Manchester United have made a habit in recent years of busting the myth that they are a club that stands by their managers.
Four permanent bosses have taken the top job at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped aside in 2013. Three of them received the boot long before their contracts were up, and it’s beginning to look inevitable that the fourth, fan favourite and former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is treading a similar path.
Results have not been good for some time (more on this later), though Sunday’s 6-1 home defeat to Tottenham and the club’s start to this season on the whole has seen the pressure begin to build.
It’s coincided with inevitable reports of interest in Mauricio Pochettino, the latest of which emerged on the same evening United had rolled over. 90min has since learned lines of communication have never broken off between Pochettino’s representatives and United’s hierarchy – they remain keen to appoint him – though they do have other candidates on their radar.
However, the recirculation of Pochettino’s name is awfully convenient, and the timing apt.
What we’re seeing again is the Glazer family and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who are rightly coming under fire from all quarters for years of mismanagement, preparing to hit the pressure release button at some point down the line. It’s the tried and trusted way to shift the responsibility off of their shoulders and onto a fall guy, with a new shiny saviour ready to step in.
All that’s required is results and league position stay below expectations for a long enough period (upcoming matches against Newcastle, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Arsenal and Everton make this entirely possible based on current performance and confidence levels) to justify the decision. It will allow those above to recalibrate, start again and placate the supporters. Look how bad the results are, we have no choice guys, you understand. It’s on him.
Of course, any United supporter worth their salt knows the problems begin at the top. There’s enough former teammates of Solskjaer deafening in their criticism of the club for not providing sufficient financial backing after a third-placed finish last season, the spend is low again with Champions League money on the way, and the bulk of the summer signings came three games in to their already delayed league season. The inability to shift deadwood is a huge issue and the less said about Jadon Sancho, the better.
It’s the challenge to not allow these off-field issues to manifest on it, but it looks as though that’s started to happen. And regardless of opinions on whether Solskjaer is the right man or not, it is his job to earn league points and put in performances worthy of a once successful club.
Those things are not happening at the moment. United shot up to third place in the final weeks of last season, but took a mere 66 points on the whole and only managed to climb the table due to Leicester’s terrible turn and Chelsea’s own erratic form. You could safely argue that United last played well in a 3-0 win at Aston Villa in July, and that’s being generous considering how the match started.
United’s form in the first half of last season took Solskjaer close enough to the sack, though Bruno Fernandes’ impact came just in time to change fortunes. His immediate impression now seems to be fading.
There are players not playing well. Marcus Rashford has yet to hit his full potential on a consistent basis, Anthony Martial hasn’t scored a goal this season, Paul Pogba has lost his way again, and a combination of four defenders which cost nearly £200m to build has shipped eleven goals in three Premier League matches – the only solution is obviously to chuck more money at it.
What gives you any confidence that the answer in central defence isn’t chewed up and spat out by this glorious failing machine? Almost every player that signs for United ends up ruined, or close to it.
United‘s record of improving the values of players they sign is desperate. These are players who were acquired because the club thought they were talented – and it’s the job of the management and coaching team to establish a style of play, which doesn’t exist beyond a swift counter attack, and improve both individual and team performance. But for a couple of purple patches of form in the last two years, there isn’t enough evidence that this has happened.
It is also not acceptable to lose at home to Crystal Palace, to see Brighton hit the woodwork five times in 100 minutes, to lose 6-1 at home to Tottenham with a team of players who’d given up by the 33rd minute and be outplayed in all three matches – whatever the circumstances were around the tail end of last season.
There will always come a time where the buck stops with the manager. It’s the easiest fix to make for owners who are interested only in Champions League qualification and their own pockets, and it will be the change which triggers the quickest change in on-field results, so Solskjaer is rightly under pressure again to deliver.
Poor form and managers waiting in the wings is sure to keep the focus on one of the biggest (and perhaps the most impossible) jobs in football, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s acid test will begin at St. James’ Park after the international break. Things have the potential to turn very quickly, and whatever the circumstances, it is now his responsibility to deliver.
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