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After three ill-fated and short-lived managerial appointments, Ed Woodward would appear to have finally got it right with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Saturday marks a year since Solskjaer was made Manchester United’s permanent boss, the former striker having overseen a radical overhaul which was starting to yield results when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus.
When football ground to a halt a fortnight ago, United were unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions, having won eight, scored 29 and conceded just two, along with keeping nine clean sheets.
From their worst start to a league campaign for 30 years, Solskjaer’s approach, both on and off the field, appeared vindicated, the doubters silenced by the verve and consistency of United’s play.
The central theme of Solskjaer’s time in charge of United has been altruism, a willingness to always put the club before his own interests, in complete contrast to his predecessor, Jose Mourinho.
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Where Mourinho would hang players and Woodward out to dry to further his own agenda, Solskjaer has sought to engender trust with both – with that approach, so far at least, having paid off.
One such example came after United’s 0-0 draw at home to Wolves on February 1, when Anthony Martial was at his most frustrating, missing chances and looking as though he did not care if he scored or not.
Mourinho would no doubt have outed Martial, as he often did during his two-and-a-half year spell, whereas Solskjaer refused to publicly berate his striker, saving any criticism for behind closed doors.
That approach from Solskjaer was vindicated, with Martial scoring four goals in his next six games.
Solskjaer’s United revolution has been a nod to his former manager and mentor Sir Alex Ferguson’s famed commitment to youth, investing in younger players with hunger, but without ego.
Solskjaer has approached managing United in the same style as his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)
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He jettisoned Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellani, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, Alexis Sanchez, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Romelu Lukaku, replacing them with younger, more dynamic and energetic players, ready to give their all for United.
In came Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James and Harry Maguire, while Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams were promoted from the youth ranks, and Bruno Fernandes – an instant success who has transformed the team – was recruited in January.
Having spent the years since Ferguson’s departure with no clear strategy, in terms of managerial or player recruitment, United finally seemed to have hit upon the right formula by appointing Solskjaer.
Of course, it is still early days and Solskjaer may yet fall victim to the same fate as his predecessors if results go awry and United fall away when football eventually resumes, particularly with the spectre of Mauricio Pochettino looming large over him.
Solskjaer has embarked on a necessary process that will ultimately benefit United and, even if he should not end up in the Old Trafford job for the long haul, his successor, whoever that may be.
The threat of Mauricio Pochettino looms large in the background, but Solskjaer is holding his own for now
(Image: Getty Images)
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But for the moment at least, Solskjaer has it right on almost every call, be it ins, outs, tactics and man-management, suggesting he can take United back to somewhere near their glorious past under Ferguson.
Three times this season he has beaten Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, including a first league double for a decade, while up until Watford’s shock 3-0 win over Liverpool, his United were the only team to have taken points off Jurgen Klopp’s runaway Premier League leaders.
There have, of course, been some brutal low points, the 2-0 home defeat to Burnley just two months ago a sobering reminder that United remain a work in progress and still possess an underlying vulnerability at times.
But in simple terms, Solskjaer has given United fans their club back, adhering to their rich history of advocating youth and playing fast, attacking football, underpinned by a solid defence.
There are still major tests ahead for Solskjaer, not least how he handles the ongoing Paul Pogba saga, with United’s £89million club record signing still desperate to leave this summer.
United's pursuit of Jadon Sancho will be a test of Solskjaer's mettle
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
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And despite the uncertainty over the impact of the coronavirus, the summer is another huge one for United in the transfer market, with Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and James Maddison among the targets.
Under Solskjaer, United are certainly a more attractive proposition for players than they were at any time under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Mourinho, despite the club’s rich history and enduring global standing.
One year in and, with Ole at the wheel, United fans now have genuine hope of emerging from the bleak post-Ferguson period into a bright new era of success.