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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: His United team should have been doing much better. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: His United team should have been doing much better. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

Carrick

Carrick

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Michael Carrick

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Michael Carrick

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: His United team should have been doing much better. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

There is only one word to sum up Manchester United’s handling of the final months of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign: shambolic.

Anyone writing a manual about how to go about replacing a football manager should find the current events at Old Trafford useful.

Simply observe how they are going about it and do the opposite.

There is a breathtaking incompetence in the fact a club of such stature announced it is prepared to appoint two interim managers in the hope circumstances eventually go their way and they will get their No 1 target – presumably Mauricio Pochettino.

We are still less than a third of the way through a Premier League campaign and Manchester United are indicating they want to see it through with two caretakers? That is astonishing.

How could they have failed to foresee this situation? Where is the evidence of a well-thought-out and executed contingency plan?

It was obvious after United were hammered by Liverpool in October that the current position was unsustainable. Soundings to possible replacements ought to have been made then, the international break presenting an opportunity to reset. It is embarrassing that United could not see that, while Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, and Norwich City could.

Spurs were smart in moving slightly earlier for the outstanding Antonio Conte. For all the criticism Daniel Levy gets, he saw which way the wind was blowing at Old Trafford quicker than anyone in power at Manchester United. We will never know if Conte could have been tempted to United instead, had they shown any interest.

Some say Conte was not the right fit for United. Speak to those at the highest level of football and there is general bewilderment at that. What exactly do United want? Are they so naive as to believe there is another Alex Ferguson out there, who will run the club in his image for the next 25 years? Wake up! The football world has changed. Those managers do not exist anymore.

Even at the biggest, most successful clubs like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, the elite coaches come and go every three or four years. Perhaps Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp will have lasted eight or nine years at Manchester City and Liverpool by the end of their reigns – fans of both clubs will hope they stay even longer – but such longevity is now the exception, not the rule. United have missed out on so many brilliant coaches who were available over the last three years, including Conte, Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel; managers who could have delivered title bids and successful Champions League campaigns here and now, given the talent in the squad and the vast sums spent.

Instead, the club has hidden behind the notion of a gradual rebuilding, when they have spent £312m (€371.6m) on new players under Solskjaer – the highest in the Premier League – and have the highest wage bill. The United squad should have been doing so much better than it is, not just this season but in the last couple of years. Having heard and read that Solskjaer has left the team in a better place than when he took over – and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him when watching his farewell interview – we need a reality check.

It is debatable he should ever have been given the job on a permanent basis, although there is a lot of retrospective criticism for that. His initial impact as caretaker coach was such that it was difficult for the club not to give him a chance.

From the outset there were echoes of when Liverpool called upon Kenny Dalglish to take temporary charge after sacking Roy Hodgson in 2010. Kenny did well and was given a contract six months later. The difference is Liverpool’s owners quickly decided to go in a fresh direction rather than let emotion cloud their judgment when results and performances deteriorated. In contrast, United extended Solskjaer’s contract last summer – a decision which smacked of a club putting sentiment ahead of common sense.

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The defeat to Villarreal in the Europa League final confirmed what, deep down, everyone in football already knew. Solskjaer was never going to be the man to go head-to-head with Europe’s elite coaches. In the final, he was out-thought by Unai Emery. How could he be expected to get the better of Guardiola and Klopp over the course of a Premier League and Champions League campaign?

Many have correctly pointed out that the mood around the club felt better under Solskjaer. Was that really because performances and results significantly improved, or more because everyone was happy to have a club legend and likeable good guy in charge?

We have seen how quickly the atmosphere at Old Trafford can turn toxic during the Glazer era, so when Solskjaer initially replaced Jose Mourinho he was a useful shield. The fans were never going to completely turn on him, no matter how much their reservations grew.

But you can’t tell me anything under Mourinho and Louis van Gaal was worse than the last five defeats in seven Premier League games, United taking four points from the last 21. Mourinho won the Europa League and the League Cup, Van Gaal the FA Cup.

Let’s not rewrite history and forget that Mourinho finished second in the Premier League, even if his style of play was not considered suitable for United’s supporters. Yes, United were runners-up last year too, but only because Liverpool had no senior defenders for a season. They were in a false position. In terms of results, the team has made no progress at all in the last three years.

Whoever takes over will inherit a similar situation to that of Ole in 2018. Such are the finances at United, the resources will always be available for the right man to succeed. Things can always get better sooner rather than later. That makes the fact United are prepared to go another six months without their long-term solution more extraordinary.

United are one of the biggest clubs in the world. It is time they started acting like it.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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