Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows a Manchester United win at Spurs could land him permanent job at Mauricio Pochettino’s expense
- Tottenham boss Pochettino touted as United’s No 1 long-term managerial target
- Win at Wembley and Solskjaer can show Old Trafford hierarchy they need look no further
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer it’s simple at Wembley on Sunday: beat Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham and he can stake his biggest claim yet to be given the permanent manager’s job at Manchester United.
The former United striker took up the reins last month until the end of the season and has dissolved the gloom of Jose Mourinho’s final days with five wins from five games and smiles restored to the faces of the players and fans.
But the spectre of Pochettino stills looms large over Solskjaer at Old Trafford, with the Argentine reportedly still the United hierarchy’s No 1 choice to take over long-term.
“He’s done a very good job,” Solskjaer said of the Spurs boss on Thursday.
“The speculation is there for a reason because he’s done well, but it’s not my job to rate different managers. My focus is on me and my team.”
A win at Spurs would also cut the gap to Pochettino’s side to seven points as the Norwegian continues to chase a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Four league wins in a row have left United six points off fourth-placed Chelsea, though they face their biggest test under Solskjaer on Sunday.
“We’ve had tests. Newcastle away is a test and the first game [at Cardiff] how everyone reacted is a test,” Solskjaer said.
“The first home game with the crowd is a test. Every single game you get tested, but this is against a top, top side. If we want to go closer and get past them, we need a good performance and a good result.
“You always adapt to any opposition,” Solskjaer said. “We are playing one of the best teams in the league and have to be aware of their strengths. But I have been brought up in a way but we need to attack teams that’s our strength as well ... going forward and attacking as a team.
“We won’t get as many chances to attack against this team as before so we’ve got to be ready when we got hold of the ball and play well and use it because Wembley is a decent-sized pitch.”
Gone are the dull, defensive tactics of the Mourinho era, replaced by the vibrant, attacking football United fans demand, and Solskjaer feels his men are another step closer to playing the way he wants after their intense break in Dubai.
“The last five games haven’t been too bad but there is always things to work on,” he added.
“Dubai was very good. We had four good days of training. We got a few principles down, they worked hard and I think they enjoyed working hard.”
Tottenham are considered title contenders and a win for United would send a statement – to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and United’s owners, the Glazer family, just as much as the club’s rivals.
The next two months are likely to define Solskjaer’s tenure, and decide his chances for the job, with fixtures against Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League to come.
Navigate those without any heavy defeats and Solskjaer will advance his cause – progression over the French champions to the quarter-finals in Europe would virtually seal the deal.
But the real test for United’s interim manager starts now. Lose at Wembley and he may have to resign himself to seeing the man in the other dugout get the gig.
Pochettino is doing all the right things – the 1-0 League Cup semi-final first leg win against Chelsea at home moved him a step closer to claiming that elusive first trophy. Winning silverware is a criteria some United fans feel Pochettino needs to fulfil before being considered for the United job, given how disastrous David Moyes’ reign went.
The man who scored the winning goal for United in the 1999 Champions League final has something any the other pretender to Alex Ferguson’s throne doesn’t – that X-factor of already knowing the club inside out.
If Solskjaer can continue to harness that then United would be wise to keep him on, though he will know this is ultimately a results business.