Could any Manchester United manager, let alone under-fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, survive a worst-ever 5-0 home loss to rival Liverpool?
It appears so, as Solskjaer was at the helm on Tuesday for the club’s first training session after the debacle. Sources within the club have confirmed to Reuters that management has decided to keep the 48-year-old Norwegian at the helm for this Saturday’s Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur.
The backing from the club follows a tense day of handwringing on Monday when Man United supporters and club executives were grappling with the embarrassing aftermath of the 5-0 loss to Liverpool. The Manchester Evening News reported on Monday that at the time “the club hierarchy is giving serious consideration to dismissing Solskjaer before United’s next game.”
Solskjaer said after the Liverpool match that he still feels he’s the right man for the job, and he’s not about to step aside even though he called the defeat “rock bottom”:
“I have come too far, we have come too far as a group. We are too close to give up now,” Solskjaer told media. “The players will be low, but there’s loads of characters there. We know we are rock bottom, we can’t feel any worse than this. Let’s see where we take it.”
One report indicated that legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who coached Solskjaer at the club, showed up at training in a show of support for the embattled coach.
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) October 26, 2021
Sir Alex at the training ground apparently. Unless he’s coming back to coach them what’s the point? A rousing speech to get behind Ole but as soon as he leaves the circus will start up again
— Mark Goldbridge (@markgoldbridge) October 26, 2021
The case against Solskjaer
Despite a number of big signings this offseason, including Raphael Varane ($44 million paid to Real Madrid), Jadon Sancho ($93 million paid to Borussia Dortmund) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($16 million to Juventus), Manchester United has not played well this season, and even the wins haven’t been convincing.
MORE: How Cristiano Ronaldo escaped a red card vs. Liverpool
United is on a four-game winless streak in league play, which has dropped it to seventh place in the standings, eight points behind leaders Chelsea. The Red Devils have already been eliminated from the Carabao Cup (League Cup) and have needed to come from behind to win their last two home Champions League matches after opening the group stage with a shock loss to Swiss side Young Boys. The 5-0 loss to Liverpool was the low point of a challenging few weeks.
Solskjaer’s tactics and lineup selection have also been called into question, especially his decision to start the same team against Liverpool that was down 2-0 to Atalanta at halftime. United has suffered from a lack of organization and coordinated movements without the ball, and there are no clear patterns of play that show up in the attacking sequences, which have instead relied on moments of individual brilliance. The elite competition of the UEFA Champions League has exposed those failings with his team losing about half of the matches played in the competition during his tenure (7 of 13).
All this has led to public comments from his own players about tactics and gameplans, and that has led to reports that Solskjaer has lost “the trust of a number of players”:
▪️ Antonio Conte wants the Man Utd job
▪️ ‘Disbelief’ that Solskjaer picked the same team against Liverpool that had been taken apart defensively by Atalanta
▪️ Solskjaer no longer has the trust of a number of players
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) October 25, 2021
But there are still voices in the press, including some of his former Man United teammates, that make the case that Solskjaer needs more time and support from ownership. One report even blames the club’s American owners for maintaining low standards that have led to this crisis moment for the club.
Carra 🗣 “Manchester United need a better manager.”
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) October 25, 2021
Solskjaer’s Manchester United contract
After finishing in second place in the Premier League last season (12 points behind Manchester City) and leading Manchester United to the Europa League final (lost on penalties to Villarreal), Manchester United gave Solskjaer a new three-year contract in July that runs through 2024 with an option for an extra season. That would make parting ways with the Norwegian especially tough to stomach for management.
Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s Solskjaer who’s enjoyed the longest time at the helm and the most player investment:
|Ole Gunnar Solskjaer||Dec. 19, 2018||N/A||165||6th, 3rd, 2nd, 7th (current)||0|
|Jose Mourinho||May 27, 2016||Dec. 18, 2018||144||6th, 2nd, 6th (Dec. 2018)||3|
|Louis Van Gaal||July 16, 2014||May 23, 2016||103||4th & 5th||1|
|David Moyes||July 1, 2013||April 22, 2014||51||7th (April 2014)||1|
Who would become Man United manager?
There’s one primary candidate in the headlines in Italian Antonio Conte, who is coming off a league title-winning season with Inter Milan in Italy. He left the club in the summer after spending cuts resulted in a number of stars who were transferred away. He’s awaiting his next gig, though it has already leaked that he’s interested in the Man United job:
Conte has a reputation for getting the most out of his teams, especially in domestic league play, where he’s won five league titles with Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan. However, success on the European scene has proven elusive and the closest he came to continental silverware was the 2020 Europa League final lost to Sevilla.
But a potential Conte appointment is no slam dunk even though he would appear to be the most logical option to succeed Solskjaer. Manchester United management is apparently hesistant due to Conte’s abrasive style, conservative tactics and his history of fallouts with management at his previous clubs.
One UK sportsbook has odds on a list of managers and Conte is predictably at the top of the list. In addition to the 52-year-old Italian, ex-Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane’s name is also in the mix, and he once coached Ronaldo at Real Madrid. But ESPN reports that the 49 year old is not interested.
The other three coaches named are employed by other clubs and have made it clear they’re not considering a move any time soon.
|Antonio Conte||free agent||2.88|
|Zinedine Zidane||free agent||5.5|
|Brendan Rodgers||Leicester City||8.5|
|Erik ten Hag||Ajax||12|
When could Manchester United change managers?
Some clubs wait until the extended breaks offered by FIFA international windows for World Cup qualifiers. While players are away with their national teams, new managers typically have 10-14 days to settle in during these windows and map out a gameplan before their first official match in charge.
That might still be an option for Manchester United, which looks to be sticking with Solskjaer for its two big league matches (at Tottenham, vs. Manchester City) and a pivotal Champions League away match against Atalanta before the November international break kicks in.
UPDATED: Updated Premier League schedule
If the club decides to let go of Solskjaer before any international breaks, the team can also opt to install a caretaker manager, typically the assistant, to guide the team during the stretch before a permanent replacement is installed. A new boss could also provide input remotely while the move to the new city and other logistics are worked out.
The best-case scenario for Solskjaer seems to have materialized: convincing management to give him until the November break to turn it around though after the 5-0 loss to Liverpool it was asking a lot.