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ferg-et it If Man United were serious about returning to old glories, they'd have said farewell to Solskjaer long ago


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn't possess the charisma of Jurgen Klopp nor the strength of personality of Pep Guardiola

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn't possess the charisma of Jurgen Klopp nor the strength of personality of Pep Guardiola

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn't possess the charisma of Jurgen Klopp nor the strength of personality of Pep Guardiola

IT is a brutal, glaring truth that, if Manchester United were serious about returning to old glories, they would have long ago said farewell to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Distilled down to its pitiless essence, their decision to retain him poses a series of rhetorical questions.

If any of the clubs against which United measure themselves were in the market for a manager would they stop, for even a few short seconds, to consider Solskjaer’s credentials?

Even if he was readily available and offering to do the job pro bono?

Liverpool or Manchester City? Real Madrid or Barcelona? Bayern Munich or PSG? Chelsea or Juve or Inter Milan?

If the Norwegian was advertising his wares, is there a single redeeming feature in his tactical repertoire to suggest he might be able to best exploit any of these titans’ playing resources?

Does he exude the charisma of Jurgen Klopp, the strength of personality of Pep Guardiola, a single pixel of the grand innovative vision of these men who have shaped rival institutions in their own messianic likeness?

We may as well ask if the Royal Shakespeare Company would consider Tom Cruise a legitimate successor to thespian leviathans like Olivier or Gielgud or Burton.

Even if their longlist of candidates bulged like an old Telecom Eireann phone book, it is impossible to imagine Solskjaer would be among the contenders at any football club with ambitions that rose above comfortable mediocrity.


Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer congratulates Villarreal's players

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer congratulates Villarreal's players

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer congratulates Villarreal's players

The unvarnished reality – evident long before they were undone by La Liga’s seventh-ranked side in the old shipyard town of Gdansk on Wednesday night – is that a superpower of the global game went into battle behind a C-list general.

Like the leaking Old Trafford roof, the likeable lightweight inhabiting the dugout is a symbol of United’s decline.

Some 30 months into his Manchester imperium, his team remain one-dimensional, devoid of boldness, hugely reliant on Bruno Fernandes and crying out for a surge of ambition or sideline innovation.

Rather than imposing their will on the biggest contests, they seem, in the damning midweek verdict of one columnist, “grateful to be there”.

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Is Solskjaer the shaper of destiny to lead Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood on the kind of insightful voyage of discovery that Guardiola and Klopp have mapped out for Phil Foden or Trent Alexander-Arnold?

Of course, the statistics can be spun to paint an upbeat mirage, an illusory portrait that depicts Ole gamely leading the Premier League’s most decorated club back toward the light.

When you are parching under a desert sun, it is easy to trick a frazzled mind into believing there is a waterhole on the horizon.

On Solskjaer’s watch, United have engineered a 38-point turnaround in a single season to leapfrog Liverpool; they have compiled the first unbeaten away league campaign since Arsenal’s Invincibles 17 years ago.

Twelve times they summoned the strength of character to climb off the canvas and win a game where they had taken the haymaker punch of going a goal behind.

And, on Wednesday, only the cruel lottery of a penalty shoot-out denied them a day in the European sun.

But then you consider United’s wage bill and place it alongside their schizophrenic season, the absence of cohesion or any imaginative game plan, and the notion that Solskjaer is entitled to a little indulgence, quickly dissolves.

Yes, they finished ahead of Liverpool and closest to City, but could anybody place another frequently unconvincing Old Trafford season under the microscope and find reason to believe they will be authentic title contenders next season?

The oddsmakers who quote United as distant 8/1 fourth favourites are hardly alone in their conviction that it would be nothing less than a seismic shock if the final day of the 2021/22 season had United in the same parish as City or a revived Liverpool.

Perhaps United will reach for the cheque book as they so often have, but even then their uninspiring managerial figurehead becomes part of the problem.

Say Harry Kane’s decision on which club he might join comes down to the coach he will work with, is the Englishman likely to choose Ole ahead of Pep?

Only if he has been at the magic mushrooms.

United have searched across the managerial spectrum – from the gilded Mourinho and Van Gaal CVs to the domestic overachiever David Moyes to the beloved old boy, Solskjaer – for a worthy successor to Alex Ferguson.

And still, they await the figure on whose shoulders the old Glaswegian warlord’s chain-mail vest might comfortably sit.

There is no guarantee that replacing Solskjaer would secure their visa to football’s Garden of Eden, but what is certain is that, as long as they retain his services, they will not advance to within several time zones of Shangri-La.

Solskjaer is an amiable, well-rounded man, his low-wattage ego in sharp contrast with so many of his peers.

But in a world where competitive ruthlessness, the feral pursuit of victory, and a relentlessly one-eyed world view are non-negotiable, his Scandic decency can come across as guileless innocence and ceases to be any kind of asset.

It is difficult to imagine Paul Pogba being either intimidated or inspired into delivering the best of himself by a soft-spoken, featureless figure who relegated Cardiff during his tenure.

Just as it is impossible to imagine Guardiola or Klopp indulging the talented, but maddening, French World Cup winner through season after season of nothing more than sporadic outbreaks of meaningful performance.

Handing Solskjaer the keys to Ferguson’s kingdom always seemed as imprudent as replacing a cold-blooded, uncompromising, and ferocious assassin with a smiling, biddable altar boy.

Blessed with a budget most of his rivals would die for, the verdict once more came in hard and final on Wednesday night.

Unable to better a moderately-resourced provincial Spanish side, his team’s options shackled by his own tactical limitations, Solskjaer resembled nothing as much as David de Gea when tasked with taking the night’s fateful penalty.

Yes, Ole was frozen to the spot, impotent to hit Manchester United targets that, under the brutish, brilliant and dazzlingly imaginative Ferguson, came as naturally as breathing.

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