The Disgraceful End to Ole’s Time at Manchester United

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At the end of the day, the predominant emotion was resignation. Some managerial tenures end in squabbles, while others end in rage and recrimination. With sadness, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at Manchester United comes to an end. Solskjaer admitted his side had been “outfought,” that they had not been mentally prepared for the game, and that “we’re embarrassed losing the way we do” after Man United’s 4-1 defeat at Watford, but he remained defiant until the final question. When asked, “How low do you feel right now?” he let out a long sigh and appeared broken. He eventually replied, “Very.”

When José Mourinho stepped down three years ago, Solskjaer was the ideal caretaker manager. Mourinho left a toxic legacy, and Solskjaer, a club legend, and a good man, was the ideal person to clean it up. He was remarkably successful at it, which tempted the United board to give him the job full-time, demonstrating its usual lack of football judgment.

All of this has been complicated this season by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, a desperate and misguided move by a board obsessed with nostalgia and the notion that United is primarily a content producer rather than a football club. Former players, including Sir Alex Ferguson, insisted it was unthinkable that Ronaldo could be allowed to leave Manchester City, and so United is saddled with a player who scores late goals in abundance—which, if nothing else, has kept United’s Champions League campaign alive—but whose lack of pressing unbalances the entire squad and places enormous pressure on the back of midfield, where United is weakest.

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With the additions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Raphael Varane, the pressure on Solskjaer to deliver a title challenge this season had also increased. However, the Norwegian leaves with the club still without a trophy since Mourinho lifted the Europa League trophy in 2017.  And this is a reflection of a board that is increasingly characterized by inertia. By failing to act, it has missed out on Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, and, perhaps most egregiously, Antonio Conte. United’s regretful statement about Solskjaer’s departure read like a team that desperately needed him and is now looking for a replacement.

United, which has appointed Michael Carrick as interim manager while looking for a long-term replacement, now faces an awkward path forward, and this squad, which is unbalanced and downtrodden despite the investment, combined with a board that blunders from one crisis to the next, means there is a massive rebuilding job ahead.

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