Forget Pochettino and Zidane, Man Utd must hire Solskjaer

The Norwegian has done a fantastic job so far, and a sensational turnaround in Paris will surely guarantee him the manager's job on a permanent basis

Pochettino, Solskjaer, Zidane
Pochettino, Solskjaer, Zidane

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was asked on Tuesday if Manchester United’s quest to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain is something akin to mission impossible.

“Never… Never mission impossible,” he insisted.

Of course he would think that. Solskjaer has dealt with every challenge that has come his way so far as United’s caretaker-manager. In 16 matches he has collected 13 victories, and after every failure to win there has followed a resounding success.

Whenever he has spoken he has projected a fearlessness that has been missing for so long but which recalls the Manchester United of old. Nothing should be considered too difficult, no challenge insurmountable.

That belief comes in part, of course, from his experiences as a United player. Regularly a witness, and often the instigator, of great comebacks, Solskjaer knows instinctively what his club is capable of in the Champions League when they put their minds to it.

Wednesday’s is the toughest task yet though. A performance which he has identified as the most disappointing so far under his reign resulted in a chastening Round of 16 defeat to PSG three weeks ago, and Man Utd are subsequently left looking to make history. No team has ever overcome a 2-0 home loss to progress in the away leg, despite 116 attempts in total across the history of the European Cup competition.

Another thing standing in their way is an absentee list as long as your arm. Paul Pogba’s suspension after his careless home-leg sending-off takes their total of missing first-teamers to 10. Youngsters Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood, Jimmy Garner and Brandon Williams have all travelled as a result and at least four of that quintet will make it into the matchday 18, so short on numbers is Solskjaer.

Everything, then, seems weighted against the Norwegian but he continues to believe in a miracle.

“Everyone knows that we can do it. We have done it. And the results in the Champions League in the last few years have been… I don’t want to call them strange,” he said on Tuesday. “Last year Juventus lost 3-0 at home against Real Madrid and then suddenly they were 3-0 up away after 90 minutes.

“The year before that: PSG against Barcelona… we all remember those results. So there’s so many examples of teams that can change results like this.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United

But if he somehow manages to lead such a bruised and battered United past a star-studded PSG then it will surely be the clearest indication yet to the club’s board that the man they want leading them next season is right under their noses.

When Solskjaer first took charge in December, it was widely believed that Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino was the man the United hierarchy had identified as their preferred permanent appointment. Others suggested Zinedine Zidane could do with United what he did previously at Real Madrid.

But over the last three months Solskjaer has displayed a United-ness that has been missing since Sir Alex Ferguson waved farewell after a 5-5 draw at The Hawthorns in May 2013. He has rediscovered his team’s character, re-energised their minds and reacquainted them with that feeling that they can and will take it to opponents with the attacking brand of football with which the club used to be synonymous.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Mauricio Pochettino Tottenham Hotspur Manchester United

He hasn’t quite ticked all the boxes yet, of course. If a Champions League exit were to be followed by defeat at Arsenal on Sunday, United could be sixth in the Premier League and out of Europe. With Chelsea and Manchester City to come in April, and a tricky FA Cup trip to Wolves before then, Solskjaer could yet find himself facing a rough trot before any decision on his future is made.

In many ways, executive vice-chair Ed Woodward and the United board stand to gain little by immediately handing the full-time gig to Solskjaer, with the landscape set to be every bit as clear in April as it will be at midnight on Wednesday. But if the previously-impossible is achieved in Paris, then there should be no more need for deliberation.

If a rag-tag, stitched-up United can beat PSG and Kylian Mbappe, then Solskjaer really is a miracle worker. And for that, combined with his achievements he had racked up so far, he should be rewarded with a permanent contract as Manchester United’s manager.

All that stands in his way now is the weight of history.


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