Does Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserve a permanent role at Manchester United?
If you ask me, Manchester United enjoyed the best Christmas among English football clubs. After experiencing the bottomless pit in Jose Mourinho's lackadaisical third year, the squad rose from the ashes in a rather unexpected manner when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer assumed the reins.
The caretaker boss guided the Red Devils to seven wins in his first seven games. United are back as serious contenders for a Champions League spot after equalling Arsenal in the points table last week.
Before the nervy win against Brighton, Solskjaer stole a march from Mauricio Pochettino, the man touted to replace him as the permanent Manchester United manager next season. United beat Tottenham 1-0 at Wembley. Unsurprisingly, the Norwegian earned many fans' loyalty. They would love to see him in the dugout on a full-time basis. But, is the 45-year-old really capable to bid for that mammoth responsibility?
Clinging to leads in the past two second halves raises questions but let's jot down the finer points in Solskjaer's management and the positives he would bring to the table should he become permanent in the dugout.
With Mourinho leaving Manchester United in what was no less than wreckage, Solskjaer took on and carried out a magnificent salvage operation. First and foremost, he gained control of the dressing room, a top priority for any boss. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and David De Gea all seem to be enjoying his spell as interim boss. The 45-year-old’s man-management might play a crucial role in their futures, each just months from a potential exit.
Under Mourinho, United looked toothless in attack, exhibiting a monotonous style. The Special One's obstinate adherence to his defensive philosophy despite the consistent run of poor results led to his downfall.
The good cheer now surrounding Old Trafford and the Carrington training ground derives from Solskjaer's decision to tweak the playing style. He did what needed to be done, unshackling players from their defensive mindset, affording them the freedom to express themselves. That freedom quite clearly reflects in the 19 goals the Red Devils have plundered in his first seven matches. OGS' choices make him the third Premier League manager in history, with Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola to win his first six Premier League games.
Appointing Solskjaer as the full-time boss goes a long way to reviving United's lost identity. Manchester United fans are accustomed to an attacking brand of football. After donning the red shirt for 11 famous years under Sir Alex Ferguson, they can count on Solskjaer to remain true to the club's values and traditions.
That includes granting opportunities to youth players. Tahith Chong made his debut under the Norwegian. Angel Gomes received a certain amount of minutes once Solskjaer began calling the shots. Should the 45-year-old be in the hot seat for the long term, expect him to adhere to the club's age-old tradition of producing and nurturing raw talents, polishing them into superstars and thereby ensuring the club's future.
The Tottenham game also allowed Ole Gunnar to showcase his tactical acumen. Mauricio Pochettino ranks among the most tactically astute managers in the Premier League. It is no mean feat for a gaffer on loan from Molde to outdo him in a battle of wits. The win gives Solskjaer the upper hand over the man touted to take over from him as the permanent manager.
Using Jesse Lingard in a false-nine role caught Spurs off-guard. The Englishman mitigated Harry Winks' first-half impact considerably. Meanwhile, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld were kept busy by Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Combine those tactics with United's use of long balls to exploit the space behind the Spurs high line and you get that sumptuous Paul Pogba pass that culminated with a sublime in-step finish from Rashford.
Pochettino must always be considered the first choice for the managerial post knowing his superb tactical sagacity and vast Premier League experience. Solskjaer or Zinedine Zidane follow him on the shortlist even though the latter guided Real Madrid to three Champions League titles in a row. The Tottenham game signified the baby-faced Assassin's tactical prowess. Should he continue displaying his whiteboard skills in upcoming games, he will make a strong case for remaining in place. The first task? Banish the lingering tendency to soak up pressure rather than put matches away.
Bringing Pochettino in will be no turkey shoot for the Red Devils. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is a tough negotiator who will exact a fortune before allowing his contracted manager to leave. No one is saying United should settle for an inferior option, but if Solskjaer proves himself through the season's remainder, he becomes a viable option. By choosing him, the club saves a huge chunk of cash which, one hopes, can be added to a transfer window war chest.
With the feats already achieved and optimism restored to Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer earned the right to claim at least one full season as Manchester United boss.