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Paul Hayward: ‘The audition is over – now get ready for scrutiny and signings’

Paul Hayward: ‘The audition is over – now get ready for scrutiny and signings’

Solskjaer is no longer protected by ‘interim’ label and must prepare to be judged by the same standards as rivals Guardiola and Klopp


'Solskjaer has to be careful not to let his arrival make players feel their jobs are safe for the long-term.' Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
‘Solskjaer has to be careful not to let his arrival make players feel their jobs are safe for the long-term.’ Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the old band back together and – everyone was happy – but now comes the hard part of making music that can compete with Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs.

Football clubs have identities that defy rewriting. Three times Manchester United veered away from who and what they are, but returned to their essence. Solskjaer’s appointment as full-time manager reconnects past and future.



Rejuvenated: Getting Marcus Rashford to play with confidence again has been one of Solskjaer's successes. Photo: Adam Davy/PA WireRejuvenated: Getting Marcus Rashford to play with confidence again has been one of Solskjaer's successes. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Rejuvenated: Getting Marcus Rashford to play with confidence again has been one of Solskjaer’s successes. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

From the Evertonisation of United under David Moyes to the ponderous passing of the Louis van Gaal era and Jose Mourinho’s joyless pragmatism, United departed from the template that made Old Trafford a fortress for enterprise.

Those three managers were not solely to blame. Van Gaal and Mourinho were never likely to slavishly adhere to the old religion. They were big names with their own ideas. But neither could impose a formula to successfully replace the positivity and spirit of the Alex Ferguson era.

Wasted

Six years were wasted in that corporate misadventure.

Manchester City raced ahead and Liverpool hired Jurgen Klopp to begin a transformation. Spurs progressed under Mauricio Pochettino.

United, meanwhile, were reduced to chasers of the pack while a baffling array of mismatched signings came and went.

Radamel Falcao (injured), Angel Di Maria (wrong league, wrong time) and Alexis Sanchez (over the hill) were all acquisitions symptomatic of a transfer policy conducted on the hoof and distorted by commercial obsessions.

United got lucky when bringing Solskjaer and Mike Phelan back to stabilise a chaotically-assembled squad. They were buying short-term calm.

Several members of the 1999 treble-winning generation might have achieved the same cooling effect.

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But the change in mood – and results – has been sufficiently pronounced for United’s directors to think an inexperienced legend with a strong backroom team is a better bet than an off-the-peg proven coach.

Many of the solutions Solskjaer has come up with were obvious. Lift the Mourinho cloud. Get the team going forward again. Re-energise Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Tighten up the defence. Draw on the wisdom and aura of Ferguson. Bring ‘the Freds’ in from the margins. Have everybody contributing. And, for God’s sake, have fun.

Phase one has run its course, and recent defeats by Wolves and Arsenal may show that Solskjaer has drawn all the improvement he can from a poorly-assembled squad. Another concern is the generosity of some new contracts.

Re-signing Phil Jones until 2023 raised eyebrows. Solskjaer has to be careful not to let his arrival make players feel their jobs are safe for the long-term.

Eight straight wins were a remarkable riposte to Mourinho’s moroseness. Equally they were always leading to a point where United would have to look at their squad and make ruthless decisions about the next stage.

No longer protected by the “interim” label, or by his popularity with players and fans, Solskjaer is now competing on equal terms with Pep Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino. The audition is over.

By implication United have abandoned their interest in Pochettino – for now – which places fresh pressure on Solskjaer to vindicate that decision.

Until yesterday he was trying to earn the full-time job. From now on his task is to hang on to it.

The nostalgia around his appointment will count for less and less as his tactical decisions are examined and the need to rebuild the squad tests his judgment in the transfer market.

But many United fans will prefer this to another famous hired gun coming in.

They feel they have their club back, their team, and can approach Old Trafford with a bounce in their step.

They see hardcore United people in the dug-out and a side who go out to assail the opposition.

Six years without that optimism was long enough. The ending of United’s wilderness years offers no guarantee of a quick return to the summit but at least the climb will be enjoyable.

If this is an appointment based on emotion as much as logic, it does have the merit of being true to what United were before they threw their soul overboard.

Telegraph.co.uk


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