And now, one might say, the job begins. It does for newly appointed Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but also for Ed Woodward and rest of the clubs hierarchy. For today’s announcement that Solskjaer is the clubs new permanent manager signals only the start of the process to get United back to the top.
Whether the past six years were wasted time is up for debate but United now have their man. The man who supporters, both near and far, have long held affection for and now love that bit more. Such fanbase enthusiasm was crucial in Solskjaer converting from interim to permanent manager. How United is perceived as a brand is vital to the way Woodward and Co. run the club.
Yet when the club stated back in December that it would undertake a thorough and vigorous process when choosing United’s next full-time manager, no one would have predicted that just over three months later Solskjaer, as interim, would have won 14 games from 19 and drawing two others. Fewer still would have foreseen him being chosen as the new permanent manager.
United under Solskjaer appear re-energised
But the mood, style and results that have epitomised Solskjaer’s reign thus far clearly hinted that he was managing to extract the best from a squad that underwhelmed and were subdued a short time ago. Many of the solutions that Solskjaer has come up with were obvious, but that does not mean that they were easy to implement. What’s for certain is that United under Solskjaer appears re-energised.
Did that mean that he should have got the job on a permanent basis? To an extent, yes. But this should not throw the more in-depth and strategic review of United’s footballing structure into the long grass. Rather the club’s decision to go with Solskjaer rather than a more experienced coach, such as Mauricio Pochettino, should mark one of the early stages of a longer process.
In terms of the squad at his disposal, it is by no means as weak and low in quality as Jose Mourinho made it out to be. Nevertheless, it is poorly-assembled; lacking in depth in certain areas and balance being a particular issue. There have been some dubious decisions concerning contracts and in particular, the one offered to Phil Jones to keep him at the club until 2023.
There must be bite as well as calm to Solksjaer’s approach, which he will surely realise and attempt to deliver. He cannot make players feel their jobs are safe for the long-term but must offer support, guidance and confidence at the same time. He also can no longer rely on the ‘interim’ tag, now he is on equal terms with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, and it is against them that he will ultimately be judged.
There will be greater examination
Naturally, there will be a greater examination of Solksjaer’s decisions, his tactical choices and, crucially, his transfers. This is as much of a rebuilding job as that taken on by David Moyes in 2013, there can be no resting on laurels at United. That is why the club must look beyond Solskjaer and prepare for life without him even now. It is never calm at United but now seems to be rather tranquil than previous years and the best time to get stuck in with the job at hand.
Woodward, Richard Arnold and, to an extent, the Glazers must use this time to look forward. Solskjaer and his successors – and, of course, his predecessors – are no longer able to take on the role of United manager to quite the extent that Sir Alex Ferguson did. Modern football is different. United need a Director of Football; currently, they are the exception by not having one or someone in a similar sporting director role.
It does not take an untrained eye to see that this is the area where United have floundered for much of the past decade. Recruitment has consisted of getting the best players rather than the best fit. Spending has been wasteful and not directed in the areas that were most in need of funds. There needs to be more of a link between the academy and first team along with a style that transcends the age groups. United supporters will not want to hear this, but a leaf can certainly be taken from their City rival’s book.
Only the start in United's rebuild
These are decisions for another day, but a day not too long from now. The process that the club believed that they about to embark on in December should not be abandoned because of Solskjaer’s appointment, there is still much to be fixed as well as excited about. If opting for Solskjaer is somewhat a decision to go back to basics, then one can hope that more sensible and logical decisions follow.
After years of pessimism, boredom and wilderness, the supporters have their club back and their exciting, attacking style too. There are United people in the dugout, with Mike Phelan and Michael Carrick also due to become permanent fixtures. But there is no guarantee that United are back for the long-term, this is only the first step.
“I know what United expect – I have to win the Premier League,” Solskjaer said at his ‘unveiling’. Few can begrudge Solskjaer the opportunity of trying to achieve this, but hopefully, he will get the support that is necessary.