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Why Manchester United’s Faith In Ole Gunnar Solskjær Is Old-School

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at November 10, 2021

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has spent the past three years in a somewhat of a hinterland.

He has simultaneously been constantly on the brink of losing his job and never at risk at all.

It’s a strange state of affairs, not least because the voices calling for him to go are largely outsiders and those closest to the situation; the fans and, more importantly, the board keep the faith.

There was a sense of inevitability about the aftermath of recent humiliating defeats to the club’s two biggest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, a vociferous outcry that Solskjær was not up to the job gradually subsided with him still in charge.

Since he was appointed manager in December 2018 one of the Norwegian’s skills has been using the club’s history to his advantage.

In the early days particularly he’d often answer questions with “this is Manchester United.” It was hard to know what it really meant, but it made the club sound important, which coming off the back of three year’s of Jose Mourinho complaining, was a minor victory.

As the scorer of the most famous goal in the club’s history, which won the club the 1999 Champions League Final and sealed a historic treble, references to the past from him are more poignant for supporters.

It’s often suggested that the lack of vitriol sent in his direction by the Manchester United fans comes from a sentimentality they have for a player whose name and face evoke such fond memories.

As he continues to struggle to return Manchester United to the level the club was at when he was a player another narrative from history has come to his aide: the idea that he might “do a Fergie.”

This concept is based on the career history of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Back in 1989, Ferguson was in a similar position to the one Solskjær is now, he was three years into his tenure with no sign of improvement.

The team were battered 5-1 by rivals Manchester City that season, fanzine Red News called for his head and an infamously banner unfurled at Old Trafford read: “3 YEARS OF EXCUSES AND IT’S STILL CRAP … TA RA FERGIE.”

Of course, Ferguson did not leave, he stayed, won the FA Cup that year and then over the next two decades proceeded to become the most successful manager in the club’s history.  

When the Norwegian was asked if he believed he could fight back from the brink just like Ferguson his answer was “yes.”

It certainly helps that the man himself is backing Solskjær too.

Rumours swirled that, after the Liverpool game, the legendary Scot himself intervened on Solskjær’s behalf to keep him in a job.

Ferguson and the current manager are known to speak regularly and the ex-boss is often brought in to speak to the players too.

Everyone involved is hopeful the mantle can be passed.

And maybe in the past, more outsiders would agree.

But the Premier League today works in a very different way to the Football League of 1989.

The mid-season sacking spike 

The overriding managerial ideology in English soccer for the first two decades of the Premier League’s existence was that consistency was the key to success.

Clubs who kept managers for long periods were the ones that did well, the theory went, chopping and changing would never deliver trophies.

The basis of this concept was derived from the past, most substantially from how English soccer’s two greatest dynasties, Manchester United and Liverpool, had been built by Matt Busby and Bill Shankly through 26 and 14 years stints.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the idea was perpetuated by the two most successful clubs, Arsenal and Manchester United, both having long-serving managers.

But in the last ten years, things have changed dramatically. No one believes a manager can last a decade, those who manage a quarter of Ferguson’s two decades are considered successes. 

An indication of how and when things started to change can be found by examining the mid-season managerial departures.

In the early days of the Premier League, the mid-season sacking was considered a nadir. Plenty of clubs changed coach, but they’d wait until the fixture list had been concluded. If someone lost their job halfway through a campaign things had to be seriously bad.

The Premier League’s inaugural season saw just one manager sacked while it was ongoing, Ian Porterfield at Chelsea who was relieved of his duties in February 1993. 

To be fair this was low, there tended to be around four or five managerial departures whilst fixtures were being played, except for the 1994-95 season an extra team was relegated and people lost their heads.

Interestingly in the early years of the Premier League, it was as common for managers to resign as be sacked. 

Of the 21 mid-season departures in the league’s first five campaigns around half (10) were managers falling on their swords.

By contrast, there have only been two managers in the past twenty years who have resigned from Premier League sides during the season: Harry Redknapp who left QPR in 2015 to have knee surgery and Dick Advocaat who quit Sunderland the following year.

A partial explanation for the drop in sackings has been the advent of departures by “mutual consent” an exit first pioneered by Harry Redknapp at West Ham in 2001.

But these should be treated with caution.

In many of the cases that have followed since Redknapp left the Hammers, it’s been questionable how ‘mutual’ the consent was. 

For example, this season’s only departure by mutual consent is Steve Bruce, who almost everyone knew was not the Newcastle United owner’s preferred choice.

The payoffs managers can now earn from being sacked might explain this shift, but there’s also the sense that coaches are fired long before they’d have a chance to consider whether they are the right person for the job.

This is evident in the massive increase in departures overall.

In the first two decades of the Premier League, only once, in the anomaly of the 1994-95 season, did the league get close to half its clubs firing their managers (9) during the campaign.

Since 2012 its happened twice.

Why? Well as with most things in soccer these days it’s probably to do with the money.

Total Premier League income has doubled from $3 billion to $6 billion in the past 10 years the same period sackings skyrocketed.

The polarisation between the richest and poorest has never been greater, increasing the cost of losing across the board.

Whether it’s the financial peril of relegation or a drop in income from the Champions League owners everywhere a lot more trigger happy.

Not only that, nearly all examples of holding out for success are all gone.

In his seventh season, Jurgen Klopp is perhaps the only example of a coach who came good in their third full campaign.

However, for Solskjær to emulate the coach of United’s bitter rival he’d need to win the Champions League and rack up 97 points, neither of which look like happening.

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