The Norwegian was appointed as the club’s permanent manager on a three-year contract in March last year after a successful spell as the caretaker. After the initial burst, the tough times have been dubbed as “rebuilding” or “transition” period. The team is currently being torn down and built from the ground up. So the big question looms, how much of this “rebuild” has been completed and how far is the road ahead ?
A quick flashback
David Moyes was a shock successor to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. After signing Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini, he was unsurprisingly sacked after failing to live up to expectations.
Succeeded by veteran Louis Van Gaal, the Dutchman came with a lot of emphasis on “Philosophy”. Little improvement was seen on the field despite signing a host of players. Ultimately even an FA Cup couldn’t prevent his sacking.
In came Jose Mourinho looking to redeem himself.The arrival of Paul Pogba got the fans excited and winning the Europa League suggested that things were definitely on the mend before the “typical Mourinho” screenplay was on show and he got himself sacked, again.
Since Ole arrived, the club has parted ways with Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera (an unpopular decision among many fans), Romelu Lukaku (granting him his wish) and Ashley Young, while Alexis Sanchez, Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling have been sent out on loans, all of which are likely to be made permanent moves.
What this brief timeline teaches us
- A manager coming to Manchester United comes with a lot of pressure and expectations.
- It takes a few months to adjust to the club’s atmosphere and players take their time to understand the new boss.
- In the meantime, a few players are unwanted and new signings are identified.
- Results turn sour with not enough backing behind the scenes.
- Manager would never put the club first over his own reputation in a crisis. Sacked
- Previous managers probably knew the deadwood wouldn’t be replaced by the board and hence solely focused on new signings thereby just papering over the cracks.
- Advantage with Ole – Knows the club inside out and has no reputation to protect.
- Doing God’s work of clearing out the afterbirth of FOUR previous managers putting his neck on the line.
- Shown guts in the face of adversity despite results not being the best. Sticking to the plan despite form hitting all time low. Sort of learning on the job while putting club first. Always taking the losses on the chin and never throwing players down the bus.
In this day and age the biggest challenge for a manager is man-management — and Solskjaer is clearly getting that right. What we are seeing is a shaping of the identity of the team. There are hungry players in Solskjaer’s team that want to improve and grow with the club.
Laying down the new Foundation – On the field
For much of the time since Ferguson’s retirement United fans have been crying out for a coherent recruitment strategy. You cannot say Solskjaer has failed in that regard. The Norwegian is rebuilding United pretty emphatically; by making the right signings (Fernandes, Ighalo, Maguire and Wan-Bissaka, plus the promising Daniel James). Improving those already at the club (Fred, Martial, Rashford, Shaw and Scott McTominay to name a few) and developing homegrown youngsters like Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams.
The plan is evident- Building the team from the defence up. Now the focus is shifting towards midfielders and forwards. Frequency of names like Sancho, Grealish and Havertz have witnessed a huge rise in the press.
Off the field
One of the trademarks of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United has been a serial winning character. The ability and relentless pursuit of trophies on all possible fronts simultaneously is an instinct that cannot be taught or bought. It is a priceless quality that is imbibed through experience, winning that inspires more winning.
The current United team hasn’t tasted the success of a trophy since 2017 and reinvigorating the “true United” character would be priceless both for the senior likes of De Gea and especially the youngsters. What better way to kickstart your career.
David De Gea has been one of the few constant shining lights in the United squad post Sir Alex, but his form has dipped at a time when Dean Henderson’s star is on the rise. Is it finally time for change between the sticks at United? This will be key decision for Solksjaer to make.
Manchester United’s midfield has, for the majority of the season, been an incoherent mess. Now, though, with Fernandes pulling the strings it has become a fully functioning unit. A fully fit and motivated Pogba can only do more good and accelerate the current rebuild but his departure would be unfortunate and we would need 4 or 5 Fernandes to compensate. A large share of credit for the purchase should be Ole’s.
Youth recruitment has breathed a new life and potential talents like Mejbri and Bishop are being brought in for training and development with an eye out for the future.
All signings thus far have been impactful right from the word go but in my view United should still be looking for a ST, RW, CDM and a LB to build a title winning squad. Ighalo is only a short term fix and Greenwood although brilliant needs time. Sancho appears like a deal United will close, god-willing. An ageing Matic might not be the best competition for a form dependent Fred so a quality deep lying midfielder might be key in transition of play. Recent pictures of Shaw suggest he might not have taken quite well to the lockdown and Williams is still very young so an experienced full back should be explored.
Hence maybe by next summer after the squad has been fully revamped, if the results and performances are still not up to the mark, Ole would warrant criticism.
For this season, I think absence of CL football or trophies should not affect his job. Although a club like Manchester United consistently should be challenging for all trophies on all fronts, a foundation is being laid for a successful future and the process should be respected with patience, time and adequate resources from the board.
Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward says this summer’s transfer window is an “important opportunity” for the club to build a squad capable of challenging for the Premier League and Champions League. Let’s hope thats backed up with the finances especially post COVID.
My last argument to instate faith in this rebuild is similarities between Ole and SAF. In 1988/89 United had finished 11th and Ferguson had seen enough. That summer, in the days before the transfer window, Ferguson spent over £7million – a significant sum at the time – in signing six new players, breaking the British transfer record in the process. That included Mike Phelan. In that season United lost 16 league games – three more than they won – and could finish only 13th. The first stage of the rebuild appeared to have been a disaster, although crucially the FA Cup was secured, perhaps the silverware that began to ignite the Ferguson era.
There was gradual improvement to follow. A year later United finished sixth. In 1991/92 they came second. A year later the 26-year wait for a league title was over.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was announced as full time boss, there probably wasn’t a single team in the Premier League that would have swapped their manager for him. The tide appears to be turning slowly but surely. As fans, it’s important not to be ole in or ole out after one good or bad game and one good or bad timed substitution or decision.
So is it worth trusting this man you ask? Positivity in and around the club, dressing room, performances and results make it more of a “Why not” for me at this point. A good transfer window will only add steam to the process.
The signs are positive and United have been solid the last 11 games with 9 clean sheets, scoring 29 conceding just 2. Since the Paris miracle, this is the peak in form and things are looking up. I’m excited to see United take the field soon against Spurs with a fully fit and raging squad. I hope the upcoming performances will be few good things to come our way in this dark and grim year.