The background to Solskjaer’s United deal
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s remarkable work as caretaker manager has seen him rewarded with the Manchester United job on a permanent basis.
The 1999 treble-winner is starting a new chapter at Old Trafford and here Press Association Sport look at how he sealed the job.
Returning United to their roots
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 6, 2019
From Sir Matt Busby to Sir Alex Ferguson, United have been built on three key pillars: winning, attacking football and promoting youth. None of those characteristics were recognisable in United’s play by the end of Jose Mourinho’s reign. Background backbiting accompanied their on-field downturn, with Solskjaer helping to perform a cultural reset at the head of a team who had lost their way. The shackles have come off as United attack in a way fans want, with senior figures understood to like the risk-taking, attacking football, as well as small things like incisive, first-time passing. Solskjaer, who spent time as United’s reserve team manager after his retirement as a player, has promoted youth as he did with former club Molde. Academy graduates Mason Greenwood, James Garner and Tahith Chong have all made their debuts under his watch and have also learned the importance of discipline, which had been seeping away under Mourinho. Even little details like the return to players wearing club suits to games has been viewed positively by those on high.
Winning football matches
It sounds simple but winning is vital at United. Mourinho’s side were 11 points off the top four following the galling 3-1 loss at Liverpool, but they are back in the hunt after securing a scarcely believable 32 points out of 39. Solskjaer’s eight-game winning start to life at the helm broke Busby’s long-standing club record, while United made history when overcoming Paris St Germain. No side in Champions League history had overcome a first-leg home loss of two or more goals to progress, but Solskjaer’s side overcame the odds – and a 10-strong list of absentees – to triumph 3-1 in the French capital, sealing progress and sparking wild celebrations.
Getting the players smiling again
When the players are chanting the manager’s name with as much gusto as the fans, you know you are on a winner. “Ole’s at the wheel” was sung so loud that you could hear it through the dressing room doors at the Parc des Princes. Romelu Lukaku concisely summed up the players’ feelings about the then caretaker manager by asking: “What else does he have to do?” The group had been on its knees when Mourinho left but Solskjaer swiftly changed the toxic mood and rebuilt confidence, regularly reminding the players of the opportunity they have to make history and why United bought them in the first place. That approach has helped previously marginalised Paul Pogba and stuttering Marcus Rashford to flourish, while training has become more fun and focused. Those inside the dressing room describe Solskjaer as a joy to play for, repeatedly pointing to the feel-good factor and his man management.
Understanding the role and the club
Solskjaer gets that being United manager is about more than picking the team. While Mourinho often cowed those around the club, the Norwegian is engaging, warm and open. Solskjaer also shows his appreciation to general staff, from appearing at their Christmas party to bringing a Norwegian chocolate bar to long-serving receptionist Kath Phipps on his return. Solskjaer’s positivity is also projected publicly. Mourinho’s barbed comments in the media particularly alarmed the club from the summer onwards, but the 46-year-old speaks with optimism, insight and, where needed, honesty. For example, Solskjaer’s comments criticising the group after the FA Cup loss at Wolves impressed the club hierarchy as much as anything else. Then there is the fact that the adopted Mancunian knows he is representing the club and the city. Solskjaer went to the ball organised by Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany to help tackle homelessness in Manchester in the same week that he paid respect to victims of the Munich air disaster on the 61st anniversary.
The full package
Solskjaer may have overseen Cardiff’s relegation between spells at Molde but the powers that be always thought there was a chance that the stop-gap solution could do well. Even so, the 46-year-old has exceeded expectations and that is why United chose to act now. The initial plan to assess candidates at the end of the season was ripped up as Solskjaer was their man, having done the right things on the field and away from it from the outset. There is a feeling within the club that this is the right fit for the culture and history – but Solskjaer knows there is much work to do.