Is Solskjaer the man to turn Man United into title contenders once more?
It’s an uncomfortable reality for Man United supporters that they haven’t won a Premier League title since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. The club’s most successful manager lifted the trophy no fewer than 13 times during his illustrious spell at Old Trafford.
Ferguson’s departure and retirement from management left a huge void to fill, and it happened against a changing landscape at the top of the Premier League. Clubs like Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and a resurgent Liverpool had evolved from being top-six contenders, to genuine title hopefuls.
In this article, we will examine the possible route back for United following seven years in the Premier League wilderness.
The post-Fergie era begins
United aimed to maintain their stranglehold on the trophy with the appointment of David Moyes, who’d earned plaudits for his work in charge of Everton. The Scot had a short tenure at the club however, with Louis van Gaal replacing him in 2014.
The Dutch veteran was unable to placate a frustrated board and fanbase, and made way for Jose Mourinho in 2016. The former Chelsea boss was also unable to deliver a League title during his spell with England’s most successful club of the last 30 years.
The Reds have tasted success in the FA Cup, League Cup – and the Europa League under Mourinho – since Ferguson’s departure. But they lost significant ground on the League’s front-runners. In four of the last six seasons, United have achieved tallies of less than 70 points, highlighting the club’s shortcomings.
The return of the baby-faced assassin
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford having already previously managed in the Premier League. His spell in charge of Cardiff City was short-lived and ill-fated, with the Bluebirds suffering relegation under his watch.
The Norwegian would return home, where he would coach Molde. The same team he left to join Manchester United as a player back in 1996. But the Stretford End would come calling once more 22 years later – to replace Mourinho in the managerial hot seat.
Solskjaer arrived at the club just before Christmas in 2018/19. His task at the club was to steady the ship, this after an abject start to the campaign.
He was initially filling the role on a caretaker basis, with speculation suggesting that chief executive Ed Woodward would seek to appoint a bigger name at the end of the campaign.
But the prodigal son’s return was so positive that the United board were left with little option but to hand him the job permanently, with Solskjaer having led the team to 14 wins from 19 League outings since his arrival.
Man Utd have won three straight league games for the first time since Solskjaer won his first six games in charge 🔥— Goal (@goal) July 4, 2020
Ole's back at the wheel 🚗 pic.twitter.com/KtplNtk4Zq
A brighter future?
With half a season under his belt, Solskjaer was now tasked with turning United into title contenders. But a crowded Premier League betting picture has United at 1/3 odds when it comes to finishing in the top four this season. The Reds ranked adrift of rivals, including Liverpool and Manchester City. While the manager himself played down talk of a title challenge.
Away from the league table, Solskjaer was quietly bringing about a change in culture at the club. A changed that he hoped would deliver in the longer term. The strategy included getting the best out of under-performing stars like Paul Pogba, cutting members of the squad who weren’t delivering, and making the right additions in the transfer market.
There haven’t been wholesale changes, but the arrival of players like Bruno Fernandes has had a major impact. He has helped to boost the team’s attacking threat while also seeing others on the field rediscover top form.
And though United have once again found themselves adrift of the title race this season, there are positive signs that the men from Old Trafford could once again challenge for English football’s most sought-after prize.