Why Manchester United appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: The inside story of hiring the new manager
It is often the little things that make a manager the right fit for a particular club and so it was with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Beating the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea away from home or orchestrating a remarkable comeback victory in Paris are never likely to hurt a caretaker’s cause, of course.
But then the simple stuff - like insisting that players wear suits when travelling to games, sign programmes for supporters on their way into the ground and do up their top buttons - is all part of the job too.
These small but significant gestures, many of them only witnessed behind the scenes at Old Trafford and Carrington, built up gradually over the course of the last 99 days to make a lasting, winning impression.
When combined with an impressive set of results - 32 points from a possible 39 won in the Premier League and an unlikely place in the Champions League quarter-finals - these little things helped convince Manchester United they had already found their next manager.
Though there was always a chance that Solskjaer could make his caretaker spell permanent from the outset, he was not seriously considered as a candidate upon his arrival from Molde in December.
His brief was simply to heal the wounds opened by Jose Mourinho’s fractious final six months in charge. As a personable but forthright former player who could command immediate respect and instil discipline, it was believed he was up to the task.
There was also confidence that Solskjaer would offer more opportunities to academy players and encourage a more adventurous style of play, but could he meet greatest demand this club makes of its managers: to consistently win football matches?
It turns out he could. Whereas Mourinho was victorious in just 10 of his final 24 matches in charge, torching all around him in the process, Solskjaer managed to win 14 of the 19 games in his caretaker spell while putting out the flames.
There were the defeats, inevitably. Solskjaer was on the wrong side of a result three times during his three-month caretaker spell in charge but on each occasion, he held his hands up, shared in the blame and was honest about his side’s shortcomings.
Within the club, the sense all the while was that - win or lose - the Norwegian was reminding them of the standards which United once always aspired to meet and demonstrating how to be the club of old again.
The groundswell of positivity around Old Trafford over the last three months left United with little choice but to appoint Solskjaer and comparisons with Chelsea’s hiring of Roberto di Matteo seven years ago are inevitable.
Di Matteo won the west London club’s first Champions League title after less than three months in charge and still only lasted until the November of the following season. Solskjaer, as impressive as his trial spell was, has never achieved anything as substantial.
But it is understood that United do not feel as though their hand has been forced and, in any case, would be happy to have a decision made for them by a manager who has demonstrated a deep understanding of the club as well as a knack of winning games.
That his appointment has been confirmed before the end of the season, when much is still left to be decided and when United’s could feasibly end up trophyless and outside the top four, only speaks to the club’s confidence in the decision.
Solskjaer, a risk-taker with his top button done up, has shown himself to be in chime with United’s culture and capable of success on the pitch.
There was therefore no single victory or moment that turned him from aspiring caretaker to full-time manager, just a series of big results, small gestures and the gradual emergence of a natural fit.
Independent News Service