Opinion

The Debate: Solskjaer the worst Man United manager in 40 years?

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have the adoration of Manchester United fans near and far, but has his time as manager masked them from an ugly 40-year truth?

The baby-faced assassin was a popular appointment long before his clinical caretaker stint secured a three-year deal in 2019.

Boasting a surname synonymous with the club’s historic 1999 treble-winning season, Solskjaer returned to Old Trafford with security his predecessors were not afforded.

With the wheels in motion for a storied return to UEFA Champions League football, Solskjaer’s permanency instead saw United slip to sixth off the back of just two victories from their final 10 games of the 2018-19 season.

Such an end to the campaign left the club barely removed from where Jose Mourinho had left them and, one year later, it appears nothing has changed.

Man United had moved up to fifth place before this season’s coronavirus-enforced suspension, in the midst of a four-team race for fourth place.

And though the Red Devils’ resurgence had eased pressure on the Norwegian, only Dave Sexton’s time at the helm in 1980 offers worse results.

With managerial legends Ron Atkinson and, later, Sir Alex Ferguson setting the standard supporters have since come to expect, Solskjaer’s current run statistically trails United’s previous three full-time counterparts.

Not even David Moyes’ ill-fated sole season as Ferguson’s successor sits below Solskjaer’s time in charge.

As for Louis van Gaal and the aforementioned Mourinho, both managers brought significant silverware back to Old Trafford, as well as second place in 2018.

Van Gaal tasted FA Cup success at the end of his two seasons in 2016, having returned the club to continental football, and ushered in youngsters Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.

The Dutchman’s downfall, however, revolved around poor big-money signings – most notably Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay – as well as a possession-based philosophy that failed to fire.

Mourinho’s arrival, meanwhile, improved United remarkably, with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic helping to secure the Community Shield, EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League in 2017.

Significant transfer activity yielded a more impressive run at the Premier League title the following year, though it was not a close race as cross-town rivals Man City secured success with a record-breaking season.

True to form, the Portuguese’s painful frustrations inevitably took shape midway through his third season, but not before posting an impressive 58.33% win rate from his 144 matches in charge.

It was this that Solskjaer aimed to amend, but amend it he has not, with his efforts thus far failing to match that of even Moyes.

The Scot served just 10 months in charge, the shortest for a Man United manager in 82 years, and was sacked to much fanfare in 2014.

Despite clinching the Community Shield and reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Moyes’ Premier League exploits left much to be desired.

Following Ferguson’s title-winning season left expectations at an unattainable high during what should have been viewed as a transitional period.

Club greats David Beckham and Denis Law both backed Moyes in the midst of mistreatment, heeding his call for more time and funds to rebuild the squad.

But it wasn’t to be, with the 57-year-old bowing out after 51 games and a 52.94% win rate.

By comparison, Solskjaer has produced almost identical results across all domestic and continental competitions, and yet he remains in favour with supporters.

His 52.63% win rate across 76 games would be lower still had United not returned to form last month, which leaves us with one viable verdict.

Verdict

Put simply, Solskjaer's stint has been surveyed through rose-coloured glasses.

And though there remains little wrong with such a fond outlook on a past player, it must not exonerate them from criticism.

Solskjaer will forever be a Man United legend, but while fans rightly voice their displeasure at Ed Woodward and the Glazers, it must be admitted that their manager, too, forms part of their malaise.