Jose Mourinho was on borrowed time at Man Utd but the handling of his sacking shows the problems go way beyond the Old Trafford manager. On a January night of icy rain, Manchester United VIPs are huddled in the Munich Tunnel outside the directors’ entrance three hours before kick-off against Stoke. Supporters are filing past as they take brief shelter from the weather and not one of them does a double take as the gaggle patiently waits.
George Best and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are the only footballers who have scored European Cup final winners for United and whereas Best had heads turning from the Stretford End to Slack Alice’s, Solskjaer cuts an unassuming figure in the tunnel. Only this correspondent appears to recognise him before the south stand doors are opened.
Solskjaer is not even verified on Twitter, or followed by United, who follow every current and former player in the men’s and women’s team. His following surge could be about to make Ed Woodward’s next conference call. United want a caretaker manager to ‘put smiles back on people’s faces’ at the club and Solskjaer made supporters happy when skies were grey. He would be a sunny antidote to the downbeat demeanour of Jose Mourinho.
Form. Style of play. Lack of development at youth level. Those were the three prime reasons cited for Mourinho’s dismissal, unprecedented in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, given the Champions League qualification precedent that was previously set. Perhaps Woodward retrospectively regrets not jettisoning David Moyes and Louis van Gaal before Christmas while those seasons were salvageable.
In earmarking Solskjaer on an interim basis, United have ended their era of flip-flopping. From British manager to disciplinarian manager to marquee manager, their choices have been inconsistent with consideration for the future or the present, never both. Now United appear to be looking ahead.
They are not pretending Solskjaer is panacea. He would be caretaker coach and his previous Premier League managerial stint with Cardiff ended with relegation and lasted just eight months. That was over four years ago but the Norwegian’s coaching pedigree is restricted to Norway. He may discover before the New Year how little that adroit volley past Oliver Kahn now counts in the role as United manager.
Solskjaer is a genuine club great, worthy of the ‘2OLEGEND’ banner that used to adorn the Stretford End. The 45-year-old is one of a handful of overseas players who understood and bought into United’s ethos during his 11 years as a player and he oversaw the development of youngsters during three-and-a-half years as the Reserves coach. Even in retirement, Solskjaer was still influencing United title triumphs off the bench; it was he who advised Ferguson that he name Federico Macheda as a substitute against Aston Villa