Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is auditioning for the permanent manager role at Manchester United and doing a very good job of it. Here are three reasons why Ed Woodward should appoint the Norwegian on a permanent basis at Old Trafford.
He “Gets” United
What does this mean? Well United have always been regarded as a family club from those in and around it. Despite the club becoming a global machine, in many roles, the staff have been around for decades and are treated like family. From the receptionist at Carrington, to the ladies who wash the kits, they are all held in high regard and love the club. Solskjaer remembered this when he returned to the club when Jose Mourinho had been sacked. The “baby faced assassin” brought chocolate in on his first day and handed it to staff as a present. Little gifts to the people who were close to him and close to the club as a thank you and a “good to see you again” gesture. These small gestures showed that he had thought about the staff before arriving which was in stark contrast to Mourinho who had scowled and snarled his way out of Old Trafford.
Solskjaer was well taught by Sir Alex Ferguson in how United conduct themselves on and off the pitch, hard work will be rewarded. Sir Alex was taught by Jock Stein and Sir Matt Busby, huge figures in the game. Sir Matt reminded his players of their duty to entertain the supporters. Many of them whom worked long and hard all week in the industrial heartland of Trafford Park and turned up to Old Trafford on a Saturday paying their money to see the team play. It was only right that the team played with a flair and an entertaining style to put on a show for the fans. This was Fergie`s mantra also that his sides should put on a show. Solskjaer has expressed the same views on the current squad which they have duly taken on board. Gone are the shackles that Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho imposed. A desire to score one, then go for the second and a third goal instead of playing it tight at home to lesser sides. One of Solskjaer`s first jobs was to seek out Nicky Butt head of the clubs academy and see which young players were ready for the step up into the first team. What is the point of the academy if those players never feel like they have a chance of making it into the first team?
When Solskjaer decided to take the squad to Dubai for a winter training trip, he took several youth players and pitched them against the older established players in small games, which the younger players won. He has managed to bridge the squads and the staff together therefore having them pull in the same direction.
Alan Shearer hit the nail on the head when discussing Solskjaer`s impact at United on Match of the Day after United won 2-0 at Chelsea in the FA Cup 5th round tie. The Geordie goalscorer turned pundit said that the Norwegians impact was not just about putting an arm around the players and putting a smile on their faces. It was also about being tactically aware and making the players believe his tactics so they follow them through on the pitch.
Anyone can put an arm around a player and tell them how wonderful they are, but Solskjaer has also got his tactics spot on.
Many cynics thought Solskjaer`s good run was due to the poor calibre of opposition in the early days with victories over Cardiff, Huddersfield and Reading. However, he passed his first real test with a 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, United`s first away win at Spurs in the league since 2012.
For an hour, United tactically got it spot on against Spurs playing with width and pace to push back the Londoners wide men and seperate the centre backs. Marcus Rashford`s winner came as a result of the hard work on the Dubai training pitches in working out how to beat Spurs. Although David De Gea will always be remembered for saving United in the second half, Solskjaer got high praise for the way he set United up and picked Spurs off.
Despite being undone by Paris St-Germain in the Champions League, United under Solskjaer have outwitted Arsenal and Chelsea in their own backyards.
Instantly, Solskjaer made some very simple but effective tactical changes at Old Trafford. Installing Victor Lindelof as United`s number one centre half, restoring Luke Shaw to left back, pairing Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic in the midfield and therefore pushing Paul Pogba further up field. As well as moving Marcus Rashford into his preferred central role, suddenly United look more balanced. The goals have flowed up front and the defence has stopped leaking goals which is always a good mix for any side.
One notable difference between Solskjaer and the previous three United managers in Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho is how he speaks in his press conferences. In days gone by, United fans looked forward to hearing Sir Alex Ferguson beat out a defiant drum at his Friday press conferences. Talk of siege mentality, defiance, steely determination to beat all the odds had supporters stirred and pumped for the weekend game. Yes the Scot could pick a fight with a journalist but that was usually forgotten the following week with Fergie once again pumping out a positive message of attacking football and sheer bloody mindedness.
Then came the weak Moyes who famously claimed Rio Ferdinand could learn a few things from Phil Jagielka. That United could only aspire to the standards of local rivals Manchester City. Quotes that deflated and bemused supporters.
Then Dutchman Van Gaal banged on about his “philosophy” only no one really knew what that was such was his confusing press conferences. Ever since his United side blew a 3-1 lead at Leicester City, losing 5-3 Van Gaal adopted a safety first approach of playing possession football yet often only registering one shot at goal all game.
Once Mourinho enters his third season at a club, you know what to expect, meltdown. Come pre-season in America, Jose began his war of words against anyone and everyone starting with his own executive vice chairman. Moaning about wanting more millions to spend despite blowing over £300m at Old Trafford, he went to war about wanting another centre half. Then he sulked at not having his full squad on tour despite the World Cup having only finished weeks earlier. Every other manager of a top 6 premier league side had the same issue with as many as 12 players missing from pre season, resting from playing in Russia yet no other manager moaned like Mourinho.
Fast forward to present day and Solskjaer prefers to engage with journalists instead of opting for mind games. Supporters are back to hanging off every word of their manager who speaks of trying to win every game. Solskjaer talked of why not going winning 10 games in a row? Nothing being impossible.
Whilst Solskjaer works tirelessly pulling everyone at the club together, he trusts his players and most importantly his players trust in him. This has resulted in positive performances and results. Supporters know no one has a divine right to win a football match but they do expect to be entertained, football is about being entertained. Solskjaer has certainly got United playing entertaining football and winning games always helps when it comes to auditioning for a job.
Surely none of this has gone unnoticed on Ed Woodward and the United board.