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UNITED STANCE In his bid to save Solskjaer, Gary Neville defended as shockingly Harry Maguire

Like a drowning man down clinging to a last piece of flotsam, Neville fastened himself to a dubious one line mantra: “I think the club will hold its nerve.”

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Gary Neville admitted Manchester United had to act over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Gary Neville admitted Manchester United had to act over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Gary Neville admitted Manchester United had to act over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

AT their darkest Premier League hour, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was not alone as a beloved Manchester United legend floundering and enslaved by sentiment.

As Mo Salah rained icy darts of humiliation on Old Trafford, Gary Neville defended as shockingly as Harry Maguire.

That Neville was in a Sky Sports box, even the mitigation that Solskjaer is his friend, could not disguise that he too had delivered a two out of ten study in stumbling absurdity.

As a Liverpool side minus two-thirds of their first choice midfield fatally ruptured the last of the Norwegian’s credibility as an elite level manager, his old team-mate declined to accept the game was up for United’s broken leader.

Neville was as unwilling to embrace the unimpeachable logic of Proposal B – the one recognising the need for urgent and radical change – as the delegates at the GAA’s Special Congress a day earlier.

With each defence of the managerial status quo, the Englishman undermined his hard-earned, entirely-merited status as an intelligent, fearless, cutting-edge, call-it-as-it-is voice of reason.

Like a drowning man down clinging to a last piece of flotsam, Neville fastened himself to a dubious one line mantra: “I think the club will hold its nerve.”

His curious definition of “holding their nerve” is one that sees the self-styled biggest club on the planet keeping faith, until season’s end at least, with a doomed, unfit for purpose, laughing-stock coaching ticket.

As his fellow TV pundits argued that in the wake of this 5-0 shredding the emperor was plainly wearing no clothes, Neville’s default expression increasingly resembled that celebrated characterisation of Colin Montgomerie having “a face like a warthog stung by a wasp.”

It has been evident for some time to those not blinded by loyalty that a flailing, thrashing Solskjaer is grotesquely out of his depth in the shark-infested waters that are the natural habitat of elite coaches like Klopp, Guardiola and Tuchel.

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Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (left) scores their side’s fifth goal

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (left) scores their side’s fifth goal

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (left) scores their side’s fifth goal

None of this is to say that a coach whose CV is built on the insubstantial foundations of apprenticeships at Cardiff and Molde is not an eminently decent man. Plainly he is a truly honourable and cordial figure.

But that he is a nice guy (or even a venerated figure from the club's glorious past) matters as much as the colour of his hair, the size of his shoes or whether he likes his eggs scrambled or fried.

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The critical factors when evaluating Solskjaer’s license to sit on Alex Ferguson’s throne are tactical competence, a discernible game plan, logic in team selection and substitutions, evidence of progress, success in coaxing the best from his squad, and a ruthlessness in dealing with underachievers.

Above all other things…it’s results, stupid.

In none of these categories has the 48-year-old appeared anything other than a hapless lightweight.

Solskjaer is the longest serving Red Devils manager since Dave Sexton not to win a trophy; even after another summer of hugely expensive recruitment, United are less a team than a disjointed rag-tag of individuals; less than a quarter of the way into the season and even Walter Mitty would not dare to dream of a credible title challenge.

The same inept tactical approach employed against Atalanta four days earlier, one immediately signposted by Paul Scholes as a recipe for calamity against quality opposition, was repeated on Sunday with predictable consequences.

Manchester United cannot and will not compete for the trophies that matter – Premier League and Champions League – for so long as Ole is at the wheel.

Even Neville seemed on his way to embracing this truth when he described Sunday’s evisceration as a “monstrously bad day”, adding ominously that it could be even worse on Saturday week against Manchester City, who “might toy with [United]”, “not let them land a punch like Mayweather used to do.”

Gary went so far as to insist “the reality is that something has got to change quickly.”

And then he doubled down on his defence of Solskjaer.

In other words, he accepts the Theatre of Dreams is ablaze but declines to dial 999.

One of his stranger arguments is that Manchester United should not pursue a world class manager because such a tactic backfired when they brought in Jose Mourinho.

By the same dubious logic, Ferguson should not have got the job back in 1986 because another Scot, Tommy Doherty, had overseen relegation to the Second Division a decade previously

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Gary Neville has gained a reputation for being a well-informed soccer analyst

Gary Neville has gained a reputation for being a well-informed soccer analyst

Gary Neville has gained a reputation for being a well-informed soccer analyst

When Antonio Conte - universally recognised as a coach who can eyeball Klopp or Guardiola without feeling the slightest sense of inferiority – was namechecked as an available alternative, Neville rushed to slam the door shut.

“I wouldn’t bring him in, I don’t think he’s a fit for Manchester United.”

Think about that: A combined five time winner of Serie A/Premier League doesn’t fit, but a vote of confidence in a Cardiff castoff with one point from the last available 12, and who has just presided over the darkest day in United’s Premier League history amounts to “holding nerve”.

Less than a week earlier, after his former club imploded at Leicester, Neville had again thrown himself in front of bullets aimed at Solskjaer.

Even eviction from the Champions League would not alter his stubbornly held world view as he deemed that Solskjaer getting his hand on the irrelevant Europa League trophy would represent a successful season for United.

A champion limbo dancer might be reluctant to set the bar so low for such a towering institution.

On one level there is something admirable about Neville declining, no matter how cataclysmic the sequence of events, to turn on an old friend.

It is not, however, the one where serious analysis resides.

On any cold, unsentimental examination of the facts insisting that Solskjaer remains the right man to lead United is simply devoid of verifiable truth.

As an exercise in delusion, it strays dangerously close to the territory of Donald Trump insisting he won the last US Presidential election.

In football the ballot paper is ticked by results.

No amount of friendly propaganda can disguise the bleak truth that Sunday's Liverpool wipeout marked an electoral landslide, the hour when Solskjaer's legitimacy to lead was irretrievably lost.

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