The extension of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s contract at Manchester United until 2024 has drawn mixed reactions from fans, and perhaps for good reason.
The Norwegian has now managed United in 151 matches, winning 85, drawing 32 and losing 34, averaging 1.91 points per game.
That’s a better average than David Moyes (1.73) and Louis van Gaal (1.81) at United, but not as good as Jose Mourinho (1.97) and of course Sir Alex Ferguson (2.06).
Solskjaer has now had more time than any of Sir Alex’s successors to build a team and has yet to present the trophy to Old Trafford, which both Van Gaal and Mourinho have managed to do.
So it’s no wonder the jury is still out and some might say it’s unusual to extend his contract at this point, as it was clear he wasn’t going anywhere between now and June 2022. An inappropriate reaction prompted Executive Vice President Ed Woodward to He made the Norwegian sponsorship permanent after a good run of matches in 2019, rather than waiting until the end of the season.
Had Woodward waited until June 2019, it is frankly unlikely that Solskjaer would be given the job on a permanent basis.
There are, undoubtedly, things Solskjaer has done brilliantly as United manager. He’s brought out the best players like Luke Shaw. Academy players have given away more minutes than any other eight-team club; And he seems to have created a spirit of harmony with the dressing room, which has clearly been broken and divided under Mourinho.
Solskjaer also gave the team identity again. He led them through the strange and uncertain times of Covid-19 and caught and beat Liverpool in the Premier League.
There are also things most people would agree that Solskjaer did not do well. This lack of trophies is a big deal, especially after he had a chance on a golden platter in the Europa League last season. He has also failed to find a formation that makes the best use of one of his star players, Paul Pogba. He didn’t show tactical flexibility, didn’t solve the problem of how to break the low mass, didn’t solve embarrassingly weak defensive kicks for Manchester, and didn’t prove who was his best goalkeeper.
Solskjaer’s reluctance to rotate his team led to a feeling of fatigue, and it can be argued that a lot of unnecessary injuries and his reservation in using substitutes earlier, could have increased the fatigue and also instilled a lack of fitness, confidence and rhythm in the match among his players, who, When given the opportunity, they were not always aware of the speed.
Most if not all fans agree on these strengths and weaknesses, but there are other areas that fans constantly discuss. One of these are signatures. This is a hard thing to discuss since no one really knows how much the manager said in determining any of them.
Those who have praised his transfer record look at the additions made by players such as Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho – all of whom are good signings.
On the other hand, skeptics say Mourinho first identified Maguire and Fernandes and that Cavani could have been brought in six months earlier when Odion Ighalo signed on loan on deadline day instead. And why, however, the lack of a good defensive midfielder when it is clear to everyone that he is a major weakness?
There is also the question of why the likes of Alex Telles and Donny van de Beek, two of United’s three biggest signings alongside Cavani last summer, were bought and then rarely used all season. Wasted money transfer, in the past? Daniel James is another questionable signing, and in terms of expenses, the future of Diogo Dalot, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams and Tahith Chung remains unresolved.
Then there’s the question of how Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham slipped through the net and they both ended up at Borussia Dortmund – almost certainly not an initial mistake, but these things happened, unfortunately, during his watch. Others say that, particularly in Haaland’s case, Solskjaer’s knowledge of the player and his friendship with family was a real strength for United in negotiations that were ultimately lost for other reasons.
Some believe Paul Pogba, via his agent Mino Raiola, has hinted that he wants to leave United because he does not believe the current coaching staff is developed enough to bring success to the club he wants to be part of. Others say Solskjaer’s management put a smile on Pogba’s face once again and tempted him to stay despite all the damage inflicted on him by his strained relationship with Mourinho.
Another controversy is the style of play. Some fans argue that Solskjaer has reintroduced Fergie-esque style, attacking and quick attacking to the team, while others believe he was very defensive and passive, especially against the big clubs, constantly using the two-player pivot even against weak opposition and bringing in defensive substitutions rather than going for the kill when United teams were on alert.
Overall, the main debate among fans is whether Solskjaer is a young manager who needs to give him time to learn on the job and grow into a great manager who shows signs of becoming. Some believe this is the case while others argue that he needs to stop “hiding” behind the excuse of being in the “rebuilding process” and start delivering.
Solskjaer is 48 years old. That puts him exactly halfway in the age list for a Premier League coach, with Bielsa, Benitez, Bruce, Moyes, Klopp, Dichy, Hasenhuttl, Guardiola and Smith, Brendan Rogers of the same age and Tuchel, Espirito Santo, Frank, Potter, Fark, Lagg, Vieira, Exesco and the kid of the group, Michele Arteta, are all younger than him.
Whether you’re an ‘Ole in’ or an ‘Ole out’, or, like many of us, a bit of each depending on the team’s performance, one thing is for sure: We have to get a lot closer to see if it’s the long-term solution to succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson. By the end of 2021/22, if not sooner.