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Furore over Solskjaer's Alexis comment MUFC ado about nothing

Wednesday 29th January 2020
Manchester United fans want to burn Alexis Sanchez from their memories. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can only laugh at the bad hand he was dealt.
Manchester United fans want to burn Alexis Sanchez from their memories. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can only laugh at the bad hand he was dealt.

If you count the 1980 Drybrough Cup, an eight-team competition held six times in the 1970s between the four highest-scoring clubs in the Scottish first and second divisions, Sir Alex Ferguson won one more trophy [40] as a manager than William Shakespeare wrote plays. The Bard gets his own back with 154 sonnets, two epic verses and a smattering of other ditties in comparison to Fergie’s 80-something personal honours. For all that, Shakespeare is treated more like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer these days.

Conspiracy theorists don’t believe Will created all those works. Citing his uneducated background, alleged alcoholism and lack of historical detail regarding his personal life, they claim he was a front to protect the real playwright from the Elizabethan FSB in an age when those in power didn’t even pretend freedom of speech was a given right.

The real playwright, according to the Oxfordian Theory, was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The accusation was put forth by the ironically named Victorian era schoolteacher, J Thomas Looney. A major motion picture, Anonymous, furthered the notion of Shakespeare as a hoax and fraud. In a further bit of irony, the film 'exposing' England's true poet laureate was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for its realistic depiction of the times. Make what you Will of the fact it didn’t win.

Similarly, United fans make what they will of Solskjaer. The under-fire Red Devils boss endures daily mockery and ridicule on social media, branded as tactically inept, clueless and a mouthpiece for Manchester United’s absentee ownership. The two main differences between Ole and the Bard are one] the Norwegian allegedly protects the establishment rather than those who criticise it and two] he's yet to achieve anything as United manager.

On the other hand, they share one trait. Shakespeare’s early plays were tragedies. He transitioned to comedies and romance in his later works. In a press conference, the other day, Ole attempted to make light of United’s struggle to sign Sporting CP No.10 Bruno Fernandes.

English reporters grilled Solskjaer during a pre-match presser for the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Manchester City after the Spanish football media, no strangers to promoting wild conspiracies, printed a rumour claiming Barcelona intended to buy the Portuguese playmaker in order to loan him to Valencia while Los Che, in turn, provide the Blaugrana with winger Rodrigo’s services on a temporary basis. No simple transaction this, rather the type of intricate, convoluted plot supervillains concoct to conquer the world. 

As it happens, the 28-year-old Valencia star is represented by contemporary football’s modern-day Edward de Vere, Jorge Mendes. The Portuguese master of behind-the-scenes manipulation also counts former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho among his clientele. Again, make of that what you Will.

Solskjaer is under pressure to make more signings after allowing Romelu Lukaku to be sold and Alexis Sanchez loaned to Internazionale while not dipping into the market for replacements. Truths like Daniel James [3G/7A across all competitions] signing before either left and Mason Greenwood [10G/4A] being promoted from the youth squad are apparently irrelevant. United’s most vocal fans prefer to hang their hats on the Glazer conspiracy rather than facts.

What are the relevant facts? In 2018/19’s entirety with Manchester United, Lukaku [15G/4A] and Sanchez [2G/4A] directly involved themselves in just one goal more than the two youngsters already claim in just over half the 2019/20 campaign. This season, Lukaku enjoys a renaissance with 18 goals and four assists while Alexis continues to be mired in the doldrums with one of each. If goals in Serie A, the Coppa d’Italia and Champions League combined balance out those scored and created in the Premier League, Europa League, EFL and FA Cups, the pairs are dead even with 24 direct goal involvements each. In essence, Solskjaer did replace his departing goal threats while providing the club with a high probability for increased production in the future. This, of course, is an unpopular perspective on the issue but it's fact, not opinion.

To be fair, United fanatics aren’t wrong in believing Fernandes should be a fine addition to the club and the board’s methodical approach to transfer business leaves the club open to smash and grab operations like Barcelona’s wildly fantastic 11th-hour intervention. Yet, panic buying saddled the Red Devils with a ridiculous wage bill in the first place. Making the swap with Arsenal for Alexis Sanchez and signing off on a weekly pay-packet north of £300,000 forced the club to overpay for every subsequent contract extension and subjects them to ridiculous overpricing in every transfer negotiation.

Thus, Solskjaer found himself attempting to explain the difficulties in signing top players in the January window without mentioning how his predecessor exacerbated the problem. He knew United fans didn’t want to hear it. They're too busy pointing to the business Tottenham's done in this window, suggesting Spurs fully back Mourinho.

Is that true? Are Gedson Fernandes [on loan] and Steven Bergwijn on the same level as Bruno Fernandes? Transfermarkt values the duo at £13.5 and £31.5 million respectively, in total £9 million less than Bruno. Those sound like much easier purchases even if the players don't provide the same quality.

Spurs aren’t fully backing Mourinho. They’re buying for value as they did under Mauricio Pochettino. Bruno Fernandes is a premium purchase, the kind the Mourinho we all know and love would much prefer as a replacement for Christian Eriksen. It's also one Tottenham reportedly mooted when the new boss was appointed and which Chairman Daniel Levy apparently vetoed. Isn’t that how fans believe Ed Woodward and the Glazers treated their Special One?

Solskjaer didn't spoon out the company line when questioned about United's transfer business. He offered reporters the God's honest. Top-class players are more difficult to acquire on a permanent basis in January. He left unsaid that it’s even more onerous when a player like Alexis Sanchez remains on your books, instead playfully suggesting the Chilean will return to Old Trafford in the summer and prove his doubters wrong. With the video viral on Twitter, anyone can see Ole’s face light up as he thinks of the joke. Regardless, reporters leapt on the punchline as a serious prediction and United fans, happy to take second-hand news at face value, went on the rampage.

Rather, they should be asking themselves what they’d do with a vastly overpaid, troublemaking player inherited from the previous manager, one unable to make an impact on loan and consequently unsellable? Sometimes, the only answer is to turn the tragedy into a comedy.

At any rate, Ole appears to be up on his Shakespeare. Bruno is on his way. All's well that ends well.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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