Commencing the descent

21 Nov

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might look like the sort of man who would walk in on his wife in bed with another man and gently announce “I’ll take myself off to the pub then”.  Reaching past them both to grab his jacket before gingerly treading towards the door.  But this is of course a nonsense.  The devilment in Solskjaer was clear to see as far back as 02/03, when Fergie stuck him out on the right wing to piss Becks off.  Solskjaer enjoyed a glorious half-season kicking the bejesus out of premier league left-backs.  It was as though the track rabbit had pulled a 180 and started lamping the greyhounds.

He’s an easy target at the moment though is old Ole Gunnar, and not without some justification.  Along with Gareth Southgate, he holds one of the two great managerial offices of state in this country.  Yet neither had so much as an ounce of pedigree when they showed up on interview day.  Molde, Cardiff and Middlesboro?  Places you could well believe were twinned with each other, but breeding grounds for the United and England jobs?  “Never put in temporary charge a man who, four wins down the line, you don’t want public opinion to force you into giving the role full time”, you might think. 

And yet, when all said and done, for two seasons Solskjaer acquitted himself well.  After the face-down-in-the-water debacle of the Moyes regime, the weirdness of Van Gaal and the misery of Mourinho, Solskjaer was a ship-steadying force for good.  A 3rd place finish in his first full season followed by 2nd place last time around (above Klopp, above Chelsea).  This is about as good as any sane United fan could expect.

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There’s a touch of the Insulate Britains about Solskjaer’s reign at Old Trafford.  Initially dismissed as a bit of a clown, his sheer resolve gained admiration in some quarters while driving others to the brink.  Solskjaer’s had his hands glued to Sir Matt Busby Way for nearly 3 seasons now, and every time you thought some bloke in a Ford transit van was about to violently knock his block off, he pulls through with another three points out of absolutely nowhere.

United’s ability to come from behind under Solskjaer has been really quite something.  The saucy red comeback boys have won a scarcely credible nineteen times from losing positions during his three-year tenure.  In many respects, the fortitude is to be admired.  But, as the saying goes, the superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid situations that require the use of his superior skill.  There’s not much glamour in securing a two-goal lead in the first thirty minutes of a game and seeing it out, but you don’t half look professional.

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Unfortunately, nothing grows in the garden of Old Trafford these days and the cheerful Norwegian now finds himself being wheeled towards the palliative ward.  Hopelessly trapped between expectations and reality.  Anything higher than fourth place an impossibility, anything lower a calamity.  A calamity with added farce if “Lazarus man” Moyes beats him to it.  Comprehensive defeats against Liverpool and Manchester City are one thing.  A firm spanking by relegation-threatened Watford quite another.

It’s happening Ole, this is Sinatra territory.  The bonus track.  All that’s left is how you want the legacy to be written.  A little advice?  Summon the spirit of 02/03 old boy, and that glorious springtime whacking lumps out of Ian Harte, Mauricio Taricco and Alessandro Pistone.  Put some keys in your hand and go out swinging.  Toss a ball at Jonathan Liew and demand he do ten keep-ups.  Go in two-footed on a Custis.  Ask Jonathan Wilson to tell you again that one about how your 30-goal a season striker is somehow the issue with United at the moment.  Maybe you haven’t been a roaring success, but you haven’t been quite the dismal failure they would dearly like to paint you as either.  Treated the same, Ferguson would have had hoods over heads and be driving out into the desert by now.  It’s not your fault that journalists literally can’t think of anything else to write about at this time of year.

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After that, well, it’s into the sunset isn’t it?  Back to being a club legend.  Relax and enjoy the wild ride of United’s decennium horribilis; see where it goes next.  Will United executives finally start making decisions with their heads rather than their hearts?  Or is Phil Neville just around the corner?  Nobody knows, but then that’s part of the fun of structural decline.  This century’s already eaten up Debenhams, Thomas Cook and Woolworths.  The giants of yesteryear trampled by the Amazons, the Apples and those pesky sovereign wealth funds.  The future used to mean hope.  But time passes.  Possibilities decrease, regrets mount.  Better the warm cloisters of nostalgia than face up to the reality that Solskjaer is really only a symptom and not the root cause of Manchester United’s continuing decay.

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