The Blessing and Curse of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
On a cold Wednesday night in Manchester in the middle of December 2018, Manchester United announced the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on interim basis. The Norwegian came in as a short term replacement for the already sacked Jose Mourinho, who had overseen a tumultuous six-month period in charge of the Red Devils. The successful and enigmatic Portuguese gaffer was in his proverbially calamitous third season at Old Trafford, after a disappointing campaign, a 3-1 loss to arch rivals Liverpool proving to be the final straw for the United hierarchy.
Fast forward three months down the line, Manchester United are back in the top four race (currently in fourth position), in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, and miraculously overturned a 2-0 first-leg home deficit to Paris Saint-Germain to beat the French champions 3-1 at the Parc Des Princes to make their first UEFA Champions League quarter-final appearance in five years. Solskjaer seems to have the Midas touch needed to get United back into the upper echelons of football once again, with players like Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford having best years statistically, and Victor Lindelof changing the narrative about how bad United are defensively; the former Cardiff City manager can do no wrong at the moment.
But his success at the club right now seems to be hiding the flaws which have haunted United for the last six years since the great Sir Alex Ferguson called time on his incredible career. Over the last half-decade, Manchester United have lacked the structure most top clubs across Europe possess over the last half decade. Vice-President and CEO Ed Woodward makes most of the footballing decisions, from appointing a new manager to deciding which football player is good enough to play for the club.
Whilst other clubs like Bayern Munich and Barcelona possess a structure which includes technical directors and directors of football, who are naturally football people (sometimes ex-footballers), Woodward has proven himself to be an astute businessman as United continue to grow globally and financially. It’s no coincidence that United have appointed three full-time managers since Fergie’s departure and the club appeared to be going nowhere until the arrival of Solskjaer.
Barcelona and Bayern have an identified structure coupled with an identity with which they consider before appointing new managers or bringing in new players. United need something similar and need the right people in the right places, who understand the football club, making those decisions. There was talk about appointing a technical director or a director of football following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho, but the success of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have ended such discussions.
The interim manager’s success is no less than the United faithful deserve, but a proper restructuring, regardless of what Solskjaer achieves come the end of the season, is highly needed at Manchester United if the club are to return to the level of competing both in the Premier League and against the best Europe has to offer in the UEFA Champions League.
This post is written by Wale Ajao