Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Fighting w/ Two Hands Tied Behind His Back
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought in to rebuild Manchester United‘s culture. There was clearly a cast of players and staff that he identified as toxic or incompatible with that culture. The problem for Ole is the owners and executive team at Manchester United have failed to replace the deadwood that he doesn’t want. Under the current circumstances, the best managers are faltering while Ole is making the best of what he has at his disposal. This is despite the Glazer ownership and their best efforts to undercut and underfund this team. Here is why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is fighting with two hands tied behind his back.
Undoubtedly, the biggest obstacle for Ole is that the Glazers have not invested properly into this Club as a whole. As a result, Ole is playing the juggling game of who is fit, who is in form, who needs a game, and what players complement each other enough to play alongside each other. Add to the mix the effects of the pandemic. A side effect of a global health crisis is a congested fixture schedule. This prevents teams across the board form implementing new training methods, tactics or philosophies.
Rebuilding in a Pandemic
This is still a hodgepodge of a team consisting of players purchased under previous managers. Without a pandemic it can take three to four years for a coach to create a team in his image. This season, there is so little time between games that players have no choice but to spend more time recovering then training. This prevents Ole and his coaching staff from being able to properly coach and implement new tactics and game strategies.
The pandemic has also required fans to stay away from Old Trafford. We should all absolutely respect the restrictions in place that are designed to protect us. However, not having fans in stadiums is having a huge impact on how teams perform at their home grounds. We might also have a chance of convincing Cavani to stay one more season if he could experience scoring in front of a full Stretford End.
With fans back, a preseason and more time rotating players we might be able to conquer this crisis. For now, it is more important that we rebuild our team mentality with the players we have. The numerous games this season where Manchester United have come back from going down early are a testament to the change in culture Ole is implementing.
So, what is Ole’s plan? At the moment it seems to be to promote youth to cover the deficiencies of Ed Woodward in the transfer market. He has also been tasked with reinvigorating this enduring culture around the club. United’s biggest problem in the post Ferguson era has been a loss of the mental fortitude that defined United’s past successes.
Recent games, and United’s comeback record this season, point to the fact that Ole has managed to change the mentality of this team. He has created a mental resilience and team confidence that has long been lacking. The comeback game against Tottenham, after having a goal disallowed and then immediately going a down a goal, is another resounding example of this cultural shift at United. The ‘never give up, never surrender’ mentality seems to be slowly returning to Old Trafford.
Moyes sacked all of Fergusons pervious backroom staff and bought into his “chosen one” title too much. Louis van Gaal had no sense of style and was a little too pragmatic. Jose simply did not trust his players and thought he was better than everyone else at the club. These previous regimes simply could not grasp the United way. As a result Ole has to play damage control while navigating a pandemic and creating a whole new team culture. That is no small feat.
All the Glazers Want is Money
An ongoing criticism under Ole has been how he prioritizes his competitions. He has been accused of prioritizing the Europa league over domestic cup competitions. He has also been accused of naivety for reading too much into our league position. This is not completely down to Ole. Here is where I begin the scathing attack on Manchester United’s executive team and ownership.
To begin, the prize purse for the Europa League is more than $10 million, where the FA cup is just over $2 million. With the Glazers still taking their dividends the difference of $8 million is huge, especially in a pandemic. I can’t help but feel that this reality was made clear to Ole in the middle of the season when we were still in both competitions.
Additionally, United’s league position is directly indicative of the amount of sponsors and TV revenue United can command. A failure in this department can cost United tens of millions of dollars on an annual basis. These are all key factors in Woodward’s thinking.
Ole seems to sugar coat this idea with the fact that the higher we finish in the league the more progress across a season we have made. While that is not the real focus here, he is not wrong. This excuse simply serves as a reasonable guise for the reality of the situation. Which is, the Glazers suck money out of this club like a thick milkshake through an extra thin straw.
No Reinvestment into the First Team
The biggest negative impact the Glazers have had is their lack of smart reinvestment into the team. Sure, we have spent hundred of millions on players over the years, but they were the player Woodward could get, not the players the coaches wanted. This extends to the lack of reinvestment to the club as a whole. I could digress all day into how much Old Trafford is falling apart. To make matters worse United have either given up on or let players like Lukaku, Herrera, Depay, Zlatan, Di Maria and Zaha go without a clear replacement.
While they may not be the right players for United, all these players have moved on to continued success. Each of these players, as well as Sanchez, Darmian, Schweinsteiger, the contract extension of Phil Jones, the treatment of Marcos Rojo, Sergio Romero and Wayne Rooney are all examples of poor financial decisions on the part of Ed Woodward at the behest of the Glazers. Those players that have been sold or pushed out the door have not been replaced properly. Obertan is not Ronaldo, Ighalo is not Rooney or Zlatan, an aging Schweinsteiger is not Michael Carrick or Ryan Giggs.
Terrible Financial Choices by Ed Woodward
Offering massive contracts to players like Sanchez, Di Maria, Jones and even De Gea are just another side effect of Woodwards idiocy. Overpaying for players like Fred and Maguire are all further examples of the Glazers’, Ed Woodward’s and Matt Judge’s incompetence. The executive structure at United is willing to be held hostage repeatedly in the transfer market. If the Glazers are so interested in money you think they would save some cash by not overpaying players and not utilizing poor transfer tactics that result in overpaying or missing out on players
The irony is that the Glazer family would actually make more money if they invested properly into the team. Unfortunately for them, long term reinvestment into United does not net them enough money in the short term. They wanted to to sign $50 million and $10 million deals to bring in Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their Florida based American football franchise. Winning the Champions League has a much higher net windfall then winning the Super Bowl. But this has not stopped the Glazers from spending United’s profits on Buccaneer’s success.
Football Club or Bank?
Until the Glazer family sells this club there is no chance that any coach will be given a fair crack of the whip. Undoubtedly, the way this team is being run would indicate that the Glazers intend on selling this club. Unfortunately for the fans, it is unlikely that will happen until after the pandemic. Until then they will continue to treat United like the revolving credit line that they have repeatedly taken out against the club.
This situation forces Ole to build on a very young team with little experience at winning trophies. At an average age of 24, Ole either needs a few more years to get these players to their elite level, or he needs more investment into the squad. He is very unlikely to get the reinvestment, as United are essentially cash poor. Only time will tell if he is given the opportunities required to continue building on his improvements so far.
Credit Where Credit is Due
Ole deserves a lot of credit for how much he has transformed this team after the Mourinho shit-show. Under Jose players seemed so terrified of making a mistake that they didn’t take any risks. Any attacking player worth his salt will tell you that you need to take risks to score. With Jose in charge, we seemed to lack a cutting edge. This is not to say that Ole has managed to instill that cutting edge, but he has embraced his players and encourages them take calculated risks. This team is definitely on Ole’s side, whereas they seemed to be planning a mutiny under Mourinho.
Under Ole, Martial, Rashford, Greenwood, Shaw, Williams, Henderson, Dan James, Fred and McTominay have all improved drastically and have become standout players. Wan-Bissaka, Maguire and Fernandes have all be purchased under Ole and have created a huge impact. Cavani has shown he can be a great mentor to younger strikers. Had it not been for the pandemic and his accused racial slur, Cavani might stay beyond this season. Amad and Donny also look to be extremely promising players for the next five years or more.
Give Youth a Chance
The youth set up has improved drastically. It hasn’t been since Sir Alex was in charge that we have really implemented youth team graduates into the first team. The United youth program is famous for it’s past graduates. Over the decades our youth academy has birthed the likes of the Neville brothers, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Duncan Edwards, Bill Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best, Mark Hughes and Marcus Rashford MBE.
Breaking into the current set up are the likes Williams, Garner and Greenwood. Looking only a deeper into the current youth set up, Ole has prospects like Hannibal, Shoretire, Hugill, Galbraith, Laird and Levitt. All whom have to potential to go and be top players.
This is Where We Stand
The Glazers continue to handicap Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by not investing in the team properly. For now he has to continue to get the best out of the players he has. Should this team finish in second in the Premier League and win the Europa League they would still be exceeding expectations. We can’t forget that Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea have all under performed this year. To expect more from this team is simply wishful thinking.
There are still a lot of ‘what if’s’ surrounding this team. What if COVID hadn’t condensed the season and prevented us from a preseason? Would things be different had the Glazers invested properly? What if Matt Judge and Ed Woodward had not approved absurd contracts for the like of Sanchez or Phil Jones et al. Would Pogba be more focused if his agent kept his mouth shut? Could a director of football have stopped us from missing out on Haaland for $8 million three years ago?
As fans, we should also keep in mind the following:
Sir Alex Ferguson took four years to win his first trophy at United. He took more than six years to win his first Premier League. In that time agents had far less power and demanded a smaller slice of the transfer fee. The rules of the game demanded different characteristics from payers and managers. At the time players were bought and sold less frequently for less money. None of our current squad is in the echelon of Rooney, Ronaldo, Keane, Giggs, Scholes, Van Persie, Van Nistelrooy, Best, Charlton, Or Law.
Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Worth the Wait?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to manage so much more than any of us give him credit for. For now I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, until he has had a fair shot at creating his team. With a proper pre-season, the right incoming transfers, continued promotion of youth, and COVID no longer a limiting factor we can get a better look at what Ole can bring to the table.
For now, his progress has afforded him the opportunity to ride out this tough time in footballing history. Only hindsight will tell if he belongs in the annals of United’s greatest managers. At the moment he is doing a markedly better job than Moyes, van Gaal and Mourhino. At the very least I would rather this team be in the hands of a former legend who knows how a Manchester United player needs to perform.
Ole might seem a little soft, but it also seems to all be an act. He protects his players and criticizes performances, that’s a play right out of Sir Alex’s book. Being a United legend and a student of Sir Alex have given him the tools to succeed at United. The overall team improvements and change in mentality at the club are evidence that Ole has the ability to win trophies with this team.
At the moment I can’t say that I’m thrilled with where United are, but I blame the Glazers and Woodward. I also believe that Ole has made enough of the improvements that the fans have been crying out for. He has also managed to make these improvements under extremely tough circumstances. Perhaps with Woodward out of the club things will improve. I believe we should all come together to back the manager for at least another season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves that much to see what he can really do when all the odds are not stacked against him.
Glory, Glory Man United