Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first interview as Manchester United boss hits right notes but reality could hit harder at Cardiff
- New caretaker manager brings smiles back with positive first impression
- United are still a shambles and need more than a quick fix
After the turbulent end of Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United, it was all too easy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to lift the gloom in his first interview back at Old Trafford.
United’s new caretaker manager said the right things and ticked all the boxes.
“We will get the players enjoying football and looking forward to seeing the supporters again,” the club’s legendary striker told MUTV.
United fans sing about Solskjaer making them happy when skies are grey, and his warm smiles on camera were a panacea to those who have had to watch Mourinho grumble, growl and scowl during press conferences this season.
Mourinho was far from “The Special One” and he most definitely was not “The Happy One” during his two and a half seasons at United.
Solskjaer, who spent 11 years with the club and scored the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final that clinched the treble for Alex Ferguson, has already cheered the place up.
“The manager came in smiling,” United’s Ashley Young said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him unless he’s smiling. He’s one of those guys that always has a smile on his face.
“He’s a man who knows the club inside out. He’s a legend who won a number of trophies here. I’m sure he and Mike Phelan will make their philosophy and the way they’ll play clear for us.”
Phelan, Ferguson’s former assistant, adds to the feel-good nostalgia for the fans and players.
And that’s all well and good, but what if United go out at Cardiff in the Premier League on Saturday, put in a turgid display and are beaten?
The new-found optimism could dissipate just as soon as it was created, and then United fans’ worst fear – that it wasn’t just Mourinho to blame for all of the club’s ills – could quickly be realised.
It should be remembered Solskjaer’s fellow United legend Ryan Giggs was in the same position for the final four games of the 2013-14 season.
Watch: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaks to MUTV
Giggs stepped in to steady the ship after David Moyes’ disastrous reign was ended nine months into a six-year contract.
The Welshman talked the same talk, about the need to champion United’s traditions of playing youth, of attacking football, and the players certainly looked fired up in thumping Norwich City 4-0 in his first game.
But then reality set in a week later when all the same faults that had been visible under Moyes reared their heads again, and United lost at home to Sunderland 1-0.
Solskjaer inherits a disjointed, top-heavy squad.
United’s injury- and error-prone centre backs won’t magically find form and fitness overnight, and Ed Woodward is unlikely to be able to find the quality reinforcements needed in the January transfer window.
That means Solskjaer will have to make do with what he’s got.
“Whatever has happened, has happened so from now everyone starts on a clean slate,” Solskjaer said.
Solskjaer said in the summer, while he was still at Norwegian side Molde, that if he were United manager he would build a team around Paul Pogba – and finding a system that plays to the French World Cup winning midfielder’s strengths could be his best bet.
Brazilian midfielders Andreas Pereira and Fred – a £50 million (US$63.2 million, HK$495 million) summer signing who has yet to justify that price tag – could also come in from the cold.
Solskjaer essentially gets a free hit with six months in charge and lowered expectations. So why not shake things up and take a risk on the club’s academy players?
“[Ferguson] had a saying and I will never forget it: ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’,” Solskjaer said. “I really hope that I can be a part of that tradition and there are some great youngsters coming through.”
Soslkjaer watched Monday’s FA Youth Cup win against Chelsea where Mason Greenwood, 17, scored a superb hat-trick, while the club’s young forwards Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes, and midfielder James Garner have also been touted as future prospects.
Solskjaer should take a page out of his “teacher” Ferguson’s book, and throw some of the academy players in at the deep end over Christmas.
He knows that what really puts smiles on faces at Old Trafford is the sight of young prospects making that step up and shining for the first team.
“I have been trying with Nicky [Butt] a couple of times to get players on loan to Molde, so yes I have kept an eye on the academy,” Solskjaer said.
“I think that link between the academy and the first team is crucial, it’s because we bring players and develop players in a certain way and then they know when they get to the first team this is how we want to play.”
The “Babyfaced Assassin” earned his nickname for being a ruthless striker who could come off the bench and score, because he analysed the opposition defences throughout the game instead of just watching the ball.
If he can’t quickly detect the glaring weaknesses that have been stifling United, and instead sticks with Mourinho’s expensive flops like Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic, then Solskjaer won’t be turning any frowns upside down.