Five reasons why it’s all going wrong for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Man United

Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo provide two of Solskjaer’s many headaches
Five reasons why it’s all going wrong for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Man United

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gestures on the touchline during the Premier League match against Liverpool at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

Coaching

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s party line in recent weeks has been that he has the best coaching staff “in the world”. That looks a laughable claim in the light of recent events.

Former Alex Ferguson lieutenant Mike Phelan has provided a link with former glories but offers nothing on the training ground.

Ex-United midfielder Michael Carrick, a coaching novice for all his former playing glories, is heavily involved at United’s Carrington complex but it is previously unknown Kieran McKenna who has grown in stature and importance at Old Trafford.

The 35-year-old Northern Irishman, whose playing career in the Tottenham youth team was ended by a hip injury, had started his coaching career with the London club before moving to United, where he proved his worth with the U18s.

He was elevated to the first team by Jose Mourinho in July 2018 and was kept in place by Solskjaer when he took over that December.

But, still, by standards at the top end of elite Premier League football, the two main coaches are wholly inexperienced and the prospect of them coaching personalities such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani — who are of a similar age and a much-higher playing profile — was always going to be potentially problematic.

There is the added complication of another former United legend, Darren Fletcher, who is technical director, but is frequently seen taking part in training sessions although without a designated role.

Paul Pogba

The French World Cup winner was widely criticised for his red card, just 15 minutes after coming on as a half-time substitute, in the weekend humiliation against Liverpool.

But the problem of Pogba — or, more specifically, his agent Mino Raoila — has been on-going from virtually the moment he returned to the club in August 2016, both on and off the field.

On it, there has been the problem of where exactly Pogba’s best position is and how Solskjaer can best accommodate him. For the past two games, the United boss has as good as given up that attempt and relegated him to the bench.

Off the field, Pogba has been a major disruption, frequently talking of wanting to leave the club and currently entering the final few months of his existing contract, with no sign of him being willing to sign the new deal currently being offered by the club.

Paul Scholes suggested that, should Solskjaer keep his job, he should consider never playing Pogba again but added, more realistically, that such an outcome is unlikely.

“Look, he probably will play again won’t he?” said Scholes. “But I don’t think they will be missing anything if he doesn’t. He’s caused mayhem over the last couple of years.”

McFred

Solskjaer’s reign will be remembered for many things - gifting the Premier League the phrase “McFred” in honour of his favoured midfield pairing Scott McTominay and Fred.

The two holding positions in the centre of midfield has been a headache for Solskjaer for many months.

McFred, plus Pogba, Nemanja Matic and forgotten signing Donny van de Beek have all been used in those positions although, on the big occasion, the United manager has, more often than not, seemed to default to the McFred option.

It is hard to see why.

Despite Solskjaer’s claims to the contrary, Fred, in particular, has looked below the necessary standard, easily knocked off the ball, full of unforced errors and wasteful in possession. McTominay, in a better team alongside better players, might be passable but has been exposed by his partner.

Solskjaer and his employers should have addressed the issue in the summer and either recruited new talent or looked at adopting a different style of play.

Given the depth of attacking talent at his disposal, it is hard to see why Solskjaer would not have experimented with a 4-3-3 formation favoured by Liverpool and Manchester City even if he clearly lacks the holding midfield talent possessed by his two rivals.

Ronaldo

The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly a massively successful marketing coup for United and will remain so, regardless of what happens to the club and Solskjaer.

But whether he has helped the team in football terms is less apparent.

Ronaldo’s lack of pressing and running has been mentioned in recent weeks, although at the age of 36, quite how much ground the Portuguese legend is expected to cover is unclear.

Yet the wider issue has become the fact that Solskjaer seems unable to leave Ronaldo out of his starting line-up — something he did against Everton and for which he was widely pilloried. Meanwhile, Ronaldo’s nose for a last-minute goal means Solskjaer is similarly unable to bring him off before the final whistle.

More tellingly, there have been reports, in interviews he has done with the foreign press, that Solskjaer has been unimpressed by the efforts of some of his younger team-mates.

Comments have been made, in particular, about Ronaldo having an increasingly strained relationship and a lack of understanding with young winger Mason Greenwood.

The lost dressing room

Solskjaer has taken to confrontational dressing room moments in the wake of the Leicester and Liverpool defeats although indications are that the coach has — to use the football vernacular — “lost” his players.

There is no suggestion of any hostility to the United manager — as had been the case under predecessors Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer is well liked and respected at the club, his status as an all-time United legend long since assured.

But there have been significant issues that have picked at the dressing room scabs left from some bruising recent setbacks for United and which surfaced before the Liverpool disaster. In short, they have lost faith in their manager.

Donny van de Beek’s continued exile is baffling to pundits and players alike who cannot fathom how and why the £35m (€41.5m) midfielder has started only four league games in 13 months at Old Trafford.

Eric Bailly reportedly questioned why Harry Maguire played in the Leicester defeat despite clearly being unfit and Ronaldo’s dissatisfaction at some teammates has been a growing issue.

On the Monday after the Leicester defeat, Solskjaer called the players to a meeting and asked them to pledge their loyalty — something they seemed to do after beating Atalanta on Wednesday.

His half-time plea on Sunday for his players to “fight” for their lives against Liverpool appears to have produced no response whatsoever.

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