It’s been seven years since Manchester United last lifted the Premier League, seven years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired from the club and football, and the club’s exploits since then have been anything but consistent. Managers have come, and managers have gone, from David Moyes and Louis van Gaal to the infamous ‘Special One’, Jose Mourinho. While they collectively won five trophies between them, none seem to have offered both players and the fans a sense of purpose, and rid the shadow of doubt that has long loomed over the Theatre of Dreams as Ole Gunnar Solskjær has. Fondly known and adored by the fans as the ‘baby-faced assassin’, the Norwegian has had a number of things go his way and is quite possibly poised to bring back the club’s glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson. Here’s why:
Knows the club inside out
Having spent the majority of his playing career at Manchester United, the two-footed forward won it all in his 11-year stint from 1996 till his retirement from professional football in 2007.
Following his retirement, he immediately began working on his coaching credentials and worked under Sir Alex as a coach for the first team strikers. This was subsequently followed by a successful spell with the reserve team from 2008 till 2010 where he guided them to the Lancashire Senior Cup (2007-08), Manchester Senior Cup (2008-09), and the Premier Reserve League (2009-10).
Lived the glory days
If there was one thing that any Manchester United team under Sir Alex Ferguson was known for, it was their insatiable hunger, passion, and determination for glory. It’s what made them the most successful English club since the inception of the Premier League. In his 11-year spell with the club, he won six premier league titles, two FA Cups and Community Shields, and the coveted UEFA Champions League in 1999, where he scored the winner against Bayern Munich to hand United the treble. Till date, no other English team has won the coveted trinity of titles.
In the post-Ferguson era, every manager but Solskjær was often known to have altercations with a player or two and accused of having ‘lost the dressing room’. With Solskjær however, whether it was his managerial debut with the Manchester United reserves or his subsequent stints at Molde and the United first team, he always had players wanting to play for him.
Having coached Paul Pogba, who was then a substitute in the reserves, Solskjær has managed to diffuse the situation that had risen towards the end of his predecessor’s spell and has also helped the likes Anthony Martial, Fred, and Nemanja Matic get back on their feet.
A stark difference from his predecessors that stands out is his willingness to put his players and the club before himself. Often in press conferences, Ole is met with a swarm of questions that look to question his players’ decisions on the pitch to which he calmly responds and shields his men. This has done the squad’s morale a world of good.
Smart signings, trusted by the management
Not only has the ‘baby-faced assassin’ managed to win over the players and the fans, but he has also managed to earn the trust of the management who for a long time now have been at the center of criticism from fans and the media alike.
Bruno Fernandes, the Norwegian’s latest signing, who the club signed from Sporting CP for a whopping 67 million Pounds has performed exceptionally well and has proved to be worth every penny with his four goals and four assists in 11 games, blending seamlessly and linking up exceptionally well with the squad.
Odion Ighalo, Harry Maguire, and Aaron wan Bissaka as well have ushered into the squad some much-needed confidence and a sense of positivity that was lacking before. Maguire and wan Bissaka have earned plaudits from the fans for their consistent performances.
The club’s recruitment staff have been pivotal in scouting and signing these players, unlike previous times where club CEO Ed Woodward took charge of the transfers and recruitment. In fact, it is believed that Ed Woodward will no longer be involved with transfer recruitment.
Sticking to the ‘United way’ of play
Going back to the philosophy of football instilled by Sir Alex Ferguson during his playing career, Solskjær has stuck to the principles of grooming young talent, building up from the back, swift transitions and counter-attacks that the supporters have longed for.
The 47-year old has gotten rid of the long-ball plague that had infected the side for over five years and brought back the United brand of counter-attacking football that is pleasant to the eye. This style of play has seen a revival of a steady source of goals in Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial who have both scored 19 goals apiece across all competitions this season.
Mason Greenwood, the 18-year youngster who was handed his debut at the very beginning of the season is the club’s second-highest goal scorer across all competitions having netted 12 goals so far.
Injuries have played a huge role in upsetting his predecessors, and while it has not been much better for Ole Gunnar Solskjær either, the Norwegian seems to have found balance and consistency in the starting XI that his predecessors couldn’t.
The backline for much of the season has remained Maguire-Lindelof-Shaw-Bissaka, moving away from the error-ridden partnership of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. The midfield too has seen the likes of Matic, McTominay, and Fred/Pogba establish their presence. Rashford, Martial, and Greenwood have led the attack and delivered consistently as well.
Results against big teams
Whether it was the 3-1 comeback win at the Parc des Princes over PSG or the recent 2-0 victory in the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, the 47-year old has delivered results against the top sides in England and Europe.
United began their 2019-20 Premier League campaign with a 4-0 whitewash of Chelsea and did the double over in February with a 2-0 win away at Stamford Bridge. They were also the first side to draw points off of Liverpool with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford back in October and later went on to defeat Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad in December.
It won’t be too long before we hear the echoes of the 1999 Champions League final commentary – “And Solskjær has won it” again, only this time, it’ll be at the Premier League, as a manager.