Out of this Manchester United slump must come forth Solskjaer’s managerial redemption


Despite the recent Manchester United slump in form, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can still turn things around by asserting the authority of his footballing pedigree.

What may have started merely as a cause for concern has gradually become an alarming and frightening spectre. In a remarkably short period of time, the hopes and expectations of many a Manchester United fan have been brutally dashed after the series of capitulations witnessed over the last six weeks and not a few have begun to query the wisdom of making Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Old Trafford tenure permanent.

To be sure, a lot of fickleness has accompanied the recent slump in form, not least the manner in which United crashed out of the Champions’ League with barely a whimper and the insipid broth they served up at Goodison Park. Undoubtedly, disappointed fans, as well as the icons of football punditry, have been quick to conclude that the wheels have well and truly come off Ole’s rampaging red chariot.

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And they may well be justified in their despondency for these were not just mere losses, but a disappointing end, a fizzling out of hopes of winning a trophy and a sudden gut-wrenching uncertainty about their ‘top-four’ aspirations. For all the initial razzmatazz surrounding his first few weeks in charge, Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may well end up where he began – sixth on the premier league and no trophy to show.

Many will be disappointed at this sudden and unanticipated slump in form, especially the football romantics that had anointed him Old Trafford’s messiah. None more so than Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, who must have believed he’d found his ‘Knight in Shining Armour’ when he handed Solskjaer a three-year contract.

Beyond this despondency, out of the current cloud of gloom there nevertheless has emerged not only the revelation of the task that lies ahead for Manchester United, but also the realization of what must be shed in order for the club to grow and flourish as it must, given the weight of expectation and resources invested upon this footballing colossus.

By now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his enablers must have realized that adulation and nostalgia, the harking back to ‘1999’ and ’20 years ago’, will win nothing for him. It must have dawned on him that a smiling and pleasant mien will do little to change the mindset of the playing personnel who appear to have acquired a transgressive pleasure in ineffectual performance; playing at their own whims rather than for competitive necessity.

Post-Ferguson, some would argue that while he was still in charge, a character of complacency had overshadowed the first team, if not the entire club structure. The genius of Sir Alex may have perhaps obscured the fault lines but the thin veneer of bogus invincibility would soon be thoroughly shredded following his departure.

The efforts of his successors – Moyes’s fumbling queasiness, Louis Van Gaal’s ludicrous insipidity and Jose Mourinho’s toxic reign – failed to restore United’s past splendour due largely to their inability to uproot the ‘Conqueror’s Mentality’, the ‘We’re Manchester United’ sense of entitlement and privilege that trophies were theirs to be had, which did and still perversely pervades the club’s thinking. To that, factor in Woodward’s penchant for profligacy underlined by the belief that what it takes to bring back the glory days is to throw money around in needless transfers.

Unarguably, Solskjaer remains the right choice for Manchester United, but his tenure, rather than being one to bring immediate rewards, must serve to recreate the club’s tradition and ethos – the so-called Manchester United DNA. He had aptly demonstrated in his first three months his preparedness and earnestness and this portends a promising potential for him to be the spiritual nexus of United’s sporting renaissance. Coming with the legacy of having been part of United’s more glorious past and with his association with the Class of ’92, Old Trafford’s equivalent of the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer possesses all that it takes to birth the dawn of a new golden era.

However for this vision to be realized, if Woodward were not to bite his fingers and wring his hands in anguish at not following up with his instinctual infatuation with Tottenham Hotspurs’ Mauricio Pochettino, the first priority for Manchester United must be the appointment of a director of football, whose immediate brief would be to seize the management of club’s footballing policy from Woodward’s hand-wringing and hesitancy.

The responsibility for his own managerial redemption, for justifying the high hopes and expectations that his early days in charge have foisted on him, however, lies squarely with Solskjaer himself. His foremost task must be to re-wire the team’s mentality. Many recognize in Manchester United’s players an absence, a lack of that essential psyche of champions, that do-or-die attitude that differentiates winners from also-rans.

Nothing more illustrates this attitudinal lacuna than the on-field body language of many of United’s key players – the child-like playfulness of Jesse Lingard (who often appears to give the impression of being in an elementary school playground with his chums), the oafishness of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial’s frustrating indifference and Marcus Rashford’s sense of entitlement.

Throw in the blundering ineffectuality of Nemanja Matic, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku, then it’d be clear that the current squad needs a mental reprogramming, a sea change in attitude. Humility must replace the thinly-veiled arrogance and sense of self-entitled privilege, assuming of course that recent results have not done that already. Solskjaer must find a way to inculcate into this squad of players the tenacity of bull-dogs and ferocity of wounded lions if United are ever to reclaim their lost glory…

…and of course, the club must be willing to show the door to any among the present squad who will not key into the new United.

It would be unfair at the very least, to say in the light of the present difficulties that the results of the first few months of Solskjaer reign were a freak occurrence, a fluke. Rather, they reflect a gleam of what is possible under the current manager.

Yet even now that the tide appears to have turned, the imperative for which a new manager was sought in the first place i.e. the necessity for restorative change, still remains. However, the basis for that change must be cold-blooded realism and not the sentimental reminiscing of times past. Solskjaer must become as a manager what he was as a football player – a cold-blooded assassin, analytical in thought and clinical in execution. He must become ruthless behind those smiles and pleasant bantering, like a rubber coated steel sabre sharpened to finesse.

No more the tolerance of the kind of sloth that seems to have overtaken his players, exemplified by the declining performance particularly of David de Gea and Paul Pogba. No more can he be seen to be tolerating mediocrity by apparently defending his players’ tepid performances for he’d merely be giving them the latitude for further incompetence.

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Fortunately, he appears to have realized that United’s players need a vigorous mental shake-up. However, his ultimate redemption as Manchester United manager will be determined by the extent to which he can rouse the authority of his footballing pedigree and impose a winning culture on this currently under-performing squad.