Solskjær to steer Man U forward

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been appointed as Manchester United manager on a three-year contract, the club announced on Wednesday. The Norwegian has exceeded expectations since becoming the caretaker boss in December and has been duly rewarded with the a permanent position.

There was no shortage of scepticism when Solskjær took over at United following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho. The club was 11 points off the top four in the English Premier League and drew the short straw in the UEFA Champions League after being matched with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in the round of 16.

Solskjær’s wasted no time in setting out to prove he was up to the task — putting out a team that smashed Cardiff City 5 – 1 in Wales. It did little to silence the doubt. Fans around the world still questioned his managerial abilities, saying that it was an easy game, and that United should keep a lid on their heads.

Huge victories over Tottenham Hotspur in the league, and Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup were to follow.

That January Spurs win was a massive boost for the club. With sides around them stumbling, all of a sudden they were back in contention for a top-four spot.

United faced Arsenal in the FA Cup on January 25, and were utterly dominant over the gunners at the Emirates Stadium which saw them soar into the fifth round.

There they would meet an out-of-sorts Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge — a ground they had not won on since 2012. Goals from Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba saw the Blues dispatched comfortably. United, however, would falter in the quarterfinals and were eliminated by Wolverhampton Wanderers FC.

Solskjær’s toughest test came in Europe against PSG. The French champions dominated the red devils in the first leg at Old Trafford in early February and secured a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 advantage that ended Solskjær’s unbeaten start as manager.

The unbeaten streak had lasted 11 games and contained 10 wins.

Solskjær acknowledged that the first leg defeat was a reality check for United, but maintained optimism.

“Mountains are there to be climbed,” he said.

“Just because you are down, you can’t say it is over. We have to go down there and play a good game. It was a reality check from the top teams.”

The Red Devils travelled to Paris for the return leg and, channelling the Class of 1999 — who gave the side from Manchester a reputation for breathtaking comebacks — triumphed in Paris.

A brace from Romelu Lukaku and a controversial penalty decision with the help of the video assistant referee handed United a 3-1 win and pushed them through to the quarterfinals where Barcelona await.

READ MORE: The great VAR whine begins

This was arguably the night that handed Solskjær the job on a permanent basis.

‘A change in attitude’

In Mourinho’s final days at the club, many of the players were reportedly unhappy. Paul Pogba, for instance, was dropped from the squad after an alleged falling out with the former manager.

The French midfielder believes Solskjær knows the club, its philosophy and is the best fit for the job.

“He is a really happy coach that gave confidence back to the players. This gave us the freedom to play and enjoy football again because maybe we lost that with the results that we had before,” he said.

READ MORE: Pogba wants ‘happy coach’ Solskjær to stay at Man Utd

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling are also among the players who have been rejuvenated since Solskjær arrived in Manchester.

‘Born for the job’

When Solskjær headed home the winner in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich, he launched himself into legendary status at the club.

Solskjær scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United between 1996 and 2007 and also managed the club’s reserve team until the end of 2010.

He was nicknamed the “baby-faced assassin” by the Old Trafford faithful.

When he arrived as caretaker manager, he knew the challenge ahead of him, but he also was a step closer to his dream — becoming Manchester United manager.

On being appointed as the permanent manager of the club, Solskjær said in a statement: “This is the job that I always dreamed of doing and I’m beyond excited to have the chance to lead the club long-term and hopefully deliver the continued success that our amazing fans deserve.”

Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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