Wednesday, October 02, 2019

IF Ole Gunnar Solskjær has to go, should Ed Edward be sacked too?

Sacked Man Utd managers

Manchester United are enduring their worst start to the season for 30 years. At the time of writing this post, United lie in 10th place in the Premier League. After a great start to his career as Manchester United manager, in which Solskjær won more points from his first nine games than any other Premier League manager, it has gone horribly wrong. United have won just two league games this season, and increasingly look like a mid-table team; one that struggles to breakdown well organised defences. The predictable grumbling and noises of discontent have been murmured by some supporters; mainly on social media which the Norwegian rightly ignores, but the problems Ole faces in trying to turn United around are the same ones which resulted in the sackings of three of his predecessors; it is another worrying time for supporters and the likeable United manager.

Solskjær was initially appointed as caretaker manager on December 19, 2018; like many newly appointed football managers, the Norwegian enjoyed an upturn in results. The Norwegian's record breaking start followed the acrimonious departure of Jose Mourinho, whose relationship with Ed Woodward (executive vice-chairman of Manchester United) had become toxic. Supporters had become fed up with Mourinho's tactics, his negativity, his own demeanour and his team's football which was at times as dire, as it was boring. The final straw for many supporters was losing to Sevilla at Old Trafford in the Champions League in March 2018. United had drawn the first leg in the knock-out phase in February. With the tie in the balance and all to play for, Mourinho started with Mario Fellaini in midfield; the Belgian had always divided opinion among supporters, but whatever Jose's tactical plan might have been that night, the Spaniards progressed at United's expense. It was yet another lacklustre performance which did not match the expectations of United supporters - it was viewed as negative and defensive from start to finish.

So when Solskjær was appointed in December, 2018, to the surprise of many, once United fans had digested the news, the Norwegian's return to his former club was by and large welcomed. Ed Woodward and the United board had gone through the process of appointing three managers who had far more experience; all three came up well short of expectations, it had been tale of woe, threefold. Finding a suitable replacement for Alex Ferguson, was proving to as hard as many predicted it would be; Solskjær was viewed by many as a 'shot in the dark', 'desperate' by some, but generally, United fans warmed to the return of the 'smiling assassin'. The fans could see the logic in trying 'something different'.

David Moyes had been hand-picked by Alex Ferguson himself in 2013; that went horribly wrong after the club failed to back the former Everton manager with the necessary funds to rebuild a squad that would be capable for fighting for silverware with moneybags Manchester City. United then turned to Louis Van Gaal; a manager with a gilt edged CV, which included winning the Champions League with Ajax in '94-'95 and having managed at European giants Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Van Gaal was eventually sacked after winning the FA Cup in 2016; it was the final insult, but in truth, Van Gaal's team played a brand of boring, negative possession based football which was viewed as not being in keeping with the best traditions of Manchester United's history and style of play. While supporters and pundits disagreed with the manner of the Dutchman's sacking, it was felt that Van Gaal's time at United had to end.

United then turned to Jose Mourinho, who had been tutored by his predecessor at Barcelona, where the Portuguese helped the Dutchman by preparing scouting reports on the opposition. Van Gaal has spoken highly of Jose Mourinho in relation to their time working together when stating that Jose had learned his trade well as one of his assistants, but also that his former student had become a better manager than the "Iron Tulip" himself - quite a compliment. Having won the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan, plus domestic trophies galore at Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho is one of the most celebrated club manager's in world football. After Van Gaal's brand of football, which led to many to joke that it almost made one want to "give up the will to live", for many supporters, the prospect of installing Jose Mourinho was greeted with joy and anticipation.

Soon after his appointment, Mourinho promised that there would be no more "square pegs in round holes"; in football terms that means players will only play in their natural position(s) and the days of "mending and making do" by playing players out of position were over. That promise was broken several times in the following three seasons. The self proclaimed 'Special One', made all of the right noises, but he was no longer the bright young thing that millions of TV viewers saw running down the Old Trafford touchline when doing a goal celebration style slide after knocking United out of the Champions League in 2004. Mourinho had become a more experienced manager after hugely successful spells in charge at Porto, Chelsea, and Inter Milan, where he won a treble. Mourinho had also managed at Real Madrid, however, Jose had been sacked by Chelsea before taking the helm at Old Trafford; rumours of dressing unrest and disagreement over transfers led to the acrimony which saw him part company with the West London club. Mourinho appeared to have become a more circumspect manager following his experience of managing at some of the Europe's biggest clubs. United were desperate to regain their throne at the top of the English game; United appointed one of the most successful manager's in world football; what could possibly go wrong?

So what went wrong for Jose Mourinho, and before him, Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes - the three previous managers before Solskjær? Many fans are now pinning the blame firmly at the door of Ed Woodward and the Glazer family who have owned Manchester United since their controversial debt laden takeover of Manchester United in 2005.

Ed Woodward does not come from a football background, and yet he finds himself making decisions which affect the team on the pitch on Saturday afternoon. Woodward answers to the Glazer family, but should also answer to the 360 million United fans around the world (or whatever the number is claimed to be by United's marketing team)? Ed Woodward has the final say on transfers; recruitment is agreed by pundits, former players and fans to be the biggest single issue which has blighted United since Ferguson retired in 2013, but in truth the issues go back further than that; many agree that the rot set in around 2009. It is true that under Ferguson, United managed to win silverware, but the last league title success was in the Scot's final season in charge, since then United have won the FA Cup, Europa League trophy and the EFL League Cup. Van Gaal won the FA Cup and Mourinho the Europa League and the EFL League Cup.

The football media do not need an invitation to write gossip and Manchester United transfer news David Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho were all linked with transfer wish-lists, which in the main came to nothing; Raphaël Varane, Kilyian Mbappe, Frenkie De Jong, Matthijs De Ligt and Gabriel Jesus were all linked with moving to Manchester United; we cannot confirm the credibility or veracity of those reports, but former player and assistant to Val Gaal, Ryan Giggs was quoted as confirming United's interest in Mbappe and Jesus; no smoke without fire and why is that United are in disarray in the area of player recruitment?

United are considered to be one of the biggest club's in the world, in terms of generating revenues, that is still true, but where football is concerned United aren't living up to the hype and billing. United have been paying exorbitant transfer fees and wages, on too many transfer deals that have gone horribly wrong; after a failed moved from Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez has moved to Inter Milan on loan and United are part paying his wages to the reported tune of over £200,000 per week.

United reportedly splashed out over £53m to acquire Brazilian midfielder Fred, 26, (Frederico Rodrigues de Paula) from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018; eyebrows were raised at the size of that transfer fee and 12 months on the player hasn't justified that fee.

Sanchez and Fred were signed in part because 'rivals' Man City were said to want to sign both players - but one of them has now left the club on loan; the other has failed to hold to down a regular starting place in Solskjær's team.

In the wake of so many botched (the list is long) transfers and after three failed managerial appointments, there has been much talk of United appointing a DoF (Director of Football) but subsequently that talk has been played down and it looks as though Ed Woodward will remain in charge of overseeing Manchester United's player recruitment, that at least is said to be the case according to the media.

So for now it looks as though the man with no background in football will continue to make important decisions which affect one of the world's biggest football club's on the pitch. If there is a hope it is that Solskjær's first three signings in Maguire, James and Bissaka have all shown great promise and so if Solskjær can hang on to his position as United manager until the summer and United support him sufficiently in the transfer market, and the club doesn't make any more howling transfer errors, then Ole just might keep his job; conversely if results nosedive Solskjær might feel that he has to resign, or else he could be sacked; if that happens surely his boss, Ed Woodward has to go too?