Without question, the Premier League is the toughest league in the world. It is also the richest and most attractive to continental managers of the highest pedigree. This has been the agreed sentiment, amongst 99% of its fan-base, for as long as I can remember. That is, until, a normal Norwegian achieves the fantastic feat of guiding a group of ‘over-rated’ players to it’s helm.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Let me elaborate: if a PE teacher, maligned for having the audacity to formulate a winning project, starts on a particular road and achieves his destination, does his success really count? Funnily enough, football supporters – both home and away – will have you believe that the answer is no.
If you’re a keen footballing fan, you can look past the ramblings of a disgruntled teen on social media. It’s the ‘new norm’ to publicise hatred and a false narrative, in return for a barrage of likes, retweets and internet fame (don’t forget to hide your face). It becomes a little larger when ‘respected’ ex-professionals decide to publicly ignore facts/statistics and instead attribute this to some sort of luck.
Don’t get me wrong, football is everything to fans and nothing without. The past year is an extreme example of this. Contrasting opinion, love for the badge and passion for the game. However, like managers, it is possible that a fan can also be wrong. Drawing upon my aforementioned take of modern discussion, the false narrative is similar to that of a man digging. Unfortunately, for most of these folk – hiding behind a picture and a screen – its easier to continue digging and dancing to the beat of their own drum. The same folk would find flaw in a title win.
There is one particular topic of this discussion that gnaws at me however. It is this ideal which is shared by a significant number of these ‘fans’, ex-professionals and football journalists alike, who believe Solskjær’s recent successes are almost entirely due to the talented players he has at his disposal. If you hadn’t already guessed, I largely disagree with this.
In short, Solskjær’s managerial success story, to date, was during his time at Molde. Disregard this as you may, a manager guiding a team (of whatever standard) to it’s very first domestic league title is anything but luck. To solidify this, retaining the league in the very next season puts a full stop behind any doubts. It’s also worthwhile noting that in order to achieve this feat, Solskjær had to overcome the domestic giant Rosenborg.
Solskjaer’s tactical setup at Molde was centralised around attacking principles, with lots of pace, creative overloads and, most importantly, a collection of unpredictable interchange in his front 4. This interchange, which can be classed in that of an unconventional setup, is the very same arrangement that we often see at United. United’s front three often appear to be spontaneous in their movement and landing position – leading to the cries of moments of individual brilliance. This is, in fact, a tactical setup which allows the players to express themselves and, most notably, often leads to Bruno Fernandes as the final part of an attacking transition. What baffles me is that people choose to ignore this and deliver a false narrative about individuals.
Like Molde, Solskjær wants United to overload either side of the oppositions box and shift between an assortment of intricate one-twos / short balls. Inevitably, as every attacking transition cannot yield success, a shift to the opposite overload will allow a new transition to begin. In counter-attack, it is very clear that United want to mix between a balance of inverted or out-broken runs from wide players and central attackers. The main emphasis for this change, is to confuse and rattle the opposition defense, creating space from fast moving transitions and allowing an attacking outlet an attempt on goal. If you think the four POTM awards for Bruno are not as a direct result of this attacking philosophy, you’re simply choosing to ignore the broad similarities between the tactical
setup of both teams. How do I know this, you ask? I love football!
There have been a number of games where Solskjær’s tactical prowess have been on show. For me, the real standout was the triumph at the Parc des Princes, in the Champions League group stage (the first team to do so, in the group stage, since 2004). Not only was he able to nullify two generational talents in Mbappe and Neymar, the manager shifted to a back three and utilised high – flying wing backs. In completing this tactical setup, the much fancied Thomas Tuchel was far from pleased on the touch line. The nail in the coffin was the 67th minute substitute appearance of Paul Pogba. With this, a formation change ensued and Pogba was given license to drive at the opposition defense, sending the Paris defense into retreat and, inevitably, providing the match wining assist for Marcus Rashford. The game was, without question, a tactical masterclass from our Norwegian.
In closing, Solskjær has proven himself to be tactically sound against some of the games very finest. Admittedly, he has fallen at unexpected stumbling blocks and this is what has driven a stern divide into the fan base. As is the case, it is then up to the manager to provide reasoning for backing.
The tree has indeed fallen and can be heard throughout the Country. Their response is music to my ears. UTFR!