Solskjaer to get Man United job full-time? Maybe if he wins the Champions League
On the face of it, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is making life easy for Manchester United’s owners, the Glazer family, and the Old Trafford chief executive Ed Woodward.
After all, things have been anything but easy since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May 2013. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all tried, and failed, to bring the good times back to the club.
Van Gaal and Mourinho won trophies, and United can still claim to have won more silverware over the past five years than Sunday’s opponents, Tottenham Hotspur, and Premier League leaders Liverpool, who have both won nothing during the post-Ferguson era.
But despite lifting the FA Cup, League Cup and Europe League, United have not been United since Ferguson left and none of his full-time successors ever looked or felt like the right fit for a club which demands bold, attacking football from its players and managers.
So you can only imagine how relieved the Glazers and Woodward must feel right now to see caretaker-manager Solskjaer breathing new life into the team on the back of five straight victories since replacing the sacked Mourinho last month.
Appointing Solskjaer until the end of the season has proven to be a masterstroke. Not only has he kick-started an under-performing team and revived hopes of a top-four finish, the Norwegian has also restored the feel-good factor in and around the club by delivering the attacking, adventurous football that the supporters crave.
He has put a smile back on the faces of the previously unhappy Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, handed Marcus Rashford the opportunities that Mourinho often appeared reluctant to provide and, all in all, Solskjaer has people at Old Trafford believing again.
So much so that there is now a growing sense that Solskjaer has put himself in pole position to secure the job of United’s manager on a permanent basis.
But there is always a caveat, and here it comes — what if the romantic notion of Solskjaer taking charge is flawed and based on nothing more than a fleeting honeymoon period?
Handing Solskjaer the keys to the manager’s office might feel like the easy option at this moment in time, and the right one, but such a crucial decision cannot be taken on the basis of wins against teams United would be expected to beat and a subsequent clamour on social media for the 45-year-old to be given the job.
The United hierarchy, sources told ESPN FC earlier this week, remain determined to go through a thorough process in order to find their next permanent manager, but Solskjaer has given them a problem, nonetheless.
Right now, he is giving them a good problem because he has banished the air of discord from the club and given them time to identify a new manager. But if Solskjaer and his team continue to win, that good problem becomes a difficult one because of the risks of falling into the trap of allowing emotion to play a part in the recruitment process.
Tactics win big football matches, not momentum, and we have yet to see whether the Solskjaer effect is based purely on the latter or if he has the tactical brain to sustain his start and elevate United to a higher level.
Sunday’s trip to Spurs is the first real test of Solskjaer’s credentials, and the fixture has been given added spice with opposite number Mauricio Pochettino — ranked seventh among the world’s managers in the ESPN FC 100 — the leading candidate to replace Mourinho in the summer.
If Solskjaer can steer United to victory against Spurs and then oversee a similarly positive result against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16, then the clamour for him to be given the job on a permanent basis will only grow stronger. But he is nowhere near to having the necessary qualifications for the job right now, and the Glazers and Woodward must ignore the emotional pull of handing Solskjaer the job at the end of the season.
If he wins the FA Cup and Champions League, then clearly, he will have passed any test of his readiness and moved ahead of the likes of Pochettino and Massimiliano Allegri. If such a feat would be comparable to scaling Everest for Solskjaer, he has only just reached base camp by guiding United to five successive wins against Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading.
He has made a good start, but nothing more than that. Just like any United manager, he should be judged on what he does against the big teams in the biggest competitions. Solskjaer has been a much-needed comfort blanket for United and their supporters up until now, but the hard work really begins against Spurs this weekend. This is when the reality check arrives.