Time is ticking in the biggest week of Ole’s United undertaking

As the days get shorter and the heat fades from the sun, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may well be entering the winter of his Manchester United managerial career.

There can be no arguing that United are in a much better place now than they were when he took over as interim manager in December 2018. Off the field, United were a shambles. Nonsensical transfers and a lack of structure at board level were preventing the club from progressing. On the field, they weren’t much better. The squad was fractured, unbalanced and fed up with José Mourinho’s tired antics. Then Ole arrived.

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Within a matter of weeks, Solskjaer’s infectiously positive personality had resonated with the players. Results and performances improved while players like Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, of whom Mourinho thought so little, looked reborn. Solskjaer’s incredible start, the pinnacle of which was that unforgettable night in Paris, resulted in him earning the job permanently.

The honeymoon period didn’t last for long. Dreadful results towards the end of the 2018/19 season showed that United were not indeed back, as Rio Ferdinand had so boldly proclaimed just a few weeks earlier, after the PSG victory.

Since the beginning of the 2019/20 season, Solskjaer has slowly but surely repaired Manchester United’s reputation. The departures of Romelu Lukaku, Ander Herrera and Alexis Sanchez, coupled with a slew of new signings, allowed Solskjaer to put his own stamp on the club.

The signing of Bruno Fernandes may well become Solskjaer’s defining legacy as United boss. When the Portuguese star arrived, United were languishing in mid-table, with thoughts of a top four finish just a pipe dream. Within a month, Fernandes was United’s leader on the pitch, putting in a string of mesmeric performances, helping United finish the season in third place. The following season United finished in the top two for only the second time since Sir Alex Fergusson’s retirement in 2013.

United appeared to be on the right track. Slow and steady progress was edging United closer to the title. And then it happened. Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to United in the final days of the transfer window set the football world ablaze with anticipation. Once this excitement died down, confusion ensued. Surely if Manchester United were so keen on Ronaldo, they would have signed him sooner? Ronaldo had made it blatantly obvious that he wanted to leave Juventus, and was desperate for any top club to sign him.

So desperate, that he seriously considered signing for Manchester City. Only an 11th hour intervention from ex-teammates and the aforementioned Ferguson, persuaded him to re-join the red half of Manchester.

On the pitch, Ronaldo’s purchase made little sense for United. Solskjaer has painstakingly spent the previous two summers building a competent, high energy squad that could outrun their opponents, a contrast to the sluggish, unfit team of the Mourinho era. Jadon Sancho, the most exciting young winger in the world, and World Cup winning defender Raphael Varane appeared to be the signings that took United to the next level. And they made sense.

Sancho fits in with the high energy, pacey player profile that Solskjaer wanted. Additionally, it appeared that Sancho would fill the gaping hole on United’s right side of attack. Similarly, Raphael Varane, a rapid defender, would complement Harry Maguire’s strength and also hide the United captains pace deficiencies.

The Ronaldo signing has scuppered all of Solskjaers best laid plans. Sancho has been played out of position, Pogba has been re-positioned to central midfield and Mason Greenwood has been shunted onto the wing. This is before Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani’s names are even mentioned.

United’s sluggish start to the season had already increased the pressure on Ole’s shoulders. Sub-standard displays against Everton, Aston Villa and Leicester did little to silence the ‘Ole out’ brigade. The similarity between these games and the last few outings under Mourinho were striking. United’s performances were unbalanced, passive, with the players looking unfit and uninterested.

The way in which United lost to Liverpool on Sunday was a surprise to no one. All season, Manchester United fans have feared what may happen when they come up against a top team. Liverpool’s 5-0 demolition of United at Old Trafford has placed Solskjaer under immense scrutiny. The manner of the defeat, which had been predicted almost to a tee by Paul Scholes just a few days earlier, has surely given United’s board a decision to make.

All the noises coming out of Old Trafford over the past few weeks suggested that Ole would be given time to turn things around. However, the litany of leaks emerging from the camp since the Liverpool debacle, suggests Solskjaers position is under serious threat. The manner in which United’s stars lost their discipline, topped off by Pogba’s red card, signals a growing frustration and unhappiness within the squad.

Next Saturday’s game at Tottenham Hotspur is the biggest game in Solskjaer’s managerial career by a long distance. With big name managers like Antonio Conte eyeing up the United job, it may well be time up for Ole. And there won’t be any Fergie time.

The Author

Oisin Doherty

I’m a 22 year old journalism masters student in DCU. I am from drogheda and I’m a Manchester United and Ireland fan. Here to learn and gain some experience. Any comments/feedback/suggestions are always welcome.

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