Rewind a year, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the toast of Old Trafford.
Brought in to steady the ship after the tumultuous final months of the Jose Mourinho era, the Norwegian immediately took Manchester United on a stellar unbeaten run in the Premier League and navigated them through to the Champions League quarter-finals with a dramatic victory over Paris Saint-Germain.
By early March, Solskjaer seemed poised to lead the Red Devils back into Europe’s premier club competition for another season, and was given the managerial role full-time later that month.
However, a run of just two league wins from the final nine fixtures left United in sixth place, and in the unique (and awkward) position of having hired a man who was originally a distant outside bet for the top job.
Obviously that’s not Solskjaer’s fault, and the decision to give him the job in March is symptomatic of the kind of haphazard thinking that seems to permeate every corner of the Manchester club these days.
In the summer, they paid over the odds for both Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the £50 million deal for the latter particularly exposing the failings of United’s scouting system given that just a year earlier he would have been worth barely a fraction of that price.
This season started brightly enough with a 4-0 win over Chelsea, but even that thumping result carried with it warning signs; Solskjaer’s men were lucky not to be a few goals behind by the time Marcus Rashford’s penalty gave them the lead, before picking off Frank Lampard’s inexperienced side on the break in the second period.
Since then, their form has tailed away, and while we’ve touched on the deeper issues around United, fans are having to face up to the notion that the icon who scored that famous injury-time winner to clinch the Champions League in 1999 just doesn’t look up to the job.
Solskjaer can point to the amount of time Jurgen Klopp was given to build his Liverpool juggernaut, but the truth is that even from the early matches of the German’s reign at Anfield you could see patterns of play developing, the famous gegenpress still in its infancy, still inconsistent in producing results, but nonetheless recognisable.
And that’s the crux of Solskjaer’s problem; that it’s pretty much impossible to glean what his style is.
There are elements of a counter-attacking side in there, but they’re neither solid enough at the back, nor precise enough in transition to commit fully to that idea.
Yes, the front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James is brimming with pace, but they are (with the exception of Rashford) pretty hit and miss at this stage.
Indeed, Rashford’s importance to the team has never been clearer than in his recent absence, given how reliant United are on him producing a moment of quality to dig them out of trouble.
And it’s not just on the pitch that Solskjaer is coming under fire; his press conferences have become increasingly bizarre and desperate as he searches for positives in another wretched campaign.
It’s a stark contrast to Mourinho’s frequent criticism of individuals, but no less damaging to the image of the club, particularly with social media parody accounts and memes springing up within moments of the cameras turning off.
In an attempt to embody the anti-Jose, Solskjaer comes across as a soft touch, delusional when it comes to his side’s standing in the English game at present, and overly concerned with squad morale.
It now seems unlikely that United will finish in the top four this term, and if Mauricio Pochettino is still unattached come the summer then they should do everything in their power to lure him to the Theatre of Dreams.
Sadly for Solskjaer, although he’s hardly the only problem at the club, he’s the easiest to fix.
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