Manchester United were “unattractive” and had lost their fear factor under Jose Mourinho, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has cleaned up that mess to bring belief back to players and supporters, says Norman Whiteside.
The Red Devils took the decision to part with the Portuguese coach in December on the back of a humbling defeat to arch-rivals Liverpool which left them a long way adrift in the battle for top-four finishes.
A season which was in danger of collapsing has been salvaged by a familiar face, with Solskjaer having overseen five successive victories since being handed the reins on an interim basis.
Old Trafford legend Whiteside believes United have rediscovered their spark under the Norwegian, breaking the “shackles” that were holding them back under Mourinho.
He told The Independent: “People were leaving the ground early, they were so hard to watch. I’d never seen that at Old Trafford before. Even in the hospitality suites, where they pay top dollar, they’d just brush out past you.
“The results weren’t good, the football was unattractive, visiting teams no longer feared coming to Old Trafford. It couldn’t go on.”
Whiteside added on Solskjaer’s impact: “It’s the United style of play we know and love. It’s not just Ole’s results that have lifted the mood - it is the way he is getting them.
“United are a team going forward again with the crowd behind them. Players who looked inhibited and afraid under Jose have now thrown off whatever shackles were holding them back and are expressing themselves freely.
“Ole hasn’t exactly waved a magic wand. He’s simply reminded the players of their quality… that’s why you are in the team, go out and show it.
“I can’t pinpoint a single reason why it all went wrong under Jose. Just as good players don’t become bad players overnight, neither do managers.
“He won three trophies in his first season, including the Europa League, a hard one to achieve, and a year and a half later, it all turns to dust and he is gone. It is hard to fathom.
“What I would say is that even when he was successful and winning trophies, for United and elsewhere, his style of play and methods were never the United way.
“Communication, I feel, was a big problem. A gulf seemed to develop between him and his players, Paul Pogba in particular. A lot of fans won’t have been enamoured by Pogba and his social media persona but the problems between player and manager can’t have been all one way.
“Something wasn’t right in the dressing room, whispers were starting to find their way into the media, it obviously wasn’t a happy camp and that translated into performances on the pitch.
“The whole player-manager relationship seemed to break down under Jose. Look at the way he habitually bawled out young players like Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford. That was bound to affect their confidence.
“I saw players reluctant to express themselves for fear of a rollicking from the touchline. In the end, there was a chasm between him and the players. Anyone who understands United knew he had to go.
“To be honest, he wasn’t my choice for the job in the first place. I would like to have seen Pep Guardiola given the job but that isn’t going to happen now.”
Having helped to turn the tide, Solskjaer is now staking a claim to being handed the United reins on a permanent basis.
Whiteside said of possible appointment calls: “If Ole keeps winning and adds a trophy or two, he will have presented a strong case the club will find hard to ignore.
“But I do believe he is keeping the seat warm for Mauricio Pochettino, who seems to have been identified as the long-term target - that is if he and his club Spurs can be persuaded. There are no guarantees on that score.”