No manager at any football club anywhere – never mind the Premier League – lives in a quagmire quite as much as the man in the Old Trafford hotseat. Nowhere is the demand greater, the pressure more intense, and the spotlight quite as blinding. With 600 million fans worldwide at your mercy, it has become the impossible job.
The rip currents have proved too strong even for two of the biggest managerial men of our, and any other, generation. Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho were both dragged under and ended up being spat out, kicking and screaming, into the abyss.
A year ago almost to the day, the murmurings of discontent ratcheted into a cacophony as Mourinho’s United began a downward spiral that not even the most decorated manager of his time – the self pronounced Special One – could coach his way out of.
After four games, we were tenth – a point closer to 18th-placed Newcastle than we were to table topping Liverpool. Early days it might have been, but the dye was cast and a chain of events already set in motion that led to the end of Mourinho’s United tenure. It was already clear that we were beyond the point of no return. Mourinho would not see the year out. His time at the club was offset by an “us against the world” siege mentality. He called out his players, declared war on the board and took the fans to task.
Twelve months on, and the situation, to the casual observer at least, might look identical. We’re closer to the bottom three than the top two, we’re in eighth place and have one point fewer than at the same stage last season. One win from five, a run of form stretching back to March that has seen United without an away win – and only three victories of any kind – in 18 ties. Yet, to us United fans, this looks and feels different.
Whilst the Portuguese was hired to instant success in direct opposition to the other managerial behemoth across the city, the task of Mourinho’s successor is somewhat different. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is here to rebuild and has done a l0t of things well. In fact, he doing’s what we’ve wanted for years. For too long, United’s squad has been packed with deadwood, top heavy pieces of flotsam in urgent need of being jettisoned. Solskjaer has sold Matteo Darmian, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku. Chris Smalling and Alexis Sanchez have been loaned out and Antonio Valencia has ridden off into the twilight. The likes of Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Nemanja Matic et all remain intact, but Solskjaer’s additions of young, hungry British signings show the squad composition is on the right track.
So too is the style of play. Counter attacking with pace and power has become Ole’s Old Trafford raison d’etre. It doesn’t always work but it’s an identikit that’s there for all to see, a refreshing upgrade from LVG’s death by a thousands passes and Mourinho’s defensive, safety first mantra.
It’s an accumulation of smaller things that have cost us. Players taking on a shot when he should have passed and vice versa. Palace’s fortuitous, hit-and-hope winner that David de Gea pushes wide nine times out of ten. Ruben Neves’ unstoppable strike at Molineux. Angus Gunn’s late heroics in the Southampton goal and Rashford’s failure to spot Juan Mata in space unmarked in the same game.
There’s an old saying that the league table never lies, but in this case it does. United are in a false position. We haven’t played badly and if not for Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford’s penalty abberations, would be third. We’re controlling games, dominating possession and territory and are creating chances aplenty. It would be far more of a worry if none of these things were happening. It stands to reason that results will surely follow suit. After all, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp didn’t just suddenly take their teams to their lofty perch overnight. It’s a process that took time and no little money, not to mention hard work and many hours on the training ground.
Solskjaer has to be given at least three years. If there’s no change by then, questions should be asked, but he’s one of our own and deserves to see the fruits of his labour.