On 19 December 2018, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as caretaker manager of Manchester United.
So with the Norwegian surpassing a full year at the wheel at Old Trafford, what has actually changed at United since the days of Jose Mourinho?
Solskjaer may have had the lowest profile of the managers in the post-Ferguson era, but he has arguably had the boldest blueprint.
Solskjaer’s first transfer business, while he was still in caretaker charge, was to offload Marouane Fellaini.
Fellaini was ultra-professional but he was clearly not a Manchester United player in terms of quality or style and if selling him had proved to be Solskjaer’s only contribution on the personnel side, he could have reflected on a job well done.
Romelu Lukaku’s technique is just not good enough for a club with United’s ambitions and offloading him was a fantastic call for the long-term health of the team; not replacing him was the major issue there, in the short term.
He has also recognised the need to move on expensive players who had no desire to be at United, from the headline-catching Alexis Sanchez to lesser lights such as Matteo Darmian.
More will likely follow and that might be where the bulk of United’s January work is done; Phil Jones looks the likeliest candidate.
Ander Herrera’s departure on a free transfer was the biggest misstep, but that one is on Ed Woodward. He somehow treated the squad’s most passionate member like a spare part to the extent he would not extend his contract, hamstringing Solskjaer further.
Less chaos, more identity
Mourinho needed to be sacked because his attitude, comments and approach were becoming toxic and the club reached a point of no return.
Solskjaer is managing United more smoothly and has shown signs of where he wants to take the club. By the end, Mourinho’s side dearly lacked identity.
He has brought a clear identity in terms of the players he wants to bring in; younger, quicker men who don’t need time to adjust to English football.
A counter-attacking style is clearly Solskjaer’s preferred method and that has produced eye-catching results against all of the other top six clubs, with Liverpool the only of those sides he has failed to beat in 2019.
Solskjaer needs to introduce a clearer strategy in possession against ‘lesser’ teams and deep blocks in 2020, but two big wins last week will likely buy him some time.
A experienced director of football would also help Solskjaer – Woodward promised one when Mourinho was sacked and there’s been no movement on that score yet.
But Solskjaer has moved United away from the Mourinho era – which turned noxious as the Portuguese became fixated on preserving his own reputation and shifted high-earners who don’t want to be there or fit the style.
The recent loss to Watford was a serious low note and our league form is way too inconsistent. Yet the pieces are in place for this team to kick on.
Here’s to another year of progress in 2020.
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