The pressure currently weighing on the shoulders of Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has never been as heavy.
The United boss is under enormous amounts of pressure at Old Trafford following Sunday’s 5-0 hammering at the hands of Liverpool, from both the club and the supporters.
Defeat to Liverpool, who never once looked concerned by the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were lining-up in front of them, means United are now winless in their last four Premier League matches, meaning uncertainty concerning Solskjaer’s future is there for all to see.
As reported by the Manchester Evening News on Monday, United were considering sacking the Norwegian, but he is expected to remain in charge for Saturday’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur.
Nevertheless, fan patience is wearing thin and a growing number of them are calling for a change, even though United do not currently have a replacement lined up.
MEN Sport’s chief United writer Samuel Luckhurst hosted a Q&A on Wednesday to try and answer as many questions as possible that United’s supporters had about Solskjaer’s future, who could replace him and other topics.
Q: Hey Samuel, is there any truth Ole has lost the dressing room and is Conte definitely interested in taking the job?
SL: I revealed Conte’s interest on Monday and there was a follow-up yesterday [Tuesday]. It would be a sackable offence if I said, ‘no he isn’t interested’ today. It’s a strange question to ask, to be frank.
As for whether he has lost the dressing room: sections of it, yes. But Ronaldo is keeping the dressing room together.
Q: Hi Samuel, appreciate you work during this turmoil. Two questions:
1) Is Ole sacking inevitable. I.e: Owner had already decided to sack him, three-game period is for finding a replacement.
2) Who is your (and the club’s) ideal Solskjaer replacement? Ten Hag, Conte, Zidane?
SL: 1. Yes, I believe it is. He’s on borrowed time but, because United gave zero consideration to sacking him before Sunday, there is not a succession plan, hence why he is clinging on by his fingernails.
Regarding the three-game thing, if Spurs batter United on Saturday then the question has to be asked again as to why he should continue.
This was the ideal week to change the manager – no midweek match, a potential bounce ahead of a few key games etc. – but United have bottled it.
As I wrote on Monday, observing Richard Arnold post-match against Liverpool, he did not strike me as a man who wanted to make the decision to sack a manager that he gushed was ‘bringing phenomenal success’. He said that back in March.
2. Personally, I’d like Luis Enrique. He has faith in young players, his style is appealing and he has had success with Barcelona.
I just don’t see Enrique as a goer, though. He is contracted to Spain until next year’s World Cup and they want him to coach them at Euro 2024.
The tragedy in his family life (his daughter’s passing) is important to consider as well. It’s uncertain if his family would relish relocating abroad after such an unimaginably sad event.
There are caveats with Brendan Rodgers, but he ticks most of the boxes and, listening to his post-match analysis of Leicester’s win over United, he is not the figure of fun he once was. He is an erudite coach worthy of managing United.
Q: My question is Antonio Conte is the only real available managerial solution to this current mess. The board can say they are unsure about him but he is the only one available with the required pedigree to manage United. Do you think ultimately they will turn to Conte as they have nowhere to go?
SL: There are a lot of stories regarding Conte because of his Premier League experience and availability. United would not restrict themselves to coaches out-of-work and they haven’t in the recent past (eg. Moyes, Van Gaal and Solskjaer).
There are a lot of issues to resolve on both sides if Conte is to be in with a shout of replacing Solskjaer. He is well aware that the problems at United go beyond the manager and the uncertainty over Ed Woodward’s departure date and successor is another key issue. And why United are sticking by Solskjaer.
Q: Could £400,000 (80+m total) reported contract offer to Pogba be better spent? Expensive sub.
SL: Some have read too much into what Solskjaer has said about discussions with Pogba. The responses on his Zoom calls have been stock answers but, because the United manager has given them, we are duty-bound to write them up.
I’d be amazed if Pogba stays. Privately, United are probably realistic to the likelihood of him leaving on a free (unless a good offer arrives in January), but publicly they cannot say, ‘yeah, Paul’s going to go, we’ve accepted that’.
It’s a waste of United’s time to even try. The reunion hasn’t worked out, he is too inconsistent and they have still not settled on a role for him. It is time to move on.
Q: Your bit on Solskjaer agreeing to replace Mourinho all the way back in October, considering Mourinho was sacked in December, is interesting. Does this mean the current management likely have a contingency plan in the form of Conte already in the works?
SL: No, totally the opposite! They had/have no plan.
There was no consideration given to sacking Solskjaer prior to the Liverpool game, which was an(other) egregious error by the board. The Leicester result felt like the beginning of the end and the form prior to the October internationals was patchy at best. There have been red flags planted throughout the year dating back to United losing their nerve against Sheffield United in January.
Yet, halfway through the year, Solskjaer got a new contract. It’s not far behind Moyes getting a six-year contract.
Q: Do you think MUFC are buying time in order to bringing in a new manager during the international break by backing Solskjaer for the now?
SL: ‘Buying time’ is probably the wrong phrase. They have no succession plan so have to instigate one and identify an interim or permanent successor.
That players are jetting off across the continent and to other continents next weekend is blind luck.
Q: Considering so many leaks about the team and the fall-out, is the dressing room more divided than ever on Ole? There is a favourite players clique and fringe players group evident.
SL: Yes, this is the most fraught it has been. The players like him but have always found him to be a soft touch. He has been confronted by some small-fry players in that dressing room and they are still at the club. That is not a ringing endorsement for his authority.
Q: Hi Samuel, do you think that the players thought Solskjaer was going to be sacked on Monday due to all the leaks that came out?
SL: Some have been emboldened to pass on information because of the current form, yes. Monday was a strange day. In the morning, it felt like he’d stay. In the afternoon, it felt like he’d be sacked. In the evening it was back to staying.
I suspect some players thought he wouldn’t survive the Liverpool result but they have underestimated those who run the club.
Q: Hey Samuel! I want to ask whether Ten Hag is being eyed by United as a potential successor to Ole? He fits the criteria which United have been asking for (Attacking football and likes to develop youth).
SL: Ten Hag is more a case of online noise. He is quite entrenched at Ajax and his predecessor, Peter Bosz, left for Borussia Dortmund and was a disaster.
Sometimes, an Ajax man should belong to Ajax. Ten Hag has no experience of managing major egos. He’s worthy of inclusion in the conversation but United need someone more proven.
Q: Do you think Solskjaer sacking is a matter of When and not WHY now? Do you think Ole can somehow recover from this state, where his players have clearly ran their briefs to the media and there is a sense of him losing the dressing room even thought the club might back him?
SL: Yes, it is a matter of when, for all the reasons reported and written about in the last 48 hours or so.
No, I don’t. There have only been two 5-0 away wins in the history of matches between Liverpool and Manchester United and the last before Sunday was in 1946. And then you factor in the form and issues going into the game. Solskjaer is not good enough to be the United manager.
Solskjaer also has thick enough skin and is perceptive enough to twig that this ‘backing’ from the club is not really backing. Just a stay of execution.
Q: Hi Samuel, if Conte comes in;
1. What does that mean for Jadon Sancho/Marcus Rashford in a 3-5-2?
2. What does that mean for Bruno Fernandes is a 3-4-3?
SL: 1. The bench for at least one of them.
2. Also the bench, possibly. Fernandes has hit a ceiling under Solskjaer but he also symbolises this United: erratic, wasteful but capable of spontaneous brilliance. It is peculiar that City came close to signing him in 2019 as he is an un-Guardiola player.
Q: Hi Samuel, are there any other managers apart from Conte and Zidane under serious consideration to replace Ole?
SL: Some being tentatively linked are throwing their hats into the ring rather than being outright considered. United can’t have a two-man shortlist at this stage but have homed in on one target in the past.
Q: Given the players that are playing now are doing poorly, and many of the players who aren’t playing are in revolt against the manger so their effort for the game would be in question, what would be your starting XI against Spurs if you were Ole?
SL: De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Bailly, Shaw; Matic, Fred; Lingard, Rashford, Sancho; Ronaldo.
That it should come to that type of team being picked is another reason why United need to change manager. Solskjaer is now in an invidious position where teammates are knifing him and he knows it yet he might have to pick them on Saturday because of the debacle on Sunday. It is an unsustainable dynamic that anyone can see bar the club’s decision-makers.
Q: Hello Samuel, will the club sack him if we lose to Spurs, or just have to wait until they find a replacement? Is the club waiting till international break to sack Solskjaer?
SL: No one at the club has said, ‘if he loses at Spurs he is a goner’. There was a belated show of support on Tuesday, around 48 hours after the Liverpool game. That speaks volumes of the indecision at the moment and lack of a succession plan. As some back pages said this morning, it’s a stay of execution.
Q: Hi Samuel. After reading all the leaks from the dressing room that has been coming out for two days now, how can Solskjaer (and the board) see them turning things around when things are this bad internally at the moment? Is there a way back at all?
SL: Maybe they can’t, but because they didn’t have a succession plan in place they have to carry on like this for the time being.
They want to turn things around but are deluded if they genuinely think the current manager and coaching staff are the ones to oversee that.
Q: Hi Samuel, are the board looking at the option of an interim management? Will it be explored if results remain the same in the next few fixtures for Solskjaer but a permanent manager is not decided upon?
If yes then who are the coaches being looked at/will be looked at? Is there any chance of promoting someone from the coaching staff to the interim position? Thanks.
SL: I’m not sure they could get away with that. If they were up for it, they’d have sacked Solskjaer by now and asked Mike Phelan to move into the manager’s office.
There’s also the issue of whether the coaches have their Uefa Pro Licence badge. Carrick didn’t when Mourinho was sacked in 2018.
Q: Hi Samuel. Firstly, is this shambolic situation purely down to the board not having a succession plan ready? Is there any real belief that he can turn things around within the club?
Secondly, do you think that Ole will turn to Lingard, Sancho and (dare I say it) van de Beek this weekend to try something different vs Spurs? Will he go for drastic changes (including tactics) or more of the same and hope it pays off?
SL: Yes. That is the sole reason why there has not been a managerial change, as I understand it. I think Sancho and Lingard should both start. Solskjaer needs to justify the investment in Sancho and Lingard has been bizarrely underused. Van de Beek is as untrusted as he is unused.
I genuinely don’t know if there is going to be a drastic tactical change. We are at the point of no return. Maybe the personnel will justify the 4-2-3-1. Who knows?
Q: Where do you see United in 12 months time?
SL: Crikey. Erm… still trophyless, but still in the Champions League and with a new manager.