Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s working relationship with the club he loves is set to carry on until at least 2024 after he signed an extension with Manchester United.
The deal, a pre-season boost as United prepare for a new campaign, came with a glowing endorsement from outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who talked up the “foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch” in the official statement released by the club.
There are obvious reasons to be so optimistic, too, considering the Red Devils finished runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and also reached the Europa League final.
However, as has become a worrying trend of late, they still came up short in the quest for silverware. Solskjaer’s new deal, plus the signing of Jadon Sancho, shows a high degree of faith in the current regime, but also shortens the list of excuses if the near-misses continue.
Partnerships in football can sour swiftly if things do not pan out as hoped – the previous manager to occupy the home dugout at Old Trafford knows that only too well…
A sign of better times after life under Mourinho
Solskjaer has a win rate of 52.6 per cent in the Premier League since taking charge. His average of 1.86 points per game sits him third on the United list since the competition’s inception, behind an undoubted club legend and a former boss who knows an extension is not always a guarantee of sticking around.
Jose Mourinho triumphed in exactly 50 of his 93 league games in charge. In contrast to the man who replaced him, the Portuguese had early success with United as well, winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.
Those seemingly solid foundations subsided quickly, though. He was handed an extension in January 2018 yet was gone inside a year, dismissed amid dissatisfaction with not just results on the pitch but also the style of play. A defeat to Liverpool at Anfield proved to be the final straw.
Mourinho fell seven games short of his Premier League century with the Red Devils, caught out by his entrenched views on how the team should be set up as he seemingly failed to grasp the club’s traditions.
Solskjaer now has his hundred within sight, a number that seemed highly improbable when he flew in from Molde to answer United’s SOS (Save Our Season) call. The trip to Wolves on August 29, United’s third outing in 2021-22, following on from games against Leeds United and Southampton, will see him reach three figures in the Premier League.
In doing so, he will become the first manager to make it to the milestone with United since Alex Ferguson. Matching his league success rate of 65.2 per cent may appear a tall order, but the team have been trending in the right direction after mixed times under the stewardship of more illustrious names.
United’s 73 league goals they scored last term were the highest tallied in the post-Ferguson era, while 12 away wins in the top flight were also the most since the Scot stepped aside. All they need to do now is work out a way to get over the hump, whether that be at home or abroad.
Finding the balance in the quest for success
Upon his arrival in December 2018, Solskjaer cited the “very talented squad” at his disposal. That group which struggled for points in the dying embers of Mourinho’s reign went unbeaten in his first 12 league games, a run that helped the caretaker stick around in the job for a while longer.
A Champions League away win over Paris Saint-Germain provided further ammunition to suggest the Norwegian should be retained on a permanent basis (he would receive a three-year deal). Marcus Rashford scored the winner from the penalty spot on that famous night in the French capital, one of his 52 goals under Solskjaer.
No player has managed more than the England international, who also tops the list for appearances (128). Mason Greenwood – another product of the academy system that remains so highly valued by both club officials and supporters – has 29 goals in 105 appearances.
There have been hugely successful signings, too, with Bruno Fernandes (40 goals in just 80 games) the pick of the bunch. Edinson Cavani, who scored 17 times in the 2020-21 season, proved an astute bit of business as well, a free transfer that paid off spectacularly as a much-needed focal point in the forward line.
Rashford, Greenwood, Fernandes and Cavani demonstrate the “good balance” within the squad that Solskjaer mentioned in the announcement of his new contract. Sancho joining from Borussia Dortmund only adds even greater depth to the attacking options, having returned to Manchester – albeit the other side of the divide – after dazzling during his time in the Bundesliga.
A centre-back, quite possibly Raphael Varane, would help bolster the back-line that gave up 44 league goals in the previous season, but Solskjaer has plenty to work with already.
He spoke both prior to the end of the league season and also in the aftermath of losing on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League showpiece about the need to strengthen the squad, calling for two or three high-profile signings.
Sancho is certainly one of those, while Varane would tick that box as well, so it seems the much-maligned owners board are set to grant him his wish.
United have shown faith in Solskjaer throughout and now he needs to repay them in the only way possible – by winning trophies.