The End of Solksjaer’s honeymoon period

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Things were going so well at Old Trafford. Right up until early March, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s revitalised Manchester United team were beating almost everyone they met.

Other than the home defeat to Paris Saint Germain in the first leg of their Champions League (CL) last-sixteen tie, no-one had managed to conquer Ole’s Red Devils. And United even went on to knock PSG out of the CL with that memorable win in France. However, that was the last notable victory Solskjaer’s team managed in the 2018/19 campaign.

United did win two more of their remaining 12 games in all competitions, home to both Watford and West Ham, but the wind was well and truly out of their sails by the time relegated Cardiff City beat them 2-0 at Old Trafford in their final Premier League (PL) game of the season.

Solskjaer took over the Manchester United hot-seat in mid-December after Jose Mourinho was relieved of his duties following his side’s 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.

United were languishing in sixth place in the PL table when Mourinho departed. Solskjaer came in and seemed to turn things around almost single-handedly. His reign started with a 5-1 win over Cardiff City in Wales. They would go on to win his first eight games in charge. In fact, including that win in Paris in early March, Solskjaer’s United won 14 of his first 17 games, suffering only one defeat (home to PSG) in that period.

The night they knocked out PSG, Rio Ferdinand, like many, many others, seemed to get swept up in the moment. Ferdinand, in his now infamous clip, declared that “Ole’s at the wheel” and that “United are back!”

Maybe it was the emotion of the night that swayed the Manchester United’s board’s thinking about Solskjaer’s long-term prospects. The baby-faced Norwegian was originally given the role under a caretaker contract, filling in until the end of this season when United would then appoint a long-term successor.

Yet, just a few weeks after the PSG win, Solskjaer was given a three-year contract and asked to stay on as the manager of Manchester United.

Some claimed this to be a ludicrous decision and looking back, it’s hard to argue. How did the former Cardiff City and Molde boss end up in charge of one of the biggest football clubs on the planet?

How many other options had Ed Woodward and his backroom team explored? Surely Mauricio Pochettino should’ve been sounded out about the vacant managerial role at a club where he would have been given the resources to match his ability. Had they waited for a little longer, would the United board have been impressed by Ajax’s run in the CL? The Dutch side’s intelligent, fearless, attacking football would have certainly caught their attention. Erik ten Hag might have been worth a shot. I mean, if you’re willing to try Solskjaer, you’d be willing to try the Ajax boss.

Manchester United’s recent recruitment criteria seem to only require that you once played for the club. With Solskjaer’s honeymoon period now long, long gone, it will be interesting to see just how sentimental the United board are willing to be if the team gets off to a rocky start next season.

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