At the time the Premier League released its fixture for the season, not many thought this would be much of a contest.
Since 2018 Manchester United has caught the headlines for the wrong reasons.
First, it was the Jose Mourinho-Paul Pogba saga that finally matured into Mourinho’s sacking. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment was initially blasted by critics as a drop to mediocrity. Before the pandemic, Manchester United’s terrible record home and away dominated headlines, with some calling for Solskjaer’s head.
Despite the perception of the manager and the team itself, the reality is quite different. Jose Mourinho once went on a rant on ‘football heritage’, suggesting United’s decline had started way back in 2013 following the retirement of veteran manager Sir Alex Ferguson. While he made a valid point regarding the time it takes to rebuild a club, especially of United’s stature, he failed to deliver. By the time Mourinho departed, the club was pretty much where it was when Mourinho started.
Solskjaer, despite the criticism at his doorstep, has been much more composed and barely shown his emotions after disastrous results. The 6-1 defeat at home to Tottenham would have been enough for United to sink further below; however, the manager saved them. Back-to-back losses to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at the start of the season mounted heavy pressure on the Norwegian, but to his credit he persevered.
Solskjaer’s perseverance to work with his squad amid the disappointing patches is worthy of recognition. Last season, following the resumption after the pandemic, United looked a different team altogether. From nowhere they came in third, going past the likes of firm top-four contenders Chelsea and Leicester.
Despite picking up only two wins from the first five games, Solskjaer’s men picked up pace following the defeat to Arsenal. Since that defeat at Old Trafford, United has picked 19 points from a possible 21, coming up to third.
While performances under Solskjaer have undoubtedly improved, the positives have often gone under the radar. It took them a 6-2 rout of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds to finally gain the spotlight. Something that makes that marketable was that local English lad Scott McTominay scored a brace.
While the team deserves more credit for the turnaround, the manager deserves nothing less. Solskjaer had a hard time in Europe, as his team failed to beat RB Leipzig in a virtual knockout, which they dominated. However, all is not gone for United. They are battling for the league title this season and they have the best indicator for that: the points table.
Apart from Solskjaer’s perseverance through the torrents of abuse and hate, his man-management skills have been equally impressive. The way he defended Pogba amid criticism that the player induced his agent to claim for a transfer was laudable. Similarly, United captain Harry Maguire endured a nightmarish 2020 both personally and professionally, but Solskjaer defended his captain and backed him for subsequent matches, which eventually paid off.
Solskjaer deserves a lot of credit for his patience, perseverance and results. Manchester United faithful should perhaps take recourse from their displeasure of the manager and back him until the end of the season.