How Solskjaer can land the United job permanently
Background photo: Anthony Parkes, CC BY-SA 2.0
Jose Mourinho's sack just before Christmas shocked many Manchester United fans. The club backed the Portuguese manager until a dismal 3-1 loss to bitter rivals Liverpool. Mourinho cast negative energy in the clubhouse, falling out with players and just looking unfit for the job. The board had to act.
His replacement shocked too. Old Trafford reveres Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for two things: his winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final and his demeanour. In 11 years, he became a club legend, scoring many important goals, mostly from the bench. Signed until season's end, with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino the overwhelming favourite to take the job full time, the Norwegian hit the ground running. Five wins in five starts make for a good opening argument.
Solskjaer must make his closing argument in May, however, and present sufficient evidence in the so-called interim. Familiarity with the club works in his favour. OGS was borrowed from Molde for that reason. Failure at Cardiff was nonetheless Premier League experience. The baby-faced assassin has five-and-a-half months to prove he can handle an elite squad. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose represented progressively more experienced and successful managers who all failed. It was time to try someone different.
Accepting a post on a temporary basis should always be treated as an audition. A successful performance speaks to your qualifications for the permanent job. This is Solskjaer's situation.
So far, so good. He cannot do better than 100% in terms of results. His positivity produces performances in the same manner that Mourinho's negativity did the opposite.
Fans have been awash with the entertaining football on display in most games. The FA Cup tie with Reading wasn't so bright but Solskjaer quickly accepted responsibility for making nine changes and fielding a makeshift squad that was always going to lack cohesion. The squad sees a boss who can handle pressure rather than deflect it.
Qualifying for the Champions League from a trailing position will be difficult even though they've cut the gap from 11 points to six in four games. Solskjaer faces his first worthy opponent next Sunday when the Red Devils invade Wembley to take on Tottenham. In recent campaigns, 75 points was the milestone for fourth place. On 38, United can reach 74 if they run the table against teams not in the top six. In a season where the other five clubs at the top are running away from the pack, that might not be enough. They must take points from their direct rivals. If they can, a top four spot should be theirs. C
Champions League qualification might clinch Solskjaer the job. United are a global brand and want to remain so. Remaining in elite company keeps their brand in the public eye. It also maintains a significant revenue stream. If he can keep United rolling in the money, the Glazers and Ed Woodward will be begging him to stay.
Signs indicate Solksjaer is a firm believer in the academy system. He's trusted young players with minutes throughout this run. Angel Gomes and Diogo Dalot were the first to benefit. Andreas Pereira, Scott McTominay and Tahith Chong have also found themselves on the pitch. Depth and continuity are key to contending year in, year out.
Reports suggest United intends to hire a director of football. Any manager hired must accept less authority than some may like. Mourinho battled over transfer policy at Old Trafford. Antonio Conte did the same at Chelsea. Mauricio Pochettino expressed frustration when Spurs avoided the summer market entirely. It's even rumoured Zinedine Zidane left Real Madrid because the club didn't want to turn over the roster while it was financing stadium upgrades. A less established manager might be more willing to work under a football director.
Unless the bottom falls out, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will find himself with a much higher profile at season's end whether or not the club decide to keep him. The only thing he can do is give them every reason to do so.