European soccer expert Andrew Noland weighs the chances of Manchester United giving their interim manager a permanent position.
Last Friday, Manchester United crushed Arsenal 3-1 at Emirates Stadium in the fourth round of the FA Cup. With eight wins out of eight, the Red Devils are flying high in the post-Jose Mourinho era. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, loaned as a caretaker manager from Norwegian club Molde Fotballklubb, has expertly navigated the Manchester United squad from falling out of Champions League qualifying to only three points behind fourth place.
Simply put, we can no longer avoid discussion of whether the Manchester United legend’s winning streak warrants his hiring. He has brushed aside the teams from the lower half of the Premier League table with ease. Solskjaer tactically outmaneuvered Mauricio Pochettino’s (the favorite to take over Manchester United on a permanent basis) Tottenham side at Wembley and his thrashing of Unai Emery’s Arsenal only solidified that Manchester United is a force to be reckoned with once again.
Solskjaer has the team playing Sir Alex Ferguson-style attacking football again, which is a breath of fresh air for spectators at Old Trafford who wanted to throw themselves in front of the proverbial “parked bus” before Mourinho’s sacking. In addition, the players love the new manager, enjoying his erratic training methods, his ability to relate to their experiences at Old Trafford and his encouraging attitude toward his players.
We live in the best era of soccer. Managers wield immense authority, develop complex and alluring tactical systems and can draw talent from every corner of the globe. The best truly compete against the best. For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the Manchester United manager to lead them back to glory would be, according to many pundits, too much of a fairy tale.
However, Solskjaer is aligning the stars himself. The Norwegian’s undying and implacable faith can be seen both on the training ground and in the media. As a result, Paul Pogba is in his best form since returning to Manchester United, Marcus Rashford has turned into the Chosen One and Victor Lindelof, once seen as a flop, is playing like he is one of the best central defenders in England. Mourinho’s repeated public humiliation of his players indeed created a squad that looked as if it should be overhauled. However, Solskjaer has this team playing like it’s among the best in Europe, which, on paper, it should always have been.
All the praise aside, Solskjaer’s squad will have to come back down to Earth. They have yet to play the current leaders in Liverpool and in the Manchester Derby. Those results, as well as next month’s Champions League ties against Paris San Germain, will determine whether the Norwegian should take on the job as permanent manager.
The caretaker manager has yet to develop a coherent tactical system, but Manchester United keeps winning. Working with the talent at his disposal, the manager appears to be tweaking the side’s structure constantly but adapting to beat each team he comes across. In other words, unlike Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpress, Mourinho’s “park the bus,” Maurizio Sarri’s eponymous “Sarriball” and Pep Guardiola’s “Cruyffball,” Solskjaer attempts to find the best system for his set of players. It’s yet to be seen how or if this will shift as the season progresses.
If they finish in the top four, which they seem poised to do, as well as reach the quarterfinal of this season’s Champions League, the fans will believe that the prodigal son has indeed returned, and the Manchester United board’s hands will be tied.
Although men like Pochettino, Massimiliano Allegri and Zinedine Zidane are certainly still contenders, Solskjaer should possess the benefit of the doubt until he loses. He has Manchester United firing on all cylinders, and, until proven otherwise, he should be the favorite for the job. His style of soccer, his willingness to play youth, his demeanor and, most importantly, his results all indicate that he is the right man for Old Trafford’s future. In the second half of the season, it will be the unenviable task of the Manchester United board to figure out whether that’s true.