Manchester United finally sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager, but the long-term signs of malaise and decline continue to shine forth.
Modern football moves at a breakneck speed, often to the point of not giving fans time to feel too deeply about certain results. Manchester United may have sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer only this weekend, but the man placed in temporary charge – former United player and current member of the coaching staff Michael Carrick – has already recorded their first win post-Solskjaer.
Of course, managerial sackings are never an easy business to deal with. It is worse when the man at the end of the decision is a bonafide club legend. But results had gone down in a hurry and, the decision as such was inevitable.
Many feel the end could have come sooner, that United gave him far too much time than is normal. Indeed, it is clear even now that there was no plan as such from the powers-that-be to make a manegerial change in the first place.
Manchester United can confirm that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has left his role as Manager.
Thank you for everything, Ole ❤️#MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 21, 2021
That points to a much deeper problem, one that runs far and beyond the appointment and firing of Solskjaer. Many of the Norwegian’s detractors would like to believe things will get better in his absence.
Sadly, United’s current malaise runs so deep that it will take a remarkable turnaround for them to get competitive again. This was evident – yet again – in the manner of which Solskjaer’s departure was handled.
Because, as a look back at United’s post-Sir Alex Ferguson history shows, this isn’t the first time such an incident has happened.
When United appointed David Moyes to succeed Ferguson on a six-year deal, eyebrows were raised. United wanted someone to build for the long-term but six years was a lot – especially if the club wanted to change managers.
In Moyes’ case, they inserted a break clause that could be triggered in the first year. And when results became worse, they triggered said clause – although even then, they acted a little later than most expected them to.
His successor, Louis van Gaal, suffered an arguably worse fate. The Dutchman’s dull football often had fans chanting “attack! attack!” at the players, and by his second season most had lost faith in him.
Still, his tenure dragged on and even though it did yield an FA Cup, few were sad to see him go. In fact, many would have been happy to see him gone sooner.
Jose Mourinho, the man who succeeded the Dutchman, suffered a similar fate. The beginning of his third season at United showed signs aplenty of discontent and stagnation. Yet, amazingly, he was kept on till December before being sacked.
Again, this is not to advocate the quick hiring and firing of managers; it isn’t a recipe for long-term success. But letting a manager stay on beyond his sell-by date helps no one either.
Once ennui sets in with a manager, an upturn in results is either hard to achieve or extremely temporary in nature. At that point, moving on suits all parties best.
Weirdly enough, it is a lesson Manchester United hadn’t learnt then – and haven’t learnt now. Which brings us back to the most recent man to depart the United job.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought in on an interim basis, he oversaw a change in the mood – and results. A strong run of results led to him landing the job on a permanent basis.
Given his notable achievements as a manager including getting relegated with Cardiff City and winning the Norwegian league with Molde, the second coming of Sir Alex Ferguson he was not.
However, that is exactly what United seemingly treated him as. Whenever results went down, the board preached patience and cited giving Ferguson time in the earlier days of his reign.
Of course, a quick look at the facts makes that comparison fall apart.
Ferguson, when he reached United, had tasted domestic and European success with Aberdeen. That was a massive accomplishment because, prior to his appointment, Aberdeen’s last league success came in the 1950s.
Thus, the comparison made little sense – and many rightfully argued that Solskjaer was lucky to get the job in the first place. The fact he survived this long is nothing short of a miracle.
Even before this season, there were times when it seemed like Ole’s time at the wheel was up. The various defeats in cup competition semi-final matches in 2019-20. The 6-1 loss to Spurs at the start of the 2020-21 season. The Europa League final defeat at the end of the 2020-21 season.
But no, Ole outlasted them all. Each time he was backed – both figuratively and literally. New signings were made. Contract extensions were granted. And the idea of sacking him didn’t seem plausible even after the 5-0 loss to Liverpool this season. Or the 2-0 loss to City.
The loss to Watford, however, proved to be the final straw. And even then, the decision was so hasty that the direction going forward seems unclear.
United’s current succession plan for the post-Solskjaer era is… interesting. Carrick is in charge on a temporay basis, while United will sound out an interim manager to take charge till the end of the season. In the summer, the search for a new permament manager will begin.
If that sounds convulted and long drawn out, it’s because it is.
Compare this to how other clubs this season itself have operated. Managerial replacements are often sounded out before the incumbent is sacked; this ensures minimal transition time between reigns.
In United’s case, by the time Carrick gets somewhat comfortable with the job, they may have found an interim replacement. This man will in turn be in charge only till May 2022, with a new manager to be named thereafter.
All it does is make you question what the men in charge are doing?
United’s biggest issue post-Fergie has been the lack of a coherent structure or broader vision. Moyes was the stable option, but did not work out at all. Van Gaal has a record of both attractive football and youth development, but seemed past his best.
From there they went to the short-term king himself in Mourinho, before entrusting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a long-term rebuild. It reeks of incompetent decision-making at all levels.
Solskjaer’s sacking was a necessity given the plight the club found themselves in. But the scattergun recruitment, lack of proper planning and a focus on things beyond the football field are the real issues.
Sadly, sacking the manager won’t solve that. And, unless major change comes about soon, any successor of the Norwegian will grapple with the same issues that stifled his tenure.