It came as no surprise when Manchester United announced the permanent appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager after a successful three months at the helm. Chief executive, Ed Woodward, who isn’t the most popular of people at Old Trafford with the supporters, was left with little choice but to award the Norwegian the contract, but few people would have envisaged this situation when the ex-Red Devil was appointed on an interim basis in December.
When Solskjaer was unveiled as the temporary boss, taking over from Jose Mourinho, many experts and critics sneered, and bookmakers drew up lists of the likely successors to take replace ‘The Special One’, but Solskjaer’s name was never mentioned. After all, he had already failed miserably during an eight month spell in charge at Cardiff City in 2014.
However, Mourinho’s departure came amid a wave of optimism and a swell of enthusiasm for something different from everyone associated with the club, and Solskjaer also had the advantage of being a popular former player having played such a pivotal role in that heroic treble-winning side of 1999.
Ironically, his first game in charge saw him oversee a 5-1 win for United at his former club, Cardiff City, and it became apparent quickly that players like Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera were responding to him and were much happier under the new post-Mourinho regime.
The response was immediate and Solskjaer enjoyed the best start of any new manager in the history of the club, winning his first eight games in charge, including impressive victories against Arsenal in the FA Cup and Tottenham in the Premier League. Paul Pogba, who famously had a training ground bust-up with Mourinho said that Solskjaer had given confidence back to the players and gave them the freedom to play football again.
United have also enjoyed Champions League success, reaching the quarter-finals where they will meet Barcelona following a dramatic victory over PSG in the round-of-16, a win in Paris that virtually assured Solskjaer would get the job full-time.
The challenge for him was massive, not only off the pitch where the mood of the fans and players had grown dark under the stewardship of Mourinho, but also on the pitch with United trailing the top four by 11 points.
The Norwegian had said when he took temporary charge that his aim was to win trophies, but that was dealt a blow by a disappointing exit from the FA Cup at Wolves in the quarter-finals. There have also been a few hiccups, including a defeat at Arsenal in the league and in fairness, they squeezed through fortunately against PSG in the Champions League, thanks largely to a dodgy VAR decision.
Solskjaer, who will be paid around £7m a year on a three-year contract, has been successful, but now he has been made permanent, the stakes become even higher and expectations will only grow. This is now the real test of his managerial attributes, but could it all end in tears?