The challenges facing Solskjaer at Man United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has landed his dream job as Manchester United manager after a whirlwind 24 hours, and it will take some time for the euphoria to fade.
Once it does, it will quickly dawn on him just how big a challenge he has taken on.
Much of the blame for United’s dismal season has been laid at the door of Jose Mourinho: The dreary tactics, the clashes with players, the needless barbs in media conferences.
But there are other factors at play, on and off the field, that Solskjaer will need to address once he gets his feet under the desk at United’s training ground at Carrington.
He’ll have to deal with them quickly, too. English soccer’s hectic festive period has arrived, meaning United has five games in 15 days — starting with a trip to Cardiff on Saturday — as the team looks to turn around its worst start to a league season in 28 years.
United’s marquee and most expensive player was virtually sidelined in the last days of Mourinho’s tenure. Paul Pogba spent more time on the bench than on the field, a waste of one of the world’s best midfield talents.
Solskjaer must find the role that most suits the French World Cup winner and get the best out of him.
In a preseason interview, Solskjaer said he would “absolutely” build United’s team around Pogba if he was manager. Solskjaer worked closely with Pogba when he was the club’s reserve-team manager during the Frenchman’s first spell at Old Trafford.
Seemingly assured of a place in the team, Pogba must show he deserves it. He appeared disinterested at times under Mourinho, with whom his relationship had broken down, and didn’t work hard enough. Expect Solskjaer to bring more joy and freedom into Pogba’s play, but can he handle the ego of one of the world’s most high-profile players?
RASHFORD OR LUKAKU?
In March, Solskjaer tweeted a picture of his television showing Marcus Rashford’s face on the screen. A United jersey was draped over the TV, with Rashford’s name on the back.
A sign of things to come?
As a former striker himself, Solskjaer should have some strong ideas about his preferred forward line at United and of most interest will be who he chooses to lead the attack out of Romelu Lukaku and Rashford.
Lukaku is a $90 million signing who looks short of confidence this season and is still to justify that huge price tag. Rashford is the 21-year-old who is still learning his craft but has shown to be United’s brightest spark in recent weeks.
It will be a bold call, but Solskjaer may choose to put his faith in Rashford especially given his previous links to United’s youth team.
SORT OUT DEFENSE
Another priority will fixing a defense that has conceded 29 goals in the league this season, one more than it managed the whole of the 2017-18 campaign.
Mourinho seemed to change the personnel in his backline every week — there didn’t appear to be a first-choice center-back pairing, for example. Maybe that partly explains why even David De Gea, United’s best player last season, has been making unusual errors.
Solskjaer has established a reputation for being a coach who talks up his players, telling them how good they are. At Molde, the Norwegian team he has left temporarily to move back to England, Solskjaer often compared his members of his squad to United’s players.
Maybe that kind of positivity is what is needed to lift the gloom around the United squad, which executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said needed to “unite” in the wake of Mourinho’s departure.
Few escaped criticism or the public wrath of Mourinho during his 2½ years in charge. Solskjaer appears more likely to put an arm around players’ shoulders, while still implementing the strict standards that he learned from his former manager at United, Alex Ferguson.
“Sir Alex taught me how not to become complacent and always keep the standards up,” Solskjaer has said. “Everything I know about managing top footballers I learned from him.”
The January transfer window is fast approaching, and Solskjaer needs to get assurances over whether United will make funds available to spend on new players or whether he has to stick with what he has.
Given he is only on a short-term deal, it is unlikely that Solskjaer will be given much influence on any signings — if United choose to make any.
Just last week, Mourinho said he was unaware if he would be backed in the January window, adding “it depends on the club.” He said he didn’t see United signing more than one player.
United spent almost 400 million pounds ($510 million) on players under Mourinho’s watch and he was denied the center back he craved in the offseason. That still appears to be the position the team needs strengthening next month.