That’s it. It’s over.
After Watford had wiped the floor with Manchester United with a 4-1 victory on Saturday, some of the United players ambled towards the away end to address their fans, clapping and gesturing with their hands an apology for their abysmal performance. Bruno Fernandes, in particular, looked adamant to remind them that the responsibility for such a performance fell on the players as well, not just the manager.
Correct as he may be, no one was in any doubt regarding whose head would go on the chopping block.
And hence, it has come to pass. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been sacked by Manchester United after serving nearly three years as the manager of their senior men’s team.
To say it had been coming for a while would be an understatement at this point. United’s problems were more than apparent at the start of the season and were being papered over by the results they couldn’t have possibly sustained in the long run. Alarming as that already was, instead of addressing them, United chose to end their transfer window by undoing almost all the good work they had been doing over the last two seasons.
Exactly how much blame lies on Solskjær’s door for bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club, we will probably never know. As fanciful as it sounds, there is a good chance the signing was neither his priority nor his wish. Either way, though, it accelerated his march towards the exit door.
What followed after the summer transfer window has been as predictable as football can get in its infinite capacity to churn out improbable stories. And once again, just like it had become under José Mourinho, it became almost a necessity to dismiss Solskjær and end his misery.
Ole’s been-there-from-day-one naysayers will have you know that his appointment was an absolute mistake — something that should never have happened in the first place.
And you know what? They are not particularly wrong. When Solskjær was announced as United’s caretaking manager after Mourinho’s departure, the United board made promises of a complete rebuild, that they would make big, sweeping changes and revamp their structure behind the scenes and would do their due diligence to bring the right manager at the club for the season after, while Ole helped them traverse through the ongoing one. So, when they decided to give him a three-year deal before the end of that season, having delivered on none of the promises, eyebrows were naturally raised regarding whether the club actually had any idea of what they wanted, and whether the footballing side of things was something they actually prioritised over everything else.
However, the “things the United board should not have done” is a thread you could unravel as far as Sir Alex’s retirement in 2013, and wherever you choose to stop and take a look, you would be left with disbelief, disappointment, and—if you’re a United fan—anger.
I, for one, no longer subscribe to the idea of Solskjær’s appointment being a mistake. His three years at the club have turned out to be a prolonged caretaking period, in which United have made great strides…up until this season, anyway.
Not only did Solskjær do a great job of dusting away the typical cobwebs after a José Mourinho exit, he connected to the club, the players, and the fans, like no other could. That he “understood the club” went a long way in him knowing what Manchester United lacked compared to the days of the past. His man-management, the players’ expressional freedom (both on and off the pitch), and a veritable veneration of the United academy made the fans feel that the club were using the strong features of their past to set up a long-term structure for the future.
United made slow-yet-positive changes to their squad. The team went from strength to strength over the past two seasons. Coming into the 2021-22 campaign, United boasted an environment most stable and optimistic since the days of Sir Alex.
All of that, however, derailed very quickly. Having earned himself a third full season on merit, Solskjær and his coaching staff managed to do very little about the tactical issues the team had. As it turned out, the body of Solskjær’s football had a lot of heart but very little brain. There was a lot of sentimentality but very little practicality, and there is only so much a team can achieve with such a makeup.
The bus Solskjær was at the wheel of had a lot of fuel that consisted of man-management acuity and gets-the-United-DNA rhetoric, but the bus had no seats for its passengers, who were expected to craft one for themselves.
In an age of meticulous, micro-managed football, a team cannot just work with “a lot of heart”. Solskjær’s football, hence, albeit exciting on the best of days, felt outdated on the worst.
As he leaves the club, I have only this to say to Ole: thank you. Thank you for putting your heart into this job so that the team could have one. Thank you for that night in Paris. Thank you for leaving us in a better place than the one you found us in. This club will forever regard you as a legend.
It is also important to remember that no matter who replaces Solskjær, United will continue to run round and round in circles as long as the directive from the very top of the club prioritises marketability over footballing functionality. It’s not a very optimistic note to end on, but it’s the reality of this institution, for better or worse.
You never know, though. You just never know.