Over-the-Top-Football: Digging more holes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking

The Premier League is about a third of the way finished, and about six managers have been fired, with the last one being Manchester United’s club legend, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His team was underperforming, and the argument for his sacking is convincing — Solskjaer won only three out of his last ten games in all competitions. Moreover, Manchester United lost abysmally to its rivals Liverpool and Manchester City. Both games also echoed a discouraging view of the future as both Liverpool and City outplayed and tactically asserted their dominance over Solskjaer’s team. Although it is difficult to defend a manager with such a record, the sacking is frustrating since Manchester United appeared to have finally gained a stable leadership and an attacking playing style.

Manchester United embodies success. With 20 league titles and a plethora of other competitive cup tournament victories, the club is the most decorated team in England. In addition to winning, most United fans have grown to expect a particular soccer brand. Some call it counter-attacking; others call it attacking football. Regardless, fans expect some form of dominance and raw desire from the team since that was the normality under Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.

Following Ferguson’s departure in 2013, the club has been attempting to recapture the old glory days as a triumphant yet entertaining team. Yet, the former three coaches appointed before Solskjaer lacked at least one of these attributes. Jose Mourinho achieved those standards during the 2016–17 season in terms of success. However, his team lacked a distinguishable attacking identity as the emphasis was placed on winning at all costs. On the other end of the spectrum, Louis van Gaal was the closest United has been to an attacking style of play. While some disliked his emphasis on possession, his side was very organized, and the team imposed its style of possession soccer over opponents. However, van Gaal’s side failed to materialize any attacking threat as the possession phase seldom turned into a goal-scoring opportunity.

After trials with different coaches, Solskjaer was appointed, bringing some stability and an attacking mindset to the club. During his three-year tenure, the club finished in Champions League qualification spots in back-to-back seasons. The team also appeared in the semi-finals of the Europa League, League Cup, and Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup), which some fans and pundits saw as a failure and a further reason to sack the manager. However, they all neglected to note that United comprised a young core. The goal of United was to develop for the future, and the negative response to the final defeats was out of order.

The decision to sack Solskjaer reveals modern football’s aversion to longevity, especially Manchester United. Due to its global reach and history, fans, pundits and the soccer world expect the club to perform at a standard incompatible with the team’s current level. There is no fast fix to becoming a successful team. Success within soccer involves undergoing tribulations in the developing years before becoming a winning team. In the case of United, the club fails to work through adversity within its development, and it chooses to sack coaches who are building an extensive groundwork for the future.

Although Manchester United has appointed Ralf Rangnick to lead the team until the end of the season, the club is still searching for Solskjaer’s long-term successor. Whoever the club chooses, I hope the manager stays for a while as the club needs longevity and stability to become successful.