Thoughts on Ole and Manchester United

Half Turn
5 min readNov 21, 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been sacked. Most Manchester United fans rejoice right now. The same fans that were singing his praise when they “snatched” Ronaldo from Manchester City, the same fans that thought they were closer to the title than ever before since SAF… The same fans that mocked and abused countless people on the internet, including me, who said that it will not work out, that the window wasn’t a good one let alone a world-class one like they suggested…

Manchester United went into the 2021 summer transfer window, after 2nd place finish (albeit over cb-less Liverpool and partially Lampard-led Chelsea), needing a defensive midfielder (arguably two) and a right winger. They came out out of the window with three big-name signings in Sancho, Varane, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Without addressing the two biggest needs of the squad. But still, it couldn’t go wrong, right? I mean this was Varane who had the biggest trophies under his belt and years of top level experience with Los Blancos. It was Sancho who has been United’s top target for the last 2 years. It was CR7, a living legend of the game and the club. But, it could go wrong and it did go wrong.

Peak ages of Manchester United squad from The Athletic

Jadon Sancho’s game at Borussia Dortmund was a game of combining and creating. He mostly played on the left, cutting inside combining with the versatile wb Guerreiro, with ever-talented Marco Reus, Haaland, Brandt, etc. He developed a great cohesion with the intelligent players around him and he found and received passes that were only possible because of their great understanding of each other and their technical quality (also BuLi tax, but that’s not the point). With United, he was brought in to play RW with AWB behind him, CR7 up top, and Bruno Fernandes at 10. We all know AWB’s limitations high up pitch. CR7 was never the greatest outside of the box but especially at this age, his hold-up play is not at a high level. With Bruno, it is not mostly about quality, It’s more about his mentality on the pitch. He is by no means great in tight spaces but the fact that he is an extreme example of ‘high risk-high reward’ is much more important. Bruno and CR7 are the type of players that loves to play ‘hero ball’. The long shots, the overly ambitious passes, “forcing the issue”, etc. These actions kill the momentum of the team and obviously make it much harder to combine since the ball is lost much more frequently.

Varane was a luxury signing for a team that actually needed incomings. Ronaldo was also a luxury signing but the implications of this transfer would exceed the fact that not signing a dm was a wrong idea. Ole has built a squad with youngsters that pressed high and actually effectively as well (lockdown United’s press >>>). Ronaldo’s out-of-possession discipline at his age meant that United practically lost a player (a bit of an exaggeration but you get the point) while pressing. And, pressing is only possible when done as a unit. If not done as a unit, it turns into a disaster since it leaves space behind rather than in front of the players (referring to low blocks). Also, bringing in a player like Ronaldo who is one of the biggest profiles in the sport ever meant that the dressing room needed adaptation. Also, the “undroppability” is a huge problem, especially when it’s a player who hurts the team balance.

Earlier transfers like Van de Beek were a sign of Ole’s talent ID being suspicious though. Bruno Fernandes and Lingard for one position and McTominay (I love him btw, this isn’t a slander), Fred, and Matic for two positions… And the player brought in was another 10. He likes to combine and make runs high up the pitch. This was such a weird signing that the fans mis-profiled VdB and got pissed every time they saw McFred on the field. VdB played a total of 571 minutes in over a year after a 40m move.

Also, making David de Gea one of the highest-paid players in the Premier League when he doesn’t suit most of the requirements of a modern elite keeper is another bad decision that hurts the team both in the short and the long term.

I looked at some of the transfer decisions and how they troubled Man United. I don’t have the time to demonstrate the problems with Ole’s setup and tactics. So I encourage you to take a look at this piece by @EarlTrapo. It is a tactical look at Manchester United and their defensive struggles.

Ole’s tenure as a whole

It wasn’t all gloomy under Ole for United though. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done admirable things at Manchester United. He freshened up the squad which was not in an ideal position after Mourinho, integrated young players into the squad, and over-achieved with a squad that was overrated by many.

This last transfer window, Ole shot himself in the foot though. Increasing the expectations massively while not addressing the biggest needs of the squad was a big mistake. He also changed the profiles of his incomings for big names like Varane and Ronaldo. Probably because he thought the team was much closer to glory than they actually were. He also had many tactical problems.

But, let’s not forget that he is not responsible for not getting sacked earlier. He came in as an interim coach at first. Finished top 4 in both his full seasons, got second place last year. He was never a coach that could win the biggest titles but he was a great stepping stone. He rebuilt the squad and overachieved during it as well. He should’ve been sacked earlier in my opinion. I would’ve sacked Ole after last year’s 2nd place finish because appointments shouldn’t be based on prior achievements, they should be based on projections of future achievements. And, he was never the guy to take Man U back to the absolute top.

For those who might think this piece is hindsight biased: