Ole Gunnar Solskjær: Should He Stay or Go?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and a United logo amongst an abstract background.

Manchester United; the most unpredictably predictable team in football. This team, Lord. One day, they’re losing in the Champions League with an abject showing against a German outfit funded by an energy drink, and three days later, they’re making Manchester City look very ordinary. 

A strange bunch to say the least. But what should United do moving forward? The real issue (the owners) aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and why would they? They’re still making billions from the club no matter what level of performance is shown on the pitch, and it’s a guaranteed cash cow for the foreseeable future. It’s a business, and they aren’t going anywhere. 

So, let’s look a few levels down, namely in the coaching department. Manchester United’s current coach has a CV (in the top 5 European leagues) of a single relegation, a sacking at the hands of said relegated club, a 6th placed finish and third last season. 

SHOULD THEY KEEP SOLSKJÆR OR MOVE ON? 

Let’s dig a little deeper, and if they do move on, who should be on the Glazers’ wishlist? 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been in charge of United for coming up on two years now. The level of improvement in league standings has been minimal. He has finished 32 and 33 points from the top of the table in both league campaigns. This season, they are only 8 points from the top with two games in hand, but that is most definitely as a result of the table-topping teams accumulating points at 2.1 points per game as compared to the 2.57 and 2.60 points per game of the last two seasons. United are still only gathering points at a rate of 1.82 points per game, and this only a small increase on last season’s 1.74 points per game. 

Is it worth keeping a coach who only gains around 0.1 points per game on a season by season basis? Assuming this is a linear scale, it would take him a further seven years at this pace to even reach the 2.5 points per game totals. Is that acceptable? At the end of the day, football managers rely on a few things to stay in a job, especially at the top level: results, performances and relationships in the dressing room. Solskjaer seemingly has a good relationship with the players (see Bruno Fernandes, the best player at the club right now, and his comments about the tactics from the coach being perfect for him). 

Although the question still stands, is Ole Gunnar able to supply the required results to keep his job? Is he able to get United far enough up the table to do this? Manchester United have expectations of titles and Champions League wins, Not top-four. Not FA Cups. Is he good enough to equip a squad to do this throughout a season? Well, based on current evidence, no, he is not. 

And the problem is, we have seen this over, and over, and over again under Solskjaer. False dawns in Manchester, far too many times, like clockwork. It’s impossible to ignore. Can such inconsistencies be excused? Sure, you can look at the talent available and think ‘it’s not top of the line’ or ‘he hasn’t got his players yet,’ and make those kinds of excuses. But here’s the thing, there’s a reason United haven’t given him his players and instead bought other options – Alex Telles and Edison Cavani to name a couple. I refuse to believe these are the types of players he wanted. He wanted ‘young, hungry, British players’.

To me, that smells of a board lacking faith in their manager and are ready to give him the boot. Should they? Ultimately, the results haven’t been good enough, and that’s with them over-performing this season according to the analytics. They, at this current juncture, should be at 15 points according to understat.com – they have registered 20. United are over-performing, and even then, the results aren’t good enough. 

For me, it’s a definitive yes. Manchester United need to sack Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But who to replace him with? There are three established candidates I can see aligning themselves with the role should the Norweigen be relieved of his duties. 

UNITED IN FOR MAX ALLEGRI?

The first and obvious candidate in my view, for a job of this prestige – Max Allegri. The Italian has achieved success in football which United’s current coach cannot hold a candle to, particularly in the last decade. 

In 2010, Allegri took over a seemingly ageing AC Milan team who endured a disastrous season last time out. They finished 3rd with just 70 points and exited both the Champions League and Coppa Italia at the last-16 stages. 

In Allegri’s first season, there was no real fanfare concerning the Champions League after being knocked out by a Tottenham side led by the young Gareth Bale. However, there was significant progress domestically. Milan reached the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia and not only added 12 points to their previous Serie A point tally, but also bringing an 18th top-flight title to the legendary Italian club, ending a run of five straight titles by rivals, Internazionale. 

Allegri followed this up with a 2nd and 3rd placed finish before a down year in 2014, resulting in him losing his job. Despite this, he was given a second chance and handed the role of overseeing three-time defending champions, Juventus. In his first season, he not only retained the title for Juventus but took them to a Champions League final – a competition his predecessor could only reach the quarter-finals in, with the last attempt being a failure in the group stages. 

Allegri immediately came in and reached the finals, only losing to the big three of Barcelona in Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luís Suarez, ousting defending champions Real Madrid (Who had their own big three in place) on the way. Allegri also reached the final in his third season – this time, unfortunately, losing to a possessed Cristiano Ronaldo in the final. But to be honest, losing to the first successive Champions League win since the rebranding of the tournament, led by a player with one of the all-time great title runs, is no shame in all truth. 

This was all supplemented by winning the title in all five of his years in charge of the Old Lady. Allegri’s play-style is best described as rigid, solid, and with talent doing the business upfront. 

A backline of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Alex Telles is suited to the lower defensive line Allegri would impose. The workhorse midfield duo of Fred and McTominay to screen them. The ball-striking extraordinaire in Bruno Fernandes setting up the speed demons Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood, both flanking elite target man Cavani; a recipe for terror in the Premier League. 

Even against lower sitting teams, the set defensive base would suit them not to be exposed defensively against such line-ups. It would work perfectly, and that’s even without his players being purchased. Allegri would be a great fit, for me. 

MAURICIO POCHETTINO TO OLD TRAFFORD?

Pochettino was highlighted as the replacement for who turned out to be his own at Spurs. After Jose Mourinho got his P45, Poch was tipped to come and save the day at Old Trafford. He didn’t. But how much of an upgrade would he be? Minimal? Significant? Large? The answer is the latter.

Pochettino, whilst not winning any trophies, ever, has been a success of sorts. He has been excellent. Taking Spurs to their first-ever Champions League is a significant accomplishment in itself.

But let’s delve into his tactics. Pochettino likes high energy, high pressing, high lines, and free-flowing football. How would the players at United cope with this philosophy? Well, Maguire in a high-line and his lorry-Esque turning circle would be a disaster – even more so than now. Lindelof would likely not be too much better due to his physical deficiencies. 

The United midfielders are more suited to this, however. McTominay and Fred can both cover large areas of ground quickly, though neither of them really can advance the ball as Moussa Dembele could for the Lily-Whites. Nor like Tanguy Ndombele was bought in to do (and is under Mr Mourinho at a very high level), so that would be an area to address. The front four is perfectly suited to what the Argentine likes to employ, though a long term replacement for Cavani would be ideal for when the striker leaves. 

Bruno Fernandes in particular, with his high-level ball striking and boundless energy, can approximate, and maybe even improve on the job Christian Eriksen did for Mauricio in the North London based club, except in the North West of the country. 

The full-backs are hit and miss. Telles would fit in well, but Wan-Bissaka, with his inability to go forward, would be ineffective down the right unless United address that with an elite left-footed attacker to give the full-back space. 

Overall, Poch would be a good fit with United. He’s not someone who will guarantee trophies, but he will most certainly improve the players, impose a swashbuckling style of football United fans are familiar with, and finally, make them a real contender again – even with just a few signings. Pochettino would be an excellent hire for United, without a doubt. 

THOMAS TUCHEL SWAPPING PARIS FOR MANCHESTER?

The third and final candidate to address for the Manchester United job is PSG’s head honcho. Seemingly the new ‘hipster’ manager who everyone adores, Thomas Tuchel is now always associated with the big jobs. Bayern Munich in particular, but United have recently been conjoined to the PSG coaches ever-growing list of fans. 

The PSG job is one of constant pressure at the head of the manager – it’s maybe the most demanding job in the sport. It’s Champions League or bust. Every. Single. Season. It’s one which has taken a toll on the German, him growing increasingly agitated in his post. It’s almost as if United would be a bit of a relaxant in comparison. 

Nonetheless, despite the relentless pressure from the French and global media, Tuchel has done a relatively good job in his couple of seasons in the French capital. 

His first season, admittedly, wasn’t the best, but some factors were out of his control. His best player, Neymar, suffered a broken foot. Any team who loses their best player is bound to struggle, let alone one which has the best player on the planet, and is ever so reliant on the Samba star’s ability to shine. 

The team was then put on Kylian Mbappé’s back who, whilst making a reasonable effort of it, ultimately failed to guide PSG through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and falling in the final of the French Cup, getting sent off in extra time after a frustrating afternoon.

PSG still won the league at a canter behind Mbappe’s 30 goals though, meaning it wasn’t a total disaster. The second, however, was ever close to perfection. Behind some new signings and most importantly, the health of Neymar staying intact for the knockout stages of the European competition, PSG reached the final of the Champions League. 

While their superstar duo failed to deliver the trophy, there were clear signs of progress under the management of Tuchel. He made a vast improvement from the mix-mash of individuals who were beaten soundly at the Bernabeu in a tie they were comfortably the favourites in on a fateful February evening in 2018. 

Tuchel has shown himself to be a more than capable tactician, capable of maximising the talent around him, but to play his style, he needs funds. In this scenario, he would most certainly max out the United side, and likely even win silverware. Whilst an unbalanced United side, there is talent there. As a result, United could do far worse than the coach who managed to guide a midfield of Marquinhos, Idrissa Gueye, and Paredes, through to the Champions League final. 

Overall, I think Max Allegri is comfortably the best available option for the Mancunian side due to his pedigree, elite tactical nous and his man-management skills – maybe he could keep Paul Pogba on side. For these reasons, Allegri should be the successor of Solskjaer when United eventually pull the trigger on the Norwegian. 

Any other candidate would be less pleasing from a United perspective, and yet, United will likely go with the cheaper and cheerful option in Poch, who does not haggle for spending and is perfectly okay with chasing the Champions League slots.

Not ideal, but it’s sufficient for United’s owners, even if not for the fanbase…

Words by Mustafa Jawaad – @Mussy__J10