Spread across every social media publication and sports news station on saturday was the ‘Breaking News’ that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had signed a new deal with Manchester United.
A second place finish last season was seen as an acceptable progression after a sixth and third place in the two years previous. The club have handed the Norwegian a deal until the end of 2024 as a reward for steadying the ship.
In all fairness Solskjaer had done a good job. Not necessarily for the position the team finished but for the togetherness he has brought to the squad.
Under Jose Mourinho there was a thoroughly negative vibe surrounding the club. Every post match interview was another bit of drama the club didn’t need.
Solskjaer the Traditionalist
Solskjaer came in and said all the right things. Some gave him grief saying he was a puppet for the Glazers. It was never the case. Solskjaer knew his club needed to embrace the traditions that had been abandoned since Alex Ferguson stepped down in 2013.
Manchester United is all about developing young players and coaching them in the ‘United Way’ where attack is the best form of defence. Solskjaer loved this type of football. He also knew that a club legend adapting the style of football would be given time to prove himself by the supporters.
While everyone was behind Solskjaer that doesn’t mean they agreed with every decision he has made over the last three years. Ole is a manager who is still learning his trade, it just happens to be at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Decisions like running Fernandes into the ground by playing him in every game were unwise. Yes he is a leader, a player that can change games. But he is also human. Many criticised his performances at the end of the season hinting he can’t do it on the big stage.
That is total nonsense. Fernandes oozes quality. His performances did slump at the most important stage of the season that is not in doubt. A hand needs to be raised by Solskjaer to accept responsibility for this. On far too many occasions he chose to place Pogba on the bench when the French man could have played the number ten role and given Fernandes some needed rest.
In modern day football rotation is key to clubs challenging in Europe. Two players for every position are needed to challenge on all fronts. United had two quality number tens in Pogba and Bruno Fernandes last season and Solskjaer decided to play the Portuguese star week in week out. It could be said that Rashford found himself in the same boat.
Europa League Final
This very point showed up in the Europa League Final. Both players were non existent and lacking spark. Decisions like not swapping out De Gea for Henderson for the penalty shootout as De Gea hadn’t saved a penalty in five years. Also not making a substitution until the 87th minute while Villarreal made five and well into extra-time left his team tired and flat.
Decisions like not taking off Fred when he got away with a yellow for an attempted headbutt against PSG in the Champions League cost United dearly.
Decisions like taking Sheffield United for granted in January and naming Axel Tuanzebe in central defence when he had only played 49 minutes in four appearances that season. Also leaving Edison Cavani on the bench in that game lead United to losing three valuable points.
These are all learning curves for Solskjaer. The sign of good player or manager is learning from their mistakes are not repeating them. The Manchester United manager has brought way more positives than negatives since his arrival so a new contract is fully deserved.
New Contract for Solskjaer
Solskjaer need not get too comfortable though. A new contract until 2024 changes nothing! It does not give him more time at United. It’s merely an acknowledgement of the progression during his time as manager.
He still has the same pressures. He must win trophies. If by the end of the 2021/22 season Manchester United have not won a trophy yet again, then Solskjaer may not see the following season let alone 2024 as United manager.
Mourinho won the League Cup and Europa League. Van Gaal won the FA Cup. Even though its scraping the barrel, David Moyes won a Community Shield. Solskjaer isn’t manager of Manchester United to make players and fans feel good with how the club are progressing. He is there to win trophies. And his time is now!