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Paul Hayward: 'Experienced Phelan is likely to hold the real power behind the Solskjaer throne at Old Trafford'



Mike Phelan. Photo: Clint Hughes/PA

Mike Phelan. Photo: Clint Hughes/PA

Mike Phelan. Photo: Clint Hughes/PA

Mike Phelan is expected to be the more influential presence in Manchester United's caretaker set-up, with a greater knowledge of coaching and man-management than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose role may turn out to be more symbolic.

With Phelan's return from exile, United have corrected David Moyes's first big mistake as United manager.

When he assumed command from Alex Ferguson in 2013, Moyes removed Rene Meulensteen, Phelan and Eric Steele from the coaching staff and brought in Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods, as well as appointing Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville.

The former Everton manager was advised not to fire Phelan, who won a Premier League medal as a United player in 1992-93 and had worked on the coaching side since 1999, rising to become Ferguson's assistant and confidante.

For many at Old Trafford, Phelan's return marks the righting of a wrong that removed the best hope for continuity.

Already there are signs that Phelan will be involved not only in training-ground work but managing the first-team squad, though Solskjaer is expected to pick the team and will be the front-of-house leader.

As an idol to United's fans, and a hero of the 1999 Champions League miracle in Barcelona, Solskjaer has enough credit to see him through a five-month caretaker spell before a new full-time manager is appointed.

But Phelan, who lacks Solskjaer's fame, has the superior qualifications, and reconnects today's demoralised side to the dominant Ferguson era.

His CV covers all bases, from an England cap (just one, against Italy in 1989) to a place in a United squad where he had to fight Bryan Robson and Paul Ince for a starting place, and was later forced out of the reckoning by the so-called Class of '92.

Solskjaer, who left Manchester in 2011 (he managed the reserves for three years), is often said to possess "a deep knowledge of the club", but today's United is unrecognisable from seven years ago.

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The training ground he walked into on Wednesday morning contains few faces he would recognise.

Nor does Solskjaer's ignominious spell at Cardiff lend him the authority to impose himself on a new generation of United players, led by Paul Pogba, a recent World Cup winner.

Phelan, though, will help Solskjaer navigate these obstacles. He has served at United as reserve and first-team coach and assistant manager from 2008-2013, earning promotion when Carlos Queiroz left.

He has experience of dealing with superstars and maintaining harmony.

He was Ferguson's right-hand man. For example, in 2002, he accompanied the United manager to the German Cup final to scout Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels.

After Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney clashed at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Rooney texted Ferguson to suggest the two conduct a joint-interview to show they were still friends.

Ferguson asked Phelan for his opinion and Phelan thought it would look contrived, so Ferguson ruled against it. Contrary to popular belief, Ferguson liked to be challenged by his No 2s, and Phelan, like Queiroz, was always willing to express a view.

Since Moyes fired him, Phelan has been first-team coach at Norwich and won a Premier League manager-of-the-month award at Hull before the team fell away and he joined a growing list of managers who have been replaced by Marco Silva.

He drifted into media work but was appointed sporting director of Central Coast Mariners in Australia before Mourinho's dismissal prompted his repatriation to United.

His record as a No 1 in management and coaching fell short of making him a candidate for the post Solskjaer now holds, but he has the look of a strong back-seat driver.

Solskjaer, despite appearances, is not being asked to stabilise the club on his own. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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