Thursday 17 October 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Ole will never lead United back to summit'

Solskjaer may be loved at Old Trafford, but he resembles an interim head coach who needs to take charge by making some big decisions

Time running out: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks at his watch during Manchester United’s League Cup clash against Rochdale on Tuesday. Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Time running out: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks at his watch during Manchester United’s League Cup clash against Rochdale on Tuesday. Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Jamie Carragher

Amid all the analysis of Manchester United's enduring woes there is plenty of tiptoeing around one key question: is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the right manager to lead them back to the top?

Other factors are being emphasised - all justified - such as the role of chief executive Ed Woodward, transfer policy, the commitment of the players and contribution of the owners.

These issues are undoubtedly part of why United have fallen since the retirement of Alex Ferguson. But it does not change the fact that Solskjaer's record since taking the job permanently is poor. He has won just six of his 18 games in charge since being appointed full-time, losing eight.

Since knocking out PSG in last year's Champions League - the match which sealed Solskjaer's position - United are averaging less than a goal a game, scoring 18 in their last 20 fixtures. They have not won away in seven games.

Let's be honest. There is an understandable reluctance from United supporters, ex-players or anyone with a love or affiliation to the club to admit the coach is not performing at the required level for a club of such stature.

Detached

Solskjaer is not liked by United fans. He is loved. It is too difficult for many to bring themselves to point the finger at him in the way they did David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho, who were detached emotionally as they had no previous links to Old Trafford. When results were poor under them they were held accountable with little sympathy.

Even neutrals who saw Solskjaer's post-match interview after last week's defeat at West Ham could not help but feel sorry for him.

To me, Solskjaer still resembles an interim manager - in place to clear the dressing-room of expensive, under-performing names and put the spine of a team together for his successor. In my view he will never lead United to a Premier League title or win the Champions League because even if he achieves the goal of restoring stability, I believe he will be replaced by an established, elite coach.

It may not be in his nature, but that is why it has reached the stage where it would be wise of Solskjaer to help himself more by putting pressure on those above to make more signings during the January transfer window as he may not be in charge for another one. He should also take a firm decision by appointing Harry Maguire captain now.

He can be empowered to take such big decisions by his popularity. Such is the admiration for Solskjaer, when Woodward announced this week he will be given time there was no outpouring of discontent from United's fans as they believe the bigger problems lie elsewhere within the club.

I said on Sky on Sunday that no matter how bad things appear at United, at a club that size it is never quite as horrific as it seems. The infrastructure, global following and enduring lure of playing for and managing United means it can and will get better.

I say this from experience. As United struggled past Rochdale on penalties in midweek, I was reminded of the lowest point of my Liverpool career - watching a shadow side lose a shoot-out at home in the League Cup to Northampton.

In the same week in 2010 the club's owners were fighting off the genuine threat of administration. If you had told Liverpool supporters then that over the next nine years the club would appear in three European finals, win the Champions League and have the Fifa coach of the year in charge they would have said you were deluded.

What changed is Liverpool put the right men in position, not only on the training pitch, but at the top. The difference was an ownership group who not only had a vision but employed those who understood and stuck to it. Those who did not were swiftly moved on. Personnel changed, the plan did not.

United's vision has persistently changed, and there is still no clarity who is really directing it. Does Woodward act alone or take advice from the Glazer family? What policy do the Glazers believe in? People often say a good owner is one who keeps out of the footballing operations, letting those who know the game and transfer market get on with it.

This is not right. The owner must ensure impressive employees are carrying out their plans. All we have seen at United is a series of haphazard policies failing and being ripped up. Moyes will find all the current talk of a "long-term plan" familiar as he was under the impression he was starting one in 2013, until results and performances brought his tenure to an immediate end.

It was back to short-termism then.

When Woodward turned to Van Gaal, it was rather like he was stuck in a '90s time warp, turning to a coach who had peaked two decades earlier.

The pursuit of immediate success - a guaranteed winner - took Woodward to the door of Mourinho, even though the embodiment of United, Bobby Charlton, had earlier expressed concerns about him being the wrong fit.

In the meantime, United moved away from a development culture to embark on their galactico spending spree buying Angel Di Maria, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez - none of whom repaid substantial investment.

Solskjaer's successful stint as a caretaker - earning him a permanent position - brought us full circle, back in the "long-term plan" territory where Moyes thought he was six years ago. When Solskjaer started well, Woodward acted like a lovestruck teenager proposing marriage after a couple of enjoyable dates. It was obvious then that those players who threw Mourinho under the bus would be no different under Solskjaer. So it proved.

Witnessed

Most recently, we have witnessed Woodward acting like a United superfan, apparently meeting a series of club legends who might take on the position of sporting director. None of those mentioned have any experience in such an important role in modern football.

There are at least half-a-dozen genuinely outstanding sporting directors working in the Champions League who have transformed their clubs with a clever recruitment policy and clearly defined style of football from their academy upwards. That Woodward is not targeting those individuals suggests he wants to appoint someone with a name, not an individual who will challenge his sphere of influence.

Responsible owners would not tolerate this shambolic approach to running their club, leading to an obvious conclusion. The Glazers do not care because United are making money. They have become a commercial enterprise which just happens to be attached to a football club; Solskjaer's struggles are a symptom of this unhealthy contradiction at the club.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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