After collecting 26 points in 17 games and averaging 1.5 points per game in 2018/2019 – the lowest tally at that stage of a campaign in the modern era for Manchester United – a 3-1 loss to Liverpool on December 18th, 2018, triggered the sacking of the man once known as the, ‘Special One’ – Jose Mourinho.
Club legend, hero of the Champions League victory in 1999, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as caretaker manager.
There have been many instances of poor ‘club legend’ managers with Andrea Pirlo being sacked after just a year in charge of Juventus, Frank Lampard being sacked after just 18 months following a 247.2 million euro spending spree and Mikel Arteta who guided Arsenal to an eighth-placed finish meaning the clubs record of 25 years in European competition was over.
Ole did have more managerial experience than Arteta and Pirlo though with previous stints at Molde and Cardiff.
Beginning with a 5-1 win to his old side Cardiff, Solskjaer was well and truly at the wheel going on a run of 11 unbeaten games and in his opening 17 he won 14 with arguably his greatest managerial moment coming with a 1-3 win away at PSG coming back from behind with Marcus Rashford belting his pressure penalty into the top corner.
However, his end of season form deteriorated so drastically with eight losses, two draws amassing eight points from a possible 36 as he switched between formations of 4-4-2, 4-3-1-2 and 3-5-2 – leading United to an eighth-placed finish, 32 points off the title.
3-5-2 has its problems as the oppositions wingers can pin down United’s wingbacks (players which have had many questions raised over them) leading to acres of space for the opposition fullbacks to get at the United defence and midfield becomes occupied by two men as the attacking midfielder gets forwards meaning it’s hard to cope – as shown by every time they played this formation that season it resulted in a loss.
Midfield sensation Bruno Fernandes arrived halfway through Solskjaer’s second season and transformed the team after an average start to the season. His goals and assists drove the team to finish third in the table.
There was an admirable amount of consistency in the cups for Solskjaer with getting to the semi finals of both the EFL and FA cup losing to their rivals City and Chelsea respectively and then losing in the semi finals of the Europa League to Sevilla – that piece of silverware always seemed elusive to him never quite being able to get them over the line like he did as a player.
There was even further improvement for the red side of Manchester and many a positive in the 2020-21 the season: finishing second on 74 points only 12 points off the champions Manchester City was a drastic improvement and the silverware may have still been a dream but they did go one better than the season prior getting to the Europa League final yet again losing to Sevilla.
However, the excuses began to fade for United.
Since the start, Ole had been backed in the transfer market bringing in so far Aaron Wan Bissaka, Fernandes, Harry Maguire, Donny Van De Beek, Alex Telles, Edison Cavani.
The issue with these transfers seemed to always be the lack of forward thinking in some cases – Van De Beek seemed like a good singing as he is a better all-round player than Scott McTominay and Fred, yet Ole never seemed to take to him as a player and he struggled for starts and Cavani is a very, very good striker and could teach the young Mason Greenwood a lot however he is ageing at 34 and was signed very late on in the window seeming like a panic.
Questions were also posed on the signings of Wan-Bissaka and Maguire coming in for a combined £130 million – Maguire has had some good moments but has been at fault for many a goal receiving a red in Ole’s final game in a 4-1 defeat to Watford and some believe Wan-Bissaka isn’t good enough.
However, 2021-22 was the season which Gary Neville later described was Ole, “skating on thin ice.”
Huge name singings of wonder kid and England international Jason Sancho came in, multiple winner of La Liga and four-time Champions League winner Raphael Varane came in to give stability next to Maguire and perhaps (who some would describe) as the greatest of all time Cristiano Ronaldo came back to the club where he first lit up the world stage.
Preseason, the buzz around Manchester United was astronomical
Many believed a theme of Ole’s tenure was just as he was on the brink of sacking, he would win a huge game and save his job.
This season they have only one win in the Champions League where Ronaldo just about heaved them over the line with a stoppage time winner to Atalanta; in the league they have dropped points in 6 games out of twelve and were knocked out of the EFL cup in the fifth round by the Flying Scotsman, David Moyes and his West Ham side.
The cracks were on show for all to see – except his pundit friends – with many critiquing the spineless nature of the team or the lack of structure with the front four almost playing 4-2-4 being disconnected from the midfield allowing Liverpool this season and nearly Atalanta to exploit them leading to masses of goals conceded.
Many have described the current team as anxious, rash and lacking composure and passive in shape especially against City and Watford showing a lack of courage where teams can attack United and get at them leading to many goals conceded.
Some have pointed to the signing of Ronaldo as a mistake saying United are in a worse place due to his signing as it threw Solskjaer’s tactics away to cater to the insatiable stature of CR7 – some believe the pace and power of Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho would be a better fit as before the signing of Ronaldo United went on a 29-game unbeaten run.
Others point to issues with a two-man midfield of McTominay and Fred being sub par and not being able to assist Ronaldo properly – Van De Beek could be a solution but Ole’s stubbornness in team selection has been a point of criticism all season.
However, what ever the reason is for United’s poor form something had to change and this time it is the manager who’s expendable.
There is reason for optimism however with a new manager coming in they may be able to get the best out of Sancho and Van De Beek who could be brilliant additions after very slow starts for the pair however investment is necessary to push on and that starts with a new number 6 in midfield.
Some people believe Ole should’ve been sacked long ago with even (according to The Times) Solskjaer’s appointment at United prompting United players to be removed from Molde’s fantasy team squads.
Ralf Rangnick looks likely to be the next man in the Old Trafford hotseat, what he will bring to the role is yet to be seen. Will he play the ‘Manchester United way’? Will he get the backing of the fans? Where will they finish?
It is reported that he will only take charge until the end of the season, who we will see on the touchline after that remains a mystery.
By Sam Rhodes