Man United predecessors didn’t want to tarnish legacies - but Solskjaer hasn’t shirked responsibility

Matt Jones - Editor 16:40 07/10/2019
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The ridicule started immediately. The memes and GIFs were turgidly trotted out. ‘Fans’ in far-off foreign lands binned or burned shirts in supposedly symbolic gestures. #GlazersOut and #OleOut were trending on Twitter.

Sunday was a bad day to be a Manchester United fan. Then again, it’s just a microcosm of what the last six years have been like being a Red Devils disciple.

The insipid 1-0 defeat at Newcastle extended a miserable beginning to life in 2019/20 – United have endured their worst start to a season since 1989/90. Thirty years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson, or just plain old Alex Ferguson as he was referred to back then, was himself struggling as he entered his fourth season in charge.

The Scot had bought Mike Phelan – formerly his and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s current assistant – from Norwich. Gary Pallister came in from Middlesbrough for a club record £2.3million fee, which was also an English record for a defender.

The white noise emanating from critics and fans might already feel deafening to Solskjaer, such has been the ridicule following an abject start.

But, as United’s various international players now jet off to escape the increasingly amplified vitriol and vilification being thrown their way, Solskjaer will remain in Manchester for the next two weeks and face the music.

To be honest the sound of discontent is not fresh. It has been reverberating around social media since the summer – when bewilderment spewed over into bile at the failure to bolster midfield or attack – and throughout the new term’s early flickerings.

But ostensibly, United being a falling giant is nothing new. That’s not to say mediocrity or the simple fact football is cyclical (just ask Liverpool fans) should be welcomed or accepted.

But the fact the club’s star is now falling, or has been for six years, is down to one reason more than any other – complacency.

While they were continuously crowned champions, cherished special European nights and soaked up cup final glory, no-one at the club was moving with the times – something Ferguson and United constantly did over 26 years.

No-one was crunching the data or casting an eye to the future, beyond Ferguson’s era, and so the club, the stadium, the first team, have all been allowed to fall into a baffling decline since the Scot said farewell in 2013.

The finger is ultimately being pointed at “inexperienced”, “clueless”, “tactically inept”, “uninspiring” Solskjaer – as well as a clutch of misfiring players.

And after amassing just nine points and nine goals in eight games, three defeats, three draws and just two wins, he and they must of course shoulder responsibility.

However, it is not he, nor they, whose door the big bag of blame should be delivered to first, or even second or third.

Solskjaer has his shortcomings, for sure. He’s probably not the man to lead the club forward long term. He has shown tactical deficiencies before and during games and in recent weeks has become stuck in a whirlpool of gobbledygook language after every increasingly poor performance, where he oddly lauds his players for “working for the shirt” or claiming mythical penalties.

But at least he’s brave enough to make the harsh decisions his illustrious predecessors were too petrified of. They didn’t want to tarnish their reputations, or legacies.

Solskjaer owns his unwanted records, for sure. But so did David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. All three might well have sat watching Sunday’s events unfold with a smirk – oblivious to the fact they all contributed to the state the club is currently in. Far more than Solskjaer.

Records tumbled more than the rain in Manchester with Moyes in charge of United. West Brom won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1978. Newcastle for the first time in 41 years, and United suffered more defeats at home (six) than in the previous three seasons combined (five).

Dutch legend Van Gaal came in after steering the Netherlands to the World Cup semi-finals. His mock fall during a home game against Arsenal was hysterical, but none of his players were laughing when told not to stray from designated boxes on the pitch, with supporters sent to sleep via constant sideways passing.

As for Mourinho, his predictable third-season implosion is essentially the reason Solskjaer is still playing nurse, trying desperately to mop up the mess left behind. When he went in mid-December last year, Mourinho had overseen a worse start to a season than Moyes and completely alienated the fans.

He called steering United to second in 2017/18 – their highest finish since Ferguson left – his greatest feat in management. Yet even that was tainted by the 19-point gap to Manchester City being the biggest ever deficit between champions and runners-up in the Premier League era.

Mourinho and the others placed blame elsewhere.

Solskjaer is giving youth a chance at United.

Solskjaer is giving youth a chance at United.

Solskjaer hasn’t shirked responsibility. He’s done a lot of what he said he would. Following the demoralising 4-0 defeat at Everton towards the end of last season, he memorably said: “I am going to be successful here and there are players who won’t be part of that.”

Romelu Lukaku left, as did Matteo Darmian. Alexis Sanchez and Chris Smalling too, on loan. Marouane Fellaini – the scourge of so many fans – was finally shown the door in January.

Solskjaer shipped out a lot of deadwood that had been clinging to United like a life raft, while laying the foundations for future success and finally addressing the long-standing issue of defence in the summer.

Like Ferguson with Pallister all those years ago, a record-breaking fee was paid for Harry Maguire. The dismal days of career wingers Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia featuring at full-back had been banished with Aaron Wan-Bissaka settling in seamlessly. Unheralded Daniel James has also been one of few bright spots. It’s no coincidence that Solskjaer’s signings have been among United’s best and most consistent performers.

And he’s also kept true to United traditions of harnessing, perhaps more appropriately, exposing, youth to the often harsh environs of senior football. They may be raw but Solskjaer clearly believes in Axel Tuanzebe, Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, Brandon Williams and James Garner.

They are playing perhaps in large part because they have to as facets of Solskjaer’s managerial abilities have been badly exposed by not buying more players.

But he is giving them their chance. He certainly deserves a chance to finish what he has started.

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