Thursday 19 September 2019

David Kelly: 'Solskjaer a lost leader who must look to the future for answers - not the past'

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

When Alex Ferguson took over as Manchester United manager, he knew he had to erase the past to write a new future.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would do well to remember this as he struggles to establish his authority beneath the benevolent watch of his erstwhile boss. One of the Scot's first acts was to bar members of the press from the relaxed, open sessions that used to take place at the Cliff training ground.

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Thus evicted, the press were unable to witness Ferguson's second major intervention, as he began the process which would remove the principal members of United's notorious drinking club.

History informs that Ferguson's iron-rod style did not produce immediate results but history also confirms that by the time it did, the Cliff had become subsumed by Carrington, a 21st-century symbol of a global giant.

Solskjaer arrived almost 10 years after the manager and was there for the pinnacle of achievement, the 1999 treble, United triumphantly ending one decade as they would begin the next. Those triumphs, and the manager who inspired them, are consigned to the history books now.

Solskjaer, the latest figure hastily recruited in an attempt to revive the club's glorious past, seems intent on wallowing in it as he tries to thread his way through a difficult present.

Last spring, before a city derby that has become, with every passing year, a mark of one club's decline viewed through the prism of the other's remarkable success, Solskjaer (right) took his indulgence of nostalgia to new depths of desperation.

By returning to the Cliff, he sought to infuse a sense of humility in a squad roundly accused of rampant egotism - it didn't work, and a run of defeats extended to eight in ten, ruining all the optimism that had attended his appointment as caretaker.

A crisis meeting ensued with Ed Woodward, that most redoubtable figure of football acumen, as United once more attempted to figure out just where they were going.

Solskjaer's reliance on the past had already revealed the answer - backwards.

Four months later, and having witnessed the comedic penalty spot summit on Monday night which arguably cost his side two points, it appears little has changed.

The supreme irony, of course, was that the farce which erupted before Paul Pogba maintained his erring mis-judgement from the penalty spot was precisely a rejection of that stern authority Solskjaer seeks to absorb from the man he still calls "the gaffer".

Ferguson would never have stood for it, that Solskjaer did reveals as much about the current man's weakness as it does about the Scot's formidable strength.

And his response to what happened was even more worrying in its revelation of the Norwegian's weakness. "I've absolutely no problem with players walking up and saying, 'This is mine'."

He might just as well have said he has no problem with players walking all over him, for that is effectively what ceding control in this manner has done.

There is nothing wrong with having two penalty-takers who have been prepared privately for such an eventuality, but there is something wrong when the apparent plan subsides into a fiasco.

Some might say if he avoids a repetition of this incident, it might prove that the manager is capable of flexing his muscles.

Instead, it will serve to do exactly the opposite, revealing him to be weak-spirited in a situation that demands the firm authority he once so admired. Having boldly declared that there would be a player cull at the end of last season, nothing happened.

When it did - Romelu Lukaku, soon Alexis Sanchez - it has been quite obvious that Solskjaer was not in control of these events, appearing willing to cave in at every opportunity.

In fact, by granting so many under-performers of recent seasons extended contracts, he utterly undermined any authority he might have hoped to develop at the club.

It also hampered the attempts to sign the midfielders he needed if his side were to show any signs of progress.

Solskjaer looks like a lost leader and he needs to find himself - quickly. And the sooner he stops looking to the past for answers, the better.

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