When Manchester United hired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim coach in December 2018, the club did so against a backdrop of toxicity.
Jose Mourinho had gradually ground everybody at Manchester United down with his negativity following the 2018 FA Cup final defeat.
Mourinho’s angst was immediately noticeable in pre-season, fuelled by below-par transfer activity from the club at a time his squad needed to be backed with investment.
So the former manager ended up taking it out on his players, sometimes publicly, at other moments behind the scenes. As results suffered, United eventually had enough and sacked him.
Solskjaer was like a breath of fresh air, with his positivity instantly uniting a frustrated squad of players.
It has been a bumpy ride at times, but Solskjaer is not going to change. There is no chance of him turning into Mourinho, and publicly criticising one of his players.
Speaking days after David de Gea’s error away at Tottenham, Solskjaer backed a goalkeeper who has been derided and written off over the past few days by all and sundry.
Solskjaer told the club website: “David is the best goalkeeper in the world. He’s conceded two goals in the last seven games he’s played for us.
“There are a few games against City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton. Two goals in seven games.
“He’s been on a run of not conceding goals. The two goals? The Everton one is a freak one and this one, maybe he can save it, maybe he can’t save it.
“He makes great saves and wins games for us and I still think he’s the best goalkeeper in the world. He’s not making errors that you see time and time again.”
Strong relationship with his players
Solskjaer’s statement about De Gea being the best in the world may not quite be true. Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak for one will take issue with it.
De Gea has in the past been world class. He is battling to get back to that level, and still sometimes shows it, like in the away win over City in the Carabao Cup second leg.
The point is, Solskjaer sees absolutely no value in criticising or feeding into the rampant negativity over one of his players. He is looking to reset the agenda.
This will inspire the dressing room, with the players knowing they have a manager who is willing to go out and fight for them publicly.
It is so different to Mourinho’s tired act, which is repeating itself even now at Tottenham, where he criticised the quality of his bench on Friday night.
Solskjaer’s positivity can grate at times. It did earlier in the season amid a poor run of results, yet you know behind the scenes he will be taking a more forceful tone in trying to put things right.
He wants to work with De Gea to get the goalkeeper back to his best. He clearly believes in him.
That belief can go a long way, and the positivity reflects the values of Manchester United. Solskjaer’s ability to unite the dressing room and manage in an uplifting manner was one of the reasons he was hired in the first place.
It still may end with a trophy or two in his first full season in charge. That would reset the agenda for those looking to write him off.
Mourinho will say his approach is tried and tested, but it didn’t work at Old Trafford, and there is a feeling around football that he has lost his way.
Solskjaer is trying to achieve some of what his predecessor has elsewhere, but he is going to continue to do it his way, and he won’t divert from his chosen path.
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