the League Cup only to lose to Manchester City again. We were demoted to the Europa League and went all the way to the final only to lose in a penalty shootout. That final epitomised Solskjaer’s poor game management and reluctance in making substitutions. That season also showed his favouritism towards some players.
End Of Time
Despite the red flags, I hope Solskjaer will learn from his mistakes and correct them for this season. He didn’t and that has caused him to lose his job. This time it looked like he had reached the end, the results and performances were shockingly poor despite the significant investment made over the summer. I am sure he did his best and tried whatever he could to get United to where they should be but his best was just not enough. Arguably, after last season, he might have been relieved of his duties but because of the “progress” made, he was kept on.
Bigger Blame Lies Elsewhere
I feel sad the way things have ended for a United legend and the disrespect he has got on social media. It shouldn’t have ended in this way; ideally, it would have been great if he left on his own accord with his head held high or by at least winning something, not in humiliation. He has to take responsibility for his decisions, the preparation of the team and the selection of his backroom staff. The players too have a part to play for some abject performances. However, the biggest blame has got to go to the owners and board members. Once again, they got a managerial selection wrong. Structurally, the club still doesn’t look to be in the right place with not enough football people on the board or people with the right qualities and experience to manage things at a big club. Until that is set right, we will keep struggling in this never-ending loop of disappointment, under-achievement and transition.