Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Fall Guy or the Real Deal?
Since coming in as interim manager in December 2018, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been as polarizing to Manchester United fans as United can be to football fans in general. I think most Manchester United fans would have never expected Ole to never make it past interim manager. Even after he was appointed full time manager it seemed as if he was only ever treated as a temporary stopgap or potential scapegoat for the Glazer’s and Ed Woodward’s future shortcomings. Even now, I get the sense that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has remained in the roll because the powers that be at Manchester United think he might be the perfect fall guy for when things eventually implode.
Ole is a Living Club Legend
At the very least, Ole deserves more credit then that of a scapegoat. As a United player he had a great knack for scoring goals at the most important moments. His heroics in the ’99 Champions League final are the tip of the iceberg. There is his injury time winner time against Liverpool to keep the ’99 FA cup and treble dreams alive. He also scored four goals in ten minutes against Nottingham Forest, still holding the record for the most goals scored in the Premier League by a substitute. It’s easy to forget that had United not had Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole in the squad, Ole would have been our first choice striker for one of greatest periods in United history. These moments, and many more, cemented Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the annals of Manchester United Legends.
What the Critics Say
In spite of his successes as a player a lot of fans claim he is resting on the laurels of he past accomplishments. The narrative is that Ole is not experienced enough for the job. Fans and haters alike think that he is not ruthless enough or maybe he is too nice. Another perfectly valid argument is that he doesn’t exactly have a storied track record as a manager.
I have also heard from a number of United fans that feel Ole doesn’t seem to have a great grasp on tactics. This is usually evidenced by his occasionally questionable line ups and late substitutes. It is also a source of player injures linked to being overworked and over-played. These criticisms continue to the general malaise and slow build up play that can be seen from United players repeatedly throughout the season.
So the question remains, is Ole worth the wait in spite of these arguments or is he a continual stop gap until the team performs so poorly that the Glazers get to fire him? The only alternative is to wait for new owners to come in who will likely decide to bring in a big name manager to replace him. I am sure that every United fan has their own take on this, but let’s break down the facts and see how much is tabloid and social media hype and how much is worth weighing the successes of Ole against.
What do the Numbers Say?
The statistics during Ole’s reign simply don’t support the generic criticisms leveled at him in the media. The gold standard for comparison of any Manchester United manager is Sir Alex Ferguson. This is probably a license to set managers up to fail, but such is the nature of the United manager’s job. However, by comparison Ole is much better off at this stage then any of his predecessors. A little digging shows Ole has a better win rate then van Gaal and Moyes. Ole is also on par with Mourhino in the win percentage department.
|United Manger||Win Percentage||Games In Charge|
|Sir Alex Ferguson||60%||1500|
|Ole Gunnar Solskjaer||57%||137|
|Louis van Gaal||52%||103|
The first improvement Ole seems to have over Jose is the players seem to actually like Ole, where as they showed a less than bearable tolerance for Jose. Another fact to consider is that Ole reached this win rate with more wins and in fewer games than Jose. Granted, Jose may have lost fewer games then Ole, but he also drew more. This would suggest that Ole is playing a more aggressive and attacking style then previous managers. Hasn’t it been a consistent criticism of United coaches since Sir Alex left, that we do not play an entertaining and attacking enough style of football? Ole has answered that question more than any other United manager since Moyes took over. Only Zinedine Zidane, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have a better win percentage in top flight European football in the modern game.
Under Ole, Man United have lost fewer games, averaged more goals per season and more points per game then any other manager since Sir Alex retired. Manchester United are 14 points better off than this point last season and three places higher in the table. We equaled our number of games won from last season, with ten games left to play. We have a higher goals per match ratio and a higher successful pass ratio. Ole is also the only manager to secure two consecutive champions league qualification places though the Premier League since Sir Alex’s departure, as long as we stay on track this season. The icing on the cake is the nine goals we shipped past Southampton, equaling a Premier League record only reached twice in the past by a top flight team.
More often than not the numbers are in Ole’s favor, which is exactly why he still has his job. On the statistics alone, why not give him more time to build a team in his image? The argument in favor of Ole doesn’t end there. There are so many more points which Ole can hang his hat on. His management of individual player antics, his fostering of youth, his man management style, and the impact of the Glazer family are all factors in the proverbial social media trial of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In parts two and three of my defense of Ole I will try to touch on these points more. Stay tuned and in the meantime Glory Glory Man United.