Ole's at the wheel - of a bus?
Solskjaer was handed a 3 year contract by Manchester United (Photo: Matthew Peters / Getty Images)

Ole's at the wheel - of a bus?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is no longer a caretaker manager, but whilst the fans are delighted he will still have detractors.

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Craig Millar

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a revelation since he took temporary charge of Manchester United.

In recognition of the job he has done, he has been handed the reigns full time on a three-year contract. It was fully deserved. Whilst it could be argued that he had a free hit, with United languishing, he has transformed the mood and got results.

He hasn't convinced everybody though. 

Ex-United doubters

Undoubtedly he had a kind run of fixtures when he took charge, but he still managed to win those games and do so with goals and a bit of panache. Paul Ince wasn't convinced.

Very early on, he suggested that the likes of himself, Steve Bruce or Mark Hughes - all ex-United players - could have done the same. The players were at a real low ebb under Jose Mourinho, so potentially he was right.

Yet there was much more to it than merely improving morale, and it was unnecessary to pass judgement so early into Solskjaer's tenure. It comes with the territory though, and now he is the permanent boss the scrutiny will only intensify.

It's extremely difficult to criticise him, yet every result that doesn't end well brings the inevitable question marks from pundits. And ex-managers. Enter Louis van Gaal.

Van Gaal is still bitter about his abrupt exit from United. He has good reason to be. It was decidedly shabby how his departure was handled. This week he did an interview with the BBC, his first with the British press since his sacking.

Parking the Bus

In amongst the criticism of Ed Woodward, there was a surprising 'dig' at Solskaer. 

"The coach after me [Mourinho] changed to park-the-bus tactics and played on the counter. Now there is another coach who parks the bus and plays on the counter. The main difference between Mourinho and Solskjaer is that Solskjaer is winning.

"But the way Manchester United are playing now is not the way Ferguson played. It is defensive, counter-attacking football. If you like it, you like it. If you think it is more exciting than my boring attacking, OK. But it is not my truth."

Whilst United's best results have come when on the back foot under Solskjaer, that is quite unfair to say that is how United have continually played during that period. 

Possession was so key to everything van Gaal wanted, and during his time at United, the team averaged just under 60% (59.92). Under Solskaer there is not much difference, with United enjoying 57.67%. Fine margins.

Van Gaal's memory perhaps isn't all that great, or at least he may choose to be selective. Some of United's best performances under the Dutchman were when United had less possession.

Marcus Rashford's debut was a memorable performance. United defeated Arsenal 3-2 with Rashford bagging a brace. Arsenal had 62% possession. 

Solskjaer seems to take a "horses for courses" approach and has set the team up according to the opposition. He hasn't got it right always, of course, but the wins away at Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and PSG had to be 'smash and grab'.

There used to be a time when you just watched football and the only statistic that mattered was the scoreline. With that in mind, watching van Gaal's United and Solkjaer's is like watching chalk and cheese.

Under van Gaal, the football was slow, ponderous and most of the passes were sideways or backwards. It was extremely boring. Not every game under Solskjaer has been vintage, but in general, there has been action aplenty.

It was a curious statement from van Gaal, but neither statistics or the naked eye back up his claims. 

His criticism of Solskjaer's style was not the only barb. He also mentioned how his promotion and development of youth was far superior to both Mourinho and Solskjaer.

"Manchester United had over 30 players. I brought them back to 23. Then I had an open selection for the youth academy. I did that at every club. That is why a lot of young players have made their debuts with me.

"A lot of trainers, like Mourinho, never give youngsters a chance. Yes, five minutes. Solskjaer, 10 minutes. That is not a chance. A chance is a game."

There is absolutely no doubt that van Gaal did give youth a chance. Yet talking about Solskjaer after less than 20 games in charge was rather unfair, never mind just.

Youth will be given a chance

The likes of Angel Gomes, Tahit Chong, Mason Greenwood and James Garner have bright futures. They will get chances, as they have already, and they will have a Manchester United career with luck on their side.

Solskjaer will make sure of that, because one of the most impressive aspects of his small time at the helm is how he has got the players, and key players, playing. He didn't moan, as Mourinho did, at the lack of quality.

He did the opposite. He cited how good a squad he had. Under Mourinho, question marks about most players abilities were justified. Solskjaer has helped make them look the players they were before United signed them.

Assuming the club are able to get signings over the line in the summer, then the ability will not be in question. Solskjaer knows a player when he sees one. He saw up front during his playing days. He also saw how kids were promoted and trusted and age will not be a factor when a player is good enough.

Style, youth, signings, results, trophies. Solskjaer will be judged on everything but he has the job because he has shown in the short period of time that he can handle the pressure.

He is honest, but every setback has been taken in his stride without losing a bit of his positivity. All of Sir Alex Ferguson's successors have looked beleaguered at one point or another, but Solskjaer looks like he is enjoying every second.

In three years time, all United fans will hope the 'baby faced assassin' is still at the wheel. And still smiling.

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