Not yet four months into his tenure at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will no longer be the manager of the club after a last-ditch effort to save the job failed to solve the vexing issue of European footballing policy.
The result, a 4-2 loss to Premier League rivals Huddersfield Town on Wednesday night, could be seen as an embarrassing loss of a season’s worth of preparation for the summer break, if not for the 27-year-old Solskjaer’s record with 13 wins and nine draws from his 21 games in charge.
The departure of Solskjaer is not surprising, given the hardline stance employed by Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward in such situations, but the timing may be surprising. Rumors had circulated throughout the week that executive vice chairman Ed Woodward was putting a stop to Solskjaer’s contract negotiations, yet the announcement seems sudden given the mess the team has found itself in during his tenure.
Woodward’s hardline of a stance towards the 63-year-old Jose Mourinho last May, when he signed Solskjaer to a caretaker appointment until the end of the season, played a major role in Mourinho’s eventual dismissal.
More specifically, Woodward was effectively acting as the chief scout of the club when the club let Mourinho go, seen to have stripped him of too much authority over potential manager candidates during the selection process, helping the eventual appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The move of Mourinho as well was designed to send a message to the board and to fans alike that the club was not being taken seriously anymore, and such a strategy is more likely to work if Mourinho’s successor is also perceived as lacking Mourinho’s skill set.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s strategy, however, had worked for several weeks, with United’s win over Crystal Palace over the weekend providing a brief but hopeful glimpse into a brighter future.
A win over struggling Huddersfield would have highlighted Solskjaer’s ability to guide United to a Champions League spot in the final weeks of the season, and would have appeased disgruntled United fans who have been critical of Mourinho for months.
Instead, Solskjaer has finished the season with 13 wins, nine draws and five losses from his 21 games, a seemingly poor record, but one which would have set United’s single-season record under Sir Alex Ferguson’s watch.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United will now look to replace him at the end of the season, while the club will seek a replacement for Mourinho at the end of the season.
Though speculation began long before Solskjaer was announced as manager, the decision marks a stunning turn of events in terms of the manager merry-go-round at the club.
The news comes just weeks after United’s chief executive Ed Woodward accepted the salary that was handed to Sam Allardyce, with the former Sunderland manager not even in a short-term contract.
Allardyce was given a two-year, £5 million ($6.7 million) contract with a transfer budget of £75 million to add new faces to the squad and resume a tough defence of the title and Premier League title.
Unsurprisingly, Allardyce failed to make significant gains in the transfer market and was fired after failing to make any positive impact on United’s form.
As for Mourinho, the decision to start the season with former players Eric Bailly, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial on the books may have played a part in his eventual departure.
With injuries to Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Phil Jones forcing the manager to play Marcos Rojo instead of Victor Lindelof, Mourinho’s playing style may have negatively affected the team’s performance, according to former United captain Roy Keane.
“He could have stayed true to his principles and played Rojo because Lindelof has been out,” Keane said on RTE Sport. “I know defensively it wasn’t there, but your defensive record is everything and I just think it’s something he could have controlled in terms of getting the win.”
Firing Solskjaer may come as a surprise to some, but not after 10-time FA Cup winner Sir Alex Ferguson has come to recognize the way he has managed the team’s season so far.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will now look to push United beyond the FA Cup next weekend, with the Red Devils facing Tottenham in their last-eight matchup at Wembley Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Follow Lewis Tomlinson on Twitter @lewismom