E.do you feel like you were Since the final notes in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s long farewell sound themselves, statements are made and stories are massaged, it is worth withdrawing from all the background noise. For all the dead energy and ultimate humiliations of the Solskjær era, this was also an uncomfortable note in modern English football history. What exactly just happened
Solskjær to Manchester United was an odd, doomed appointment from the start, leading into an odd, doomed half-life as United’s sixth-longest post-war manager. It will certainly be a relief for everyone involved that it has now been concluded, not least for Solskjær, who seemed increasingly weakened by his appearances on the sidelines – the sadness, the confusing eyes – an ancient sailor who was at the bridge of this zombified ship was tied up.
And yet there is no sense of joy here, no real feeling of a new beginning. The least skilled manager in United modern history has been fired from the job, with a soft landing of a sizeable payoff. But make no mistake, the wrong person is leaving the building.
It goes without saying that removing a single sad-looking Norwegian won’t solve United’s problems. It goes without saying that Ole was never actually behind the wheel, or if he was, it was one of those little plastic devices strapped to the seat behind the driver. Peep your horn. Wiggle the wheel. Make a press conference on Zoom.
But it still has to be repeated because this ownership model, the brand sweating, the commercialization of the present is a bummer, not just for Manchester United and not just for football, but for so many other aspects of our common culture.
For now it is necessary to offer the usual list of the Solskjær era. No doubt the next few days will bring us the inside story of his firing. The real question is how did he get the job in the first place.
It didn’t and still doesn’t make any sporting sense. Only three people have been truly successful as managers of Manchester United: Ernest Mangnall, whose reign coincided with that of King Edward VII; and Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson, geniuses through the roof who took years of struggle to master these treacherous waters.
Solskjær had and does not have anything on his résumé to qualify him for the position at hand. Had he parachuted as an unknown Scandinavian – which he actually was – his media friends would have screamed for his release from day one, appalled by this perversion of nature.
Instead, we have this: three years of drift and a strangely pointless history of the tape. Only nine men in Manchester United’s 143-year history have run the club longer. Nobody managed so many games in the post-war years without winning a trophy.
Solskjær got a team that finished second the previous season. A total of £ 300 million net was spent on players during its time. United currently has four of the league’s five highest-paid players. And yet this Solskjær team never had the feeling that they were developing a clear style of play.
For a while, a bloody counterattack worked well enough to give the illusion of progress. In between there were doomed experiments of playing “on the forefoot”, tossing a group of attacking players into the same cauldron in the hope that some kind of alchemy could arise.
It’s rare to see coaching so obviously bad at this level, a team that plays in atomized units, a setup in which poor, willing, overexposed Fred is able to remain constantly present while Donny van de Beek, a high-end but difficult footballer, is just too much.
There were good sayings. Third in his first full season, 23 points behind Liverpool, was followed by second in the year of Covid isolation when Solskjær’s unusually simple leadership style – based on mood, emotion and smiling encouragement – seemed to fit the fear of the time.
But in the end it was like a strange cultural experiment to see your United. What if you just don’t fire the manager? What if football turns into a fish-out-of-water comedy: Eddie Murphy heads the World Bank, Steve Martin is the US President, Solskjær is an elite manager?
It seems like you end up like this, a team full of high class players losing 5-0 and 4-1 and 4-2 staggering around the ring like a half-done knockout artist, gassed and holding on, everyone Hope put on this single golden punch.
No doubt, even in these gruesome last few weeks, some of the United marketing machine will have enjoyed this circus: the dominance of social media, the unofficial brand ambassadors spicing up the story, the entire organization that burns Solskjær for firewood. But these weekly beatings were unsustainable. Football management takes parts out of your body even in the best of times. Solskjær was bullied by opposing fans and fell a little apart during his TV appearances. The job had become a paid weekly humiliation.
In the end, the Glazers made fools of us all. Fans who loved Solskjær as a player, who loved the idea that he was successful, have exploited their most sensitive allegiances. Gary Neville, the nation’s best football expert and usually so clear in his mind, has confessed to repeating the very blatant falsehood that there is something dishonorable and dishonorable about claiming that anyone, anywhere, should ever stop to lead a soccer team.
There is a serious point behind this – and also a warning. The Glazers will continue to take money from English football, monetize the past to pay for the present, put stock price above silver, and fool those who still view this as an irresistible sports romance.
Why should that matter? First, because the sums of money are huge, every single cent of which comes from the pockets of supporters of the club, the ties of which are non-negotiable.
And secondly, it is important to preserve the sharp edges and the robustness of competitive sport. The rejection of the European Super League, a machine that is supposed to turn top sport into a safe income toy for club owners, was very proud.
And yet, zoom out and the Solskjær era comes from the same spot, an interlude in United history where the goal was simply to exist profitably – in this case by installing a pliable figurehead, by loosening up the Brand, through the re-signing of a 36 -year-old legend and the construction of a kind of wax museum in the recent past. How will they take the thing you love from under your feet and visibly sell it back to you? It seems so.
Right now there is at least one opportunity for an immediate boost. With the right plan, with a little more than DNA and shirt power, passion and memories, this team can still finish in the top four. Players who have drifted, under-trained, and poorly used can still thrive.
Jadon Sancho, for example, is a brilliant but raw footballer who needs a brilliant coach to complete him. Who knows how good Mason Greenwood can get?
We may find out. At the moment, Solskjær’s lintel, enacted by the same people who hired Solskjær and then presided over the Solskjær Age, still feels like a strange new beginning.