Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s remarkable work as caretaker manager has seen him rewarded with the Manchester United job on a permanent basis.
The 1999 treble-winner is starting a new chapter at Old Trafford and here Press Association Sport look at how he sealed the job.
Returning United to their roots
From Sir Matt Busby to Sir Alex Ferguson, United have been built on three key pillars: winning, attacking football and promoting youth. None of those characteristics were recognisable in United’s play by the end of Jose Mourinho’s reign. Background backbiting accompanied their on-field downturn, with Solskjaer helping to perform a cultural reset at the head of a team who had lost their way.
The shackles have come off as United attack in a way fans want, with senior figures understood to like the risk-taking, attacking football, as well as small things like incisive, first-time passing. Solskjaer, who spent time as United’s reserve team manager after his retirement as a player, has promoted youth as he did with former club Molde.
Academy graduates Mason Greenwood, James Garner and Tahith Chong have all made their debuts under his watch and have also learned the importance of discipline, which had been seeping away under Mourinho. Even little details like the return to players wearing club suits to games has been viewed positively by those on high.
Winning football matches
It sounds simple but winning is vital at United. Mourinho’s side were 11 points off the top four following the galling 3-1 loss at Liverpool, but they are back in the hunt after securing a scarcely believable 32 points out of 39. Solskjaer’s eight-game winning start to life at the helm broke Busby’s long-standing club record, while United made history when overcoming Paris St Germain.
No side in Champions League history had overcome a first-leg home loss of two or more goals to progress, but Solskjaer’s side overcame the odds – and a 10-strong list of absentees – to triumph 3-1 in the French capital, sealing progress and sparking wild celebrations.
Getting the players smiling again
When the players are chanting the manager’s name with as much gusto as the fans, you know you are on a winner. “Ole’s at the wheel” was sung so loud that you could hear it through the dressing room doors at the Parc des Princes. Romelu Lukaku concisely summed up the players’ feelings about the then caretaker manager by asking: “What else does he have to do?”
The group had been on its knees when Mourinho left but Solskjaer swiftly changed the toxic mood and rebuilt confidence, regularly reminding the players of the opportunity they have to make history and why United bought them in the first place.
That approach has helped previously marginalised Paul Pogba and stuttering Marcus Rashford to flourish, while training has become more fun and focused. Those inside the dressing room describe Solskjaer as a joy to play for, repeatedly pointing to the feel-good factor and his man management.
Understanding the role and the club
Solskjaer gets that being United manager is about more than picking the team. While Mourinho often cowed those around the club, the Norwegian is engaging, warm and open. Solskjaer also shows his appreciation to general staff, from appearing at their Christmas party to bringing a Norwegian chocolate bar to long-serving receptionist Kath Phipps on his return. Solskjaer’s positivity is also projected publicly.
Mourinho’s barbed comments in the media particularly alarmed the club from the summer onwards, but the 46-year-old speaks with optimism, insight and, where needed, honesty. For example, Solskjaer’s comments criticising the group after the FA Cup loss at Wolves impressed the club hierarchy as much as anything else.
Then there is the fact that the adopted Mancunian knows he is representing the club and the city. Solskjaer went to the ball organised by Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany to help tackle homelessness in Manchester in the same week that he paid respect to victims of the Munich air disaster on the 61st anniversary.
The full package
Solskjaer may have overseen Cardiff’s relegation between spells at Molde but the powers that be always thought there was a chance that the stop-gap solution could do well. Even so, the 46-year-old has exceeded expectations and that is why United chose to act now. The initial plan to assess candidates at the end of the season was ripped up as Solskjaer was their man, having done the right things on the field and away from it from the outset. There is a feeling within the club that this is the right fit for the culture and history – but Solskjaer knows there is much work to do.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is determined to get Manchester United back where they belong after being given his dream job on a permanent basis.
A move that seemed inevitable for weeks was made official on Thursday morning when it was confirmed the fans’ favourite had signed a three-year deal after an amazing spell as caretaker manager, with 14 wins in 19 games.
Initially seen as a capable stop-gap appointment following Jose Mourinho’s sacking, Solskjaer has implemented a return to winning attacking football, utilising exciting players and young talent.
It has put United back in the top-four hunt, while a remarkable win at Paris Saint-Germain has kept their Champions League dreams alive, and it is that work – rather than fan popularity – that has resulted in his full-time appointment.
Molde, the club Solskjaer was due to return to as manager in the summer, are understood to be receiving a six-figure sum as a goodwill gesture, while there is also the possibility of a future friendly with the Norwegian club and potential partnership cultivation.
With the drive to take United back to the top, 1999 treble hero Solskjaer said: “I’m just going to be myself as I’ve always been.
“I know the expectations of the club, the traditions of the club, the history we’ve got.
“Of course, I want to be successful, of course, I want to lift trophies, but I can’t wait to get onto the job, onto the challenge of improving this great bunch of players because it’s a squad full of potential.
“I worked with them – or we have as a staff – for three months and the improvement is there to be seen.
“We know there’s so much more to come from them, we can see so much more improvement.
“We see them every single day in training, the attitude has been fantastic, but we know we’ve got a way to go.
“But lifting a trophy, I am sure, will be a success.”
Predecessor Mourinho lifted the Europa League and EFL Cup in his first season, but cracks began to form after his second campaign as eye-catching summer comments were compounded by background back-biting.
The downturn in fortunes on the field and questions over discipline are also understood to have concerned the powers that be, with United great Solskjaer proving to be the perfect antidote.
Top four❓— Goal (@goal) March 28, 2019
Manchester United can still achieve plenty this season, says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 💪 pic.twitter.com/Gz9CBVGA8k
The 46-year-old, who represented the club as player and reserve team coach during his first spell, has helped reset the culture, with his man-management and approachable style impressing as much as results.
Small details like getting the players to wear suits to games have been viewed positively, along with a public persona in stark contrast to his predecessor.
“To lift the Premier League trophy again is what we expect, what we’re used to, what we have done so many times,” Solskjaer said.
“We can’t wait for too many years, but we have to take it step by step. It’s not like it’s going to happen overnight, catching 15, 16, 17 points or whatever we are behind the top teams now.”
The new United boss struck the right tone between short-term success and long-term requirements at his unveiling at Old Trafford, where his standard cheery manner came with a more authoritative edge.
Solskjaer spoke about his summer transfers plans, just as he has with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, and hopes to have signings in place before pre-season gets underway with a July trip to Australia.
Furthermore, he has opened the exit door to anyone that is not ready to fight each and every game for United.
“Players who get complacent never last at this club anyway,” he said. “Managers… I’m the same.
“I can’t rest on ‘Well, I’ve got a job’. That’s not me. We’re looking forward, we’ve got to work harder.
“I’ve got some targets. I would want a Man United team that’s one of the hardest working teams in the league, the fittest teams in the league and that will then bring results
“I think the players know my expectations on the future.”
For now, though, Solskjaer can enjoy the fruits of the last three months’ labour.
Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the first people he spoke to after being approached about the full-time role, while he intends to keep the same backroom team together as assistant Mike Phelan speaks to the club.
“I’ve dreamt about it and maybe visualised it myself, as I did as a player,” Solskjaer said of the job.
“We’ve had three months and now we’re here permanent.
“The players have responded fantastically to us coming in and we’re just looking forward to working together, to improve the players and the club.”
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It was the perfect scenario. The arrival of a friendly face in the shape of the smiling Solskjaer was sure to appease restless, frustrated fans, as well as a miserable squad of players on the verge, perhaps even in the throes of, mutiny under the mind-numbingly meandering and misguided tactics of Mourinho.
The club gave themselves a much-needed breather. Solskjaer would surely bring back the feel-good factor whatever the results and the powers that be had until the summer to plan properly for the future.
At the time it made absolute sense, but things have changed dramatically in the interim for the once interim boss.
Even the most optimistic of United fans would struggle to have dreamt up what has occurred since. Solskjaer has surpassed all expectations.
It started off slow. Five straight wins against Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading appeared a routine enough opening set of fixtures.
But factor in things like the 5-1 culling of Cardiff was the first time United had scored that many goals in a match since the final one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure – an unforgettable and highly dramatic 5-5 draw against West Brom on the final day of the 2012/13 season.
Last season, on Tyneside, an insipid United succumbed to a dismal 1-0 defeat to the Magpies – it was one of the worst performances of the Mourinho era. In October 2017, United were easily outfought against the tireless Terriers as Huddersfield earned a 2-1 league win.
Critics talked of more arduous tests to come, yet most United fans had trouble believing the perturbed Portuguese would have emerged from that initial period with five victories.
The bandwagon rolled on. Solskjaer and United passed their first big test as big six rivals Tottenham were beaten at Wembley – the presumed tactically inept Solskjaer earned praise, although the Teflon display of David De Gea also played a huge role in victory.
Critics were still not convinced, but then Brighton – a 3-2 defeat against the soaring Seagulls on the south coast may well have been Mourinho’s lowest ebb in the second game of the season – fell, before Arsenal were dismantled by another tactically impressive counter-attacking performance reminiscent of the old United in the FA Cup fourth round.
Three was the most amount of straight wins Mourinho’s men had mustered all season. The 3-1 win over the Gunners made it eight successive victories for Solskjaer – now firmly at the wheel.
Defeat finally arrived in his 12th game, first-half injuries to Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard saw United steer to a 2-0 home defeat against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their last 16 tie. It seemed the end of the European dream. Yet that result was effectively rendered inconsequential when Solskjaer enjoyed his finest hour to date – a 3-1 win in Paris unfathomably saw the new skipper navigate his side into the Champions League quarter-finals.
Up until that point, Solskjaer’s reign had provided plenty of positives. But Red Devils fans weren’t thinking too much about the future, they were just happy to be seeing adventurous, attacking football once again.
But a special night in the French capital as the rain teamed down suddenly evoked memories of old. This was the old United, the proper United.
Back-to-back defeats have since followed to Arsenal and Wolves – the Gunners subsequently leapfrogged United into the last Champions League spot while the Molineux loss saw them fail to reach the FA Cup semi-finals.
But United have acted and, as club football returns following the international break, United have their fourth permanent boss in five-and-a-half years.
Initial plans meant he wasn’t supposed to be in place for another three months, and that he would most likely be South American, not Scandinavian.
But 14 wins in 19 games is impressive and has seen United shift tact. It borders on miraculous given where United’s season was heading.
It gives the Norwegian a win rate of 73.7 per cent. To put that in context, he is the most successful manager in club history – and by some distance. Ferguson trails some way behind with a win percentage of 59.67.
Mourinho (58.33), Louis van Gaal (52.43) and David Moyes (52.94) all lie in his wake. His average points per game (2.46) is also far superior to Ferguson (2.16), Mourinho (1.89), Van Gaal (1.79), Ryan Giggs (1.75) and Moyes (1.68).
He is also way superior compared to his big six counterparts. Mauricio Pochettino’s win rate at Tottenham is 56.7 per cent, Jurgen Klopp’s at Liverpool 57.35 (although that stands significantly higher at 73.33 per cent in the Premier League this season), Unai Emery’s at Arsenal is 62.2, Maurizio Sarri 64 per cent at Chelsea with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola closest to Solskjaer with a 71.6 per cent (up to 80 in the league this season) win rate.
Of course, this needs to be put in context. All three of Solskjaer’s predecessors won at least one trophy – yes we have to include Moyes’ Community Shield triumph. Van Gaal departed having delivered a maiden FA Cup in 12 years. Mourinho lifted the Community Shield, League Cup and a maiden Europa League title.
Also, Solskjaer has managed just 19 games, Pochettino has led Spurs in 263. But in that run, the skeptics have largely been silenced.
Former United midfield lynchpin Paul Ince seemed unimpressed with United’s revival under Solskjaer when he said in January: “Anyone could have gone in and done what he has done, it wasn’t a hard thing to do to give those players freedom and improve the mood.
“I think I could have gone in at the time. They needed someone to rest the ship, I think I could have done that.”
His words now live in infamy as Solskjaer has cleared hurdle after impressive hurdle.
Whereas in December it was sensible to bring in a familiar face and give him the reins until the summer, appointing Solskjaer permanently is now what makes the most sense.
One of the major things United have been unforgivably guilty of in the years since Ferguson retired is inaction. Especially when it comes to transfers.
Moyes bungled the pursuits of Cesc Fabregas and Toni Kroos in his first months and was left to pay over the odds for Marouane Fellaini.
Van Gaal excited United fans by attracting Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria to Manchester – their acquisitions proved false dawns and they were shortly on their way.
Mourinho’s appointment almost guaranteed silverware and, although he won three trophies in two-and-a-half years, he failed to deliver the coveted Premier League title, or even lay a glove on City – the 19-point margin to runners-up United last term was the largest in Premier League history.
Ole’s at the wheel, congrats boss! 👊🏽👏🏽 pic.twitter.com/HPw3zCVv8j— Chris Smalling (@ChrisSmalling) 28 March 2019
Despite silverware, he was the manager who perhaps did most of the damage. A highest league finish since Ferguson left last season was thrown into complete disarray as he self-destructed. He seemed to dismiss a title challenge in pre-season and a lack of backing in the transfer market lit the fuse for an explosive collapse that blew up just before Christmas.
Wait until the summer and United would risk falling further behind the likes of City and Liverpool. Were an appointment to be made in June, he would already be playing catch up. Not to mention, perceived top target – Pochettino – would be both a laborious, costly and potentially fruitless pursuit.
The way the club has gone about it, Solskjaer now has every chance to continue his good work. While the possibility of silverware seems remote – another miracle must surely be conjured to get past Barcelona in the last eight of the Champions League – he has injected hope and belief back into this squad.
The players know now who will be in charge next season – which could prove pivotal in the future of talisman Paul Pogba, who despite being happier, remains a target for Real Madrid.
Solskjaer can now plan for pre-season, an assault on the transfer market and turning United into Premier League contenders next year instead of preparing for a return to the Eliteserien with Molde.
It’s a fearless and forthright statement of intent by United and it could reverse years of fragility and fumbling around.