News Matches
Manchester United

Performances are poor, results are patchy but here's why Man Utd are still backing Solskjaer

08:00 BST 09/10/2021
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The next few weeks will be key for Man Utd and while some doubt Solskjaer's capabilities, the club continue to believe he's the right man for the job

If there were any doubts over Manchester United’s stance on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer then you only need to look at Mike Phelan’s new contract to understand that the club do not have plans to relieve the Norwegian of his duties.

It is understood both Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna, also key members of Solskjaer’s coaching staff, are in line for extensions in a move that shows the board’s support for the current structure.

December will mark the three-year anniversary since Solskjaer took over from the sacked Jose Mourinho. He has been tipped to be fired on many occasions since, perhaps more than any other manager in the Premier League, but he is still here.

Solskjaer has had to defend himself and United’s early season form; he was quizzed again last weekend, following the draw against Everton, over whether he believed he was the right man to take United forward.

“It is the same question that was asked after Wednesday night (2-1 v Villarreal in the Champions League). I’m very confident that we will get the best out of this squad,” he replied.

“A lot has happened this month and we’ve had Raphael [Varane] and Jadon [Sancho] with us since August, and Cristiano [Ronaldo] since September.

“We’ve got loads to work on and we need to improve, we know that and I know that, but I do believe in this group of players and the coaching staff that I’ve got. So, the short answer is yes.”

This time last year, Maurcio Pochettino was being tipped to replace him and he was forced to defend United’s poor start to the season, but each time there has been a crisis Solskjaer has managed to get his team out of it - often against the odds. 

Pulling results out of the bag when they are most needed has been a common theme of his three-year tenure. In the 2019-20 season it was almost cyclical; the team would go through a bad spell, have a difficult game and win it.

Think back to United drawing to Sheffield United, losing to Astana, drawing to Aston Villa but then going on to beat Tottenham at home and Manchester City away.

This next run of games could provide another example. United find themselves in a better position in the league than this time last year and are four points better off after seven games. But now comes the real test.

Leicester away, Liverpool at home, Tottenham away and Manchester City at home are their next four league fixtures. Lose and the pressure will increase. But win those games and that title talk will slowly return such is the nature of the job.

Solskjaer is under no illusion that he needs to deliver this season and it’s something fellow countryman John Arne Riise believes he can do.

“I think Solskjaer is doing well. He’s keeping his cool and focusing on the things he can do something about with the team. He doesn’t care so much about the press or what people write about him,” the former Liverpool man told Goal.

“One week he’s the worst manager in history, the next he’s making great subs and looking good again. He’s used to that. It’s a tough job, one of the biggest clubs in the world to manage. He’s always going to be under lots of pressure. He needs to win something, and that’s why I was disappointed that they went out of the League Cup so quickly.”

The Carabao Cup exit to West Ham was a big blow for Solskjaer. Not only is it the easiest of the four trophies available to win but the elimination also makes juggling the playing time of his squad players even more difficult.

He openly admits that it is not his job to keep all the players happy but life will become more difficult for the United manager come January if the likes of Donny van de Beek are pushing for an exit having seen barely any minutes.

With one trophy out of four already out of reach, and the realistic prospects in two other competitions to become clearer in the next four weeks, the pressure over this next run of games is immense.

“The nature of the job here is that if you’re the manager of Manchester United, you’re going to be under pressure,” former United defender Denis Irwin told Goal. “Ole goes into his third season having made some fantastic signings in the summer and I don’t think he’s under any illusions about what that means. As an ex-player who has played with him, we all desperately want him to succeed and think he’s the right man.”

The performances in recent weeks have been poor and there is no masking that. But the club believes the foundations he has put in place over the past three years, and the progress he has made, means there is no need to make rash decisions over a few bad results.

Sources say they will not get distracted by ‘hysteria’ on social media and there is still confidence in the direction the team is going.

“He’s been backed and been given good money and we’ve seen the progress that he’s made, but now he needs to kick on,” Dwight Yorke told Goal. “When you have the talent and the squad that we have, the expectations rise further and that’s understandable, especially when you look at the attacking line-up.

“We’ve got a fantastic goalkeeper and strength in the central defenders. I just think we have so much there. For us to be thinking that we can’t win the league or for people to be saying they’re not sure… that’s not the way my mentality would be if I was managing that football team right now.

“I think there is enough in that team to go and win the Premier League this season.”

The next month will be key if Solskjaer is to realise his league-winning dream, but even if it isn't a perfect sweep, he'll still have the backing of those above and around him.

As John Murtough, the club's football director, said: "We have a long-term strategy and confidence in the direction that we're going. We need to keep control, don't get carried away, don't deviate from our plan. Ole and the staff are very focused on that."