As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left Old Trafford following the 5-0 humiliation by Liverpool which he called his “darkest day” as Manchester United manager, he stopped by a large group of fans. For 10 minutes he signed autographs and shirts and there was not a murmur of discontent; not a single call for him to go or an angry criticism of the debacle that had just unfolded.
It was the same at Victoria station in the city centre. Fans walked along the concourse singing “Ole’s at the wheel” without a hint of sarcasm, even though Liverpool supporters had goaded them with that chant during the game.
And this is part of the problem for United. Are they actually brave enough to sack Solskjaer? Or, to put it bluntly, given his status and all-round good-guy image, who wants to be the person who shoots Bambi?
Who will be the executive or owner who kills a little the dreams of the United fans that Solskjaer can still bring back the glory days he was so much a vivid part of as a player?
Getting rid of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or even Jose Mourinho was relatively easy, even if the latter two sackings were drawn out and painful.
They were never embedded in United’s history. It was just business. But leaving Solskjaer floundering in place appears negligent.
United will push back against that. They held talks yesterday, they have discussed the depth of this crisis and senior sources say they are not afraid to sack the manager if that is decided even if there is an undoubted nervousness as to who will replace him and what happens next.
United need to remember who they employed. When Solskjaer surprisingly took over in December 2018 he was the caretaker until the end of the season.
Results improved dramatically, with former team-mates such as Gary Neville fawningly joked that a statue should be erected, and suddenly he was named the permanent manager on a three-year contract. But this was never an A-list manager that United had attracted.
Neither does it help that it is far from clear who would make the decision on Solskjaer’s future.
At United’s three biggest rivals it is obvious what would happen if a change of manager had to occur.
At Manchester City, the chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, is close to owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is hands on and liaises directly with chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain.
At Liverpool, Mike Gordon is the president of the Fenway Sports Group and is the Americans’ man on the ground. Gordon is at the top of the decision-making process at Anfield and was behind the hiring of Jurgen Klopp.
The other owners, with John W Henry the public face and Tom Werner the chairman, also stay across what is happening, while sporting director Michael Edwards runs modelling and data analysis.
At Chelsea, it is even more streamlined, with director Marina Granovskaia running the club on behalf of Roman Abramovich, especially the football operation.
The reporting lines; the lines of responsibility; the decision-making process is clear and defined. At United?
It would appear to be similar with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward reporting to the Glazer family, namely Avram and Joel.
Except Woodward is expected to go at the end of this year, having fallen on his sword over the European Super League fiasco.
He appears set to be replaced by managing director Richard Arnold who, like Woodward, has a commercial/financial background.
Does Woodward want his final act to be sacking Solskjaer? Does Arnold want that to be his first?
There is also John Murtough, relatively newly promoted to football director, and Darren Fletcher, who is United’s technical director and inexperienced given the 37-year-old former player has never done anything like this before.
United appear to do things by committee, which dilutes responsibility and is reflected on the pitch in a team who lack identity.
So who is asking the challenging questions? And who would like to be challenged themselves if a compliant manager such as Solskjaer is replaced by someone far more abrasive and competent such as Antonio Conte?
United had Mourinho, albeit on a downward curve, and did not enjoy the combative approach.
Let us cut to the chase: it is all far too cosy.
As for the Glazers, it is a moot point as to what success looks like for them as they give the impression that finishing in the top four in the Premier League and bringing in the guaranteed Champions League revenue is good enough.
With that in mind, they may look at the Premier League table and conclude that, although United are seventh, they are just three points off fourth place while Solskjaer remains on course to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League.
The Glazers are currently in the United Arab Emirates, where they tried but failed to buy an Indian Premier League franchise yesterday. So where is their focus?
They may also nudge any United executive brave enough to suggest there should be a change with a reminder that those at the club, led by Woodward, recommended the new three-year deal for Solskjaer in the summer which, it must be presumed, will be expensive to pay off.
United are often referred to by other clubs as the most under-coached team in the league and that is damning. The problem is there does not appear to be anyone at Old Trafford capable of recognising that and acting upon it.
Instead they cling on in blind faith that Solskjaer is “the one”. But none of their rivals would have permitted this situation to occur in the first place.
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