Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer temporarily quieted calls for his sacking with a 3-1 victory over Everton at the weekend.
The club appointed the former United player on an interim basis following the sacking of Jose Mourinho in December 2018. After winning his first 8 matches as boss, Solskjaer received the full-time role.
Manchester United have performed decently throughout Solskjaer’s tenure, finishing 6th and 3rd in the Premier League the past two seasons. While the overall results have been respectable, the Manchester United side has ebbed from highs to lows.
Prior to their win against Everton, the Red Devils sat in 15th place. Similarly, the club sat in 14th place with just 10 points after 9 games last year.
However, there have also been positives. Solskjaer led Manchester United to an unprecedented quarterfinal appearance in the Champions League in his first season. They looked spectacular following the COVID-19 restart to end last season, earning 21 out of a possible 27 points with a +16 goal differential.
The highs have canceled out the lows enough thus far for Solskjaer to keep his job. However, fans want to see the Manchester United of old competing for the Premier League and Champions League trophies.
After another poor start to the season, a heavy defeat or two could see Solskjaer pack his bags for good. The question then arises: does the former Manchester United striker deserve to be fired?
Why he shouldn’t be fired
When Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down from his throne in 2013, Manchester United almost immediately plunged into mediocrity. They have since cycled through David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho—none of whom came close to replenishing the club’s form under Ferguson—before settling on Solskjaer.
If nothing else, Solskjaer has stabilized the club—at least relatively. Although they haven’t reached the stage where they are again amongst Europe’s best, they have consistently competed for top 4 positions and have advanced in European competition.
The Norwegian has also shown an ability to rebound following dips in form. With less than a third of the season remaining, Manchester United closed a 13 point gap to finish in 3rd place last season. Although most United fans would prefer that they avoid these dips in form altogether, Solskjaer’s resiliency is admirable.
Furthermore, Solskjaer has not always received the full backing from the United board. Ed Woodward and co. refused to sanction a big-money move for players such as Dayot Upamecano or Kalidou Koulibaly, despite the desperate need for a centerback. They held the same stance for Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho.
Solskjaer built momentum at the end of last season which was subsequently stalled by the inactivity in the transfer market. Would it be fair to fire him when the club hasn’t backed him?
Why he should be fired
On the other hand, Manchester United again find themselves in familiar territory. Once again, an extended period of struggles has led them closer to the middle of the table than the top four.
The fact that this has happened season after season indicates that progress isn’t being made. Anything less than a top 4 finish at this point would simply be unacceptable.
Solskjaer has also failed to get the best out of many of his key players. Paul Pogba has never found his rhythm under the United manager and looks a shell of the superstar that the club signed from Juventus.
Harry Maguire’s move has been a PR disaster, which looks even worse when you consider that Solskjaer handed him the captain’s armband. He has recently struggled to deal with concerns of promising players Mason Greenwood and Donny van de Beek.
More than anything, one doubts whether or not Solskjaer possesses the tactical know-how to guide United to the next level. Recently, reports have indicated that players find Solskjaer’s training sessions to be simple and uninspiring.
When you watch a Manchester United game, you rarely see Solskjaer out of his seat barking orders to his players. Many times, assistant Michael Carrick is the one communicating with players begging the question: is Solskjaer really in charge?
Bottom line, the results under Solskjaer haven’t been all that great. A 3rd place league finish and a Europa League semifinal berth are all the accomplishments that Solskjaer has to show for thus far.
Overall, arguments can be made for both sides. While Solskjaer proponents can rebut any reason used to justify the Norwegian’s dismissal, is an improvement on the horizon?
In my opinion, the key to this decision is based on who would become Solskjaer’s predecessor. Too often, clubs sack their managers with no confidence that the replacement will be any better.
While United could follow in Chelsea and Arsenal’s footsteps by hiring a club legend and promoting Carrick, the real prize would be Mauricio Pochettino.
The former Tottenham manager was tipped for the United job the moment he got fired. After a year away from the sport, it seems like a perfect time for Pochettino to return to coaching.
Ultimately, I don’t think keeping Solskjaer would be awful for Manchester United. I just don’t envision the club rising back to their glory days under him. Therefore, I think that if they can get Pochettino, it’s time for them to pull the plug.