IT doesn’t take much for the #OleOut movement to pick up their social media pitchforks. They are a group that doesn’t respond to reason, so when Manchester United announced last week that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been handed a three-year contract extension it wasn’t long until their protests were registered in Twitter’s top trends.
Logic supports United’s decision to stick with Solskjaer. Regardless of whether or not he should have been appointed in the first place, United have progressed season-on-season under the Norwegian. While Solskjaer has his flaws as a tactician, his man management skills are reflected in the number of players who have improved under his stewardship – see Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Fred, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
However, Solskjaer’s moment of reckoning as Manchester United boss is here. Even those who have backed the 48-year-old amid consistent criticism recognise he must now deliver silverware to prove himself as truly worthy of the position he holds. United managers aren’t defined by the number of players they improve, but in the trophies they win.
For the last two-and-a-half seasons, Solskjaer’s team has been a work-in-progress. Jose Mourinho left behind an almighty mess for the Norwegian to clean up. The culture at Old Trafford, both on and off the pitch, was a toxic one and so Solskjaer had more to do than just piece together a team.
Now, though, Solskjaer’s project is nearing its culmination. The £73m capture of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund will address a deficiency that has existed on United’s right wing for years. This one transfer alone should balance Solskjaer’s entire team, which until now has been heavily weighted towards the left.
The imminent signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid will give Manchester United the elite level centre back Solskjaer wanted to partner Harry Maguire while there is speculation that the club could move for midfielder Eduardo Camavinga and right back Kieran Trippier to strengthen in another two key areas.
July 23rd: Jadon Sancho announced as a Manchester United player.
July 26th: Varane done deal to Manchester United.
What a transfer window. pic.twitter.com/pJdDbBRGzE
— Trey (@UTDTrey) July 26, 2021
At this point, United have a first team as strong as any other in the Premier League and this must be reflected in the performances, and results, they produce this season. Solskjaer’s team have improved their league position year-on-year and having finished second last term there is only further step forward they can take.
That step will be the biggest, most challenging one. Look at how Liverpool were left physically and mentally drained by the pursuit of their first Premier League title under Jurgen Klopp. Manchester United might have the technical quality to challenge Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, but do they have the focus and mindset to go all the way?
The new sporting structure put in place at Old Trafford earlier this year already appears to be having an effect, with United moving quicker for key targets than at any other point in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. The capture of Sancho and Varane for a combined £110m is John Murtough’s first big success as the club’s new de factor director of football.
United are in the best shape since Ferguson’s retirement and Solskjaer has played an important role in that. The Norwegian has instilled a sense of identity in his squad and re-established the connection between the players on the pitch and the fans in the stands (even if the stands have been empty for the last 12 months).
Varane’s signing will bring Manchester United’s transfer totaliser under Solskjaer to over £450m in under three years. There is no question the club’s hierarchy have backed their manager, underlined by the new contract they have just handed him. United have given Solskjaer what he wanted and now it’s time for Solskjaer to give United what they want in return – trophies.