Chris Smalling admits that confidence at Manchester United “dipped” under Jose Mourinho and believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a “no-brainer” to stay on as boss after delivering a reversal in fortune.
The Red Devils endured a testing start to the 2018-19 campaign on the back of a frustrating summer transfer window, with reports of internal rifts and unhappy star men providing an unfortunate backdrop to disappointing performances on the field.
Matters came to a head after a humbling 3-1 defeat at arch-rivals Liverpool, with a forgettable performance at Anfield spelling the end for Mourinho as he was relieved of his duties and replaced by interim coach Solskjaer.
The Norwegian oversaw an immediate upturn in form, going 11 games unbeaten at the start of his reign before being brought back down to earth in a Champions League last-16 encounter with Paris Saint-Germain.
Smalling believes a member of United’s 1999 Treble-winning squad should now be appointed on a permanent basis, telling The Times of goings on at Old Trafford: “Considering how we are playing since Ole’s been in, it would be a no-brainer if he was given the job [long-term].
“We’d definitely be happy. But we just need to play our games.
“Ole said one of the main reasons he was able to come back was because of his connection to the club.
“He’s seen it through everything. I definitely see what we had with Sir Alex [Ferguson] through Ole.
“He came in with, really, the one target of bringing belief back into players.
“We were going through a tough patch [under Mourinho]. Confidence had dipped.
“He wanted to put an arm round some players, and just go, ‘You’re good players, there’s a reason Manchester United bought you, I’m backing you, go and flourish’.”
That approach has delivered rich rewards, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford delivering the consistency expected of them after being freed of the shackles of a former manager.
United have forced their way into the Premier League’s top four on the back of an almost faultless sequence of results, with Champions League qualification in their hands with 12 games to go.
They do have work to do in order to keep their European dreams alive, but Solskjaer has boldly declared that “mountains are there to be climbed” as the Red Devils prepare to enter a potentially decisive run of games against Chelsea, Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Southampton, PSG and Arsenal and Manchester City.