If anyone in the Premier League had their ears prick up at the news of Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking then it should have been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s and now, with the Red Devils languishing in a lowly ninth place, Ed Woodward and his boardroom colleagues need to ask themselves whether to stick or twist.
Rewind 12 months
Give or take a few weeks and this time last year Jose Mourinho was on his way out of Old Trafford and Pochettino was the number one choice to take the club forwards. As it transpired Solskjaer arrived as caretaker and oversaw such a run of form that the hierarchy couldn’t not give him the job.
The trouble is since signing a permanent deal, the former striker, who scored the dramatic Champions League winner in 1999, has struggled to get a consistent tune out of his players and doubts have arisen over his suitability.
A successful summer window?
If United have failed to string together performances and results then perhaps it’s the man in charge or maybe it’s the way he’s approaching the job, which is as a long term project that involves blooding – and buying – youth and passing up on those who don’t fit his future aspirations or style of play.
Experienced forward Romelu Lukaku, for example, was allowed to leave Manchester despite being a proven Premier League goalscorer and no replacement was forthcoming as Solskjaer passed on the chance to sign Paulo Dybala.
The Norwegian did splash some cash though with Daniel James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka arriving and the majority of people would classify all of those as having had a positive impact on the team. With that in mind, could Solskjaer build something if given time and a bit of money to invest in the right places?
It’s ingrained in the history of Manchester United, they bring through young players. Nobody can question that Solskjaer is doing that and it’s well known that, not necessarily young but, inexperienced players lead to ups and downs in displays.
After an hour against Sheffield United at the weekend it looked like Solskjaer was a dead man walking with his team 2-0 down but with seven academy products in the squad – Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood, Alex Tuanzebe and James Garner – why is there so many questions over Solskjaer?
Poch a perfect fit?
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United have looked like a club lacking direction but under Solskjaer they do seem to have a plan, which is seemingly built around progressing youth and buying smart. This is similar to the manner in which Pochettino worked to transform Tottenham into one of the best sides in Europe.
At the moment, every time Solskjaer leads United out he must feel like he just guessed the winner of the Kentucky Derby horse race. In brutal honesty, he doesn’t have the CV to support his original appointment and you could consider him a poor man’s Poch; an interest in youth, a desire to play football the right way and a selective approach in the transfer market.
If Pochettino arrived at Old Trafford tomorrow you’d expect him to build on what Solskjaer has done, which is a decent base in fairness, but you’d likely see him take the team on another level and very few would disapprove of the new man.
Fast forward a month, if United are still in a similar position and Solskjaer is sacked – or chooses to walk – then Poch would be the top target without question. The only trouble is, wait a month and the Argentine might not be available because he’ll be a man in demand over the coming weeks.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, back him long term or sack him now? Over to you, Woodward, but beware it could make or break your club for the next three of four years.