Manchester United dominated English soccer under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson but since his retirement from the dugout they’ve failed to hit the heights their fans have become accustomed to with ‘minor' trophies simply papering over the cracks.
Now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, an ex-player under Fergie, has the reigns and it’s critical that the United board give him time to see his project through. The managers that have arrived at Old Trafford since 2013 have struggled but it’s not fair to place blame at the gaffer’s door – not fully at least.
The Red Devils hierarchy have failed to provide consistent direction with David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho all very different – but more than competent – managers. This has meant a significant philosophy change and squad re-build when the manager eventually moves on. Solskjaer, despite being a different type of manager again, is at least one who suits the ‘Manchester United way'.
Results have been indifferent under the Norwegian. When he first arrived as Mourinho’s replacement in December performances improved dramatically with United unbeaten in 12 games on the spin but the good run stuttered when a permanent deal was agreed. Solskjaer has a long-term plan and his approach during the Summer has gone some way to backing it up.
An area where United have come unstuck since their golden era is in the transfer market with Alexis Sanchez, who has recently joined Inter Milan on loan, being a money-spinning example. The club have thrown big fees and wages at even bigger names in the pure hope that talented individuals will form a winning team but, sadly, that’s often not the case.
Solskjaer played during a period when the Stretford End had the ‘Class of 92’ to cheer on along with the likes of Roy Keane marshalling the midfield and he manages with the principles of that team close to his thoughts. That side was full of talent but, more importantly they were a team with the right mentality. It won’t be a quick process to bring that back to United but that’s where Solskjaer’s journey is heading – if the board stick it out!
The summer saw Romelu Lukaku, a striker who is capable of scoring goals at any level, move on as he didn’t fit the style of play Solskjaer wanted and Sanchez was moved on – albeit temporarily, for now at least – as his form and ability to integrate into the squad came under scrutiny. Some pundits and fans have questioned that choice but the motives behind the decisions became clear when moves for Christian Eriksen and on them because the players weren’t fully committed to Solskjaer’s ‘project’ despite the widespread agreement that more quality was required.
Some quality arrived in the window, but the quantity was well short of what the fan base were expecting. Those who did arrive have shown themselves to be solid additions though. Harry Maguire has provided a leadership at the back and Aaron Wan-Bissaka has made a solid start to life in Manchester.
The pick of the trio though has been Daniel James. James, who has pace that would rival that of a stallion in the races, signed from Swansea City for £15m. Despite only having a handful of professional appearances to his name, he’s already proven Solskjaer’s scouting of him to be a good move with three goals.
United will not challenge for the title – league or cup – this year and their early season results suggest the top four might be a big ask. Still, with time – and backing on the incoming and outgoing transfers – Solskjaer could build something special for United once again. If the board decide to twist at the first sign of trouble, as they have before, then it could be a long time before they’re the powerhouse of English soccer once more. The last time in 2013 and since then they are struggling to get hand on one. So it will be interesting to see how they proceed with this one.