Jose Mourinho parked the bus, but Man United are motoring under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Matt Jones - Editor 08:08 27/01/2019
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“Ole’s at the wheel, tell me how good does it feel,” goes the immensely popular chant being sung with gusto at away grounds up and down the United Kingdom, as well as at Old Trafford.

Understandably, it must feel very good right now, right Manchester United fans? Is it so good that interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be placed behind the United wheel full time?

That’s a much harder question to answer, but keep this sort of record up until the end of the season and it’s going to be pretty hard to justifiably push him out of the door come the summer.

Previously parked in neutral under Jose Mourinho, Solskjaer is now driving the United bus at menacing speed.

The inevitable maiden defeat will come. And the ones after that. But what if the Red Devils clamber into the top four? What if they win the FA Cup? What if they topple Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League?

Would Ed Woodward and the United board have the audacity to say ‘thanks, but no thanks Ole’ if the United legend led them to European glory?

Players like Paul Pogba have been revitalised at Manchester United under Solskjaer.

Players have been revitalised at Manchester United under Solskjaer, Paul Pogba in-particular.

There’s four months between now and the end of the season, so it can all change very quickly of course. But should Solskjaer be in the running to get the top job permanently?

Let’s start with the cons.

Solskjaer is hardly green in terms of his managerial career. He has been one for a decade and in that time has led Molde into the Europa League – the Norwegian minnows finished above Fenerbahce, Ajax and Celtic in their group during the 2015/16 campaign.

But his previous post in the Premier League was an ill-fated stint which ended in relegation with Cardiff. That spell has been used mainly as a stick with which to beat the ‘Baby-faced Assassin’, even if it was perhaps asking a bit much for a novice manager to keep the limited Bluebirds flying at the highest level.

Amid all the hype and joy generated by Solskjaer’s initial run of winning five games, critics castigated him for a lack of true tactical nouse, stating anyone could have led United to victory against the quintet of Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading.

Sterner tests lay ahead in the shape of trips to Tottenham and Arsenal. Those two opponents have been dispatched though, with Solskjaer earning praise for his counter-attacking tactics, yet still the dissenting voices are loud.

It will be interesting to see how he does once the nostalgia dies down and honeymoon period is over, giving way to the inevitable criticism which will follow an inaugural and subsequent defeats. How he deals with that and the pressures of every day management will give us a true reflection of just how suited he is to the role.

Will United fans be so patient if struggling Burnley were to win at Old Trafford on Wednesday, if rock-bottom Fulham aren’t torn asunder at Craven Cottage, or if a PSG dish out a home humbling at Old Trafford in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tussle next month?

So, how about the pros.

The Norwegian knows the club inside out, having spent 11 years of his playing career in United red. He also served as reserve team manager – nurturing the likes of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard – from 2008-10.

In contrast to moody Mourinho, who seemed intent on keeping a safe distance between himself and the club, he stayed at the £816-a-night luxury Lowry Hotel for the duration of his 31-month tenure, Solskjaer constantly speaks of a deep-seated love, respect and connection with the club.

Some may see it as a cheap way to get the fans on his side, yet it is with genuine warmth he weaves his words.

Giving the job to Solskjaer would be a welcome change of tact. After United got burned by the option to branch out and shake things up with the disastrous David Moyes appointment, they played it safe by hiring tried and tested Louis van Gaal.

With Mourinho, meanwhile, they went with the most obvious candidate when United were in danger of being trampled by the blue juggernaut across the city.

United though have learned by being burned. Whether it’s Solskjaer, a former player or a progressive manager like Mauricio Pochettino who comes in next, the selection has to be a bold, brave one.

Considering tactical ineptitude was seen as his Kryptonite when he was appointed, Solskjaer’s acumen in crunch clashes with Tottenham and Arsenal worked out pretty well.

The football under Solskjaer has been a refreshing twist on the dour style under Mourinho.

The football under Solskjaer has been a refreshing twist on the dour style of Mourinho.

Against the Gunners, he was even successful switching out the skillful and energetic Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial for Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku – a pair who had enjoyed just 91 and 161 minutes of playing time under the interim manager previously, and have generally struggled this season.

The strategy to reward former heroes turned managers at the same club has backfired for the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool in recent years.

The Blues offered Roberto Di Matteo the role permanently after he guided them to an epic 2012 Champions League victory – although a poor start the following season saw him sacked in November.

In the same 2011/12 season, Liverpool showed legend Kenny Dalglish the Anfield exit door at the campaign’s culmination, a year after he’d been given a three-year deal following replacing Roy Hodgson, and despite the fact he led them to a League Cup triumph.

Whatever the outcome, and there will be plenty of debate between now and the end of the season, United fans should just appreciate the fact Solskjaer has steered them back onto the right route. They now witness attacking, expressive football played with style and swagger.

“Ole’s at the wheel.” Sit back and enjoy the ride.

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