Gameweek 13 was a tough one for some of the Premier League’s most under pressure managers, and that includes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Manchester United found themselves 2–0 down after 70 minutes at Sheffield United where they were, to be completely honest, awful. However, three quick goals in the space of nine minutes saw them turn the game around, and for a moment it seemed they might actually get out of there with the three points.
That wasn’t to be though as Sheffield United found an equaliser which saw them share the points at a final score of 3–3. It was the least they deserved and it also prevented a frantic ten minutes from masking another disappointing Man United performance. Two more dropped points leaves Solskjaer’s United back in 9th place, already 9 points down from the top four.
Recently there has been a little more optimism from some regarding Man United, mainly down to a couple of Premier League wins and a League Cup victory at Stamford Bridge. If you actually look at their Premier League form though, they have just those two wins in their last eight games with three draws and three defeats making up the other six.
For some more context, they are just as close to the bottom of the table as they are to the Champions League places. Also the signs of this struggle were there as we came down the stretch last season. In the final nine gameweeks of the 2018/19 season, they won only 8 points with a goal difference of -9. That’s less points than relegated Fulham and Cardiff managed in the same period.
Combining that with their record so far from the Premier League in 2019/20, they have 6 wins, 7 draws and 9 defeats, leaving them with a total of 25 points from 22 games. At this point we’re working with a fairly large sample size of more than half a season’s worth of games averaging not much more than a point per game.
Despite all of this, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t getting as much criticism as you might expect. Consider how much heat Unai Emery is getting for delivering similar results at Arsenal while Mauricio Pochettino has already been fired by Tottenham for a slightly better record, and that’s despite five years of success which includes a Champions League final just a few months ago.
So what are the circumstances shielding Ole from that kind of pressure? Firstly, there is the record of the past few managers at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho all failed to achieve the success expected of them, which in turn has lead to the fans’ anger being redirected higher up in the club structure.
Obviously a lot of that criticism is warranted as United’s very ineffective recruitment strategy has hamstrung all of those coaches to an extent. With that being said, this is not a situation where blame must lie only with one or the other. Man United can be in need of different personnel in charge of their transfer policy while also needing a new manager.
On top of that, Solskjaer was involved in the transfer process during the summer, he was one of the main figures pushing for Harry Maguire to be brought in despite the huge transfer fee. Even if he wasn’t though, their form in the past 7 months or so cannot be justified by the state of their squad, that is unless you really believe it is at the standard of a team near the bottom of the table.
Another issue, which kind of stems from the lack of success of previous managers, is the idea that firing the previous coaches didn’t bring about great results so there’s no point doing that again now. Instead, the theory goes, that regardless of the results Ole should be given a couple of years to build his team because that is what’s required in order to assess his work properly.
Well before even going any further, we’re approaching one year since Solskjaer took over and I think it’s hard to say there’s been any meaningful improvement. This means the argument that other coaches, Guardiola and Klopp are used regularly as the examples, took time to build their teams so Ole deserves that too, basically falls flat.
Even before Pep and Klopp had the right players to get their teams functioning as they would like, there were signs of improvement and a clear direction of where the team was going. I’m not sure you get the same impression from Solskjaer’s Manchester United team. Of course the other flaw in this argument is that Pep and Klopp were established top tier coaches. That is again not the case for Solskjaer.
Aside from the fact that he is a Manchester United legend who knows the club, what are his credentials for being given a few transfers windows to build his own team with no questions asked? Surely if you’re going to be patient with a coach and decide you’re going to give him time to build a project capable of bringing long term success, you have to be sure you have the right guy? Personally, I just don’t see Solskjaer as that person for Man United.
Solskjaer being a club legend brings us to the final reason that he doesn’t face the kind of scrutiny other managers in his situation do. His place in the club’s history buys him more time and more sympathy, not only from the supporters, but also from the club. To see this you only need to look at the difference between the United fans’ treatment of Solskjaer and Emery’s relationship with the Arsenal support, despite similar results.
Now this one isn’t really something I’m disputing, of course someone with a strong relationship with the club gets more favourable treatment. It is definitely worth mentioning though, because it plays a huge role in the leniency he receives from sections of the Man United supporters, and from parts of the media.
So what do I think Manchester United should do next? Well at the least they should be seriously considering whether Solskjaer should be in charge next season. Even if they don’t want to pull the trigger during the current campaign, a continued absence of notable improvement should force them to start looking for a new coach to take over for the 2020/21 season.
Should their Premier League form continue as it is now, then I think they may even have to take action before then. There’s only so long you can make excuses for Ole with their last 22 league games representing the kind of form you’d expect from a team around 15th. This isn’t to necessarily say he should be fired if they fail to win next week, but at what point do you start holding your coach accountable for these results?
Normally I think clubs should try and wait further into the season, ideally the end of the season, before changing their manager, particularly when they’re in a situation like Man United. Their objective of a top 4 finish is in all likelihood beyond them, and they’re not exactly going to get relegated, which means there is no emergency pushing them to make a change. However, the coaches available on the market make this a more interesting situation.
Mauricio Pochettino is the main name mentioned as he was linked with the job last season and the general consensus is that he would be a good fit at Old Trafford. While there are arguments his appointment would end the same as his predecessors because of the problems higher up at Manchester United, we have already seen what Poch can do with a club that doesn’t have the best recruitment, albeit for different reasons.
So, with Pochettino now available, United are left with a clear target to pursue should they want to move on from Solskjaer. That may well increase the pressure on their current manager, as he’ll need to deliver some better results in their upcoming schedule. Next up is Aston Villa at Old Trafford, although that is followed by game against Spurs, Man City and Everton. It’s likely to be a make or break period for Solskjaer.
Originally published at http://jackmccutcheon.com on November 25, 2019.