Manchester United failed to win today, so manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær was obviously blamed for the result. The context, the circumstances and the many different events or margins that happen no longer matter. It is all down to the manager, of course. And that has been the running theme of the Norwegian’s time at Old Trafford: whenever things don’t work, there is this perception from the media and a part of his own fanbase that he can’t cut it at United. But football is more complex than that.
It’s easy to see some of the poor results Manchester United have been getting in recent weeks and blame Solskjær simply because he is the manager and he is not rated by the media and some of the fanbase. But the reality is that the Norwegian has done a very underrated job at Old Trafford and he is bound to get a lot more credit after he is gone.
Looking back at December of 2018, Manchester United was a club in a deep crisis. Jose Mourinho failed to make his team work, had a very toxic dressing room and there was no clear solution a squad that was lacking harmony, quality and any sense of structure. The former United player arrived as an interim manager and quickly got great results that earned him the role as the permanent manager.
Last season he finished third after selling a lot of deadwood and with a squad that ended quite thin because of that, but that was the kind of long term decision that United needed. Signings like Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes have provided much-needed stability and consistency in terms of performances. Widely regarded (and unfairly, in my view) as the worst United side in English Premier League history, finishing third was quite an accomplishment.
Solskjær has managed to get the best performances of the careers of Scott McTominay, Anthony Martial, Fred or Paul Pogba. Marcus Rashford is reaching star levels since the Norwegian arrived. Mason Greenwood has been revelation so far. And Luke Shaw is finally fulfilling his potential after years of struggle.
But when Martial misses against PSG, Edinson Cavani misses against Arsenal, the defense falls asleep against Istanbul, the manager gets all the blame. It is always the manager’s fault and it is always the “lack of coaching and tactics” rather than offering an actual substantial analysis.
And let’s be honest, beyond the sad performances in the Champions League (the one big failure of Solskjær’s tenure, in my view) this season, the reality is that most pundits and fans were undermining this group of players and claiming they were not even going to make the top four. And they are sitting second so far this English Premier League, above “superior” squads like Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton and arguably Leicester City.
All of this while having the best performances of the post-Ferguson era and with some of the highest-scoring amounts in that time period, like the 9-0 victory over Southampton. And while some of the results and performances haven’t been great and he deserves criticism for some of his tactical decisions, the reality is that this squad is still in a stage of development and needs more pieces to be the final product. One thing football fans need to learn is that success is not always quick and easy. Sometimes you need to take the highs and the lows. And that is exactly what Ole Gunnar Solskjær is doing. Patience. He is getting there.