By Abiye Opuamah
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to presume that millions of Manchester United fans across the globe would have been immensely relieved when the club’s board of directors made the ‘difficult’ decision to relieve José Mourinho of his role as manager of the club.
The Portuguese manager had overseen what could perhaps be best described as the most turbulent period in the club’s history since Sir Alex Ferguson departed at the end of the 2013 season.
Languishing in sixth position on the League table and playing like a team saddled with a colossal bag of expectation that was weighing too heavily on fragile shoulders, José Mourinho’s side never quite gave the impression that they fancied their chances of clawing their way back into a Champions League place – a minimum requirement for a team considered as one of the biggest in the world. At the time of Mourinho’s sacking, United were already eleven points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea but with a potentially favourable run of games ahead that on paper looked winnable and could see them come within touching distance of the teams ahead of them.
One too many false dawns
The Manchester United board had however, seen one too many false dawns in a season that had promised so much at the beginning but yielded so little in terms of results especially against the so-called smaller teams that it would have felt like a folly to let Mourinho continue at the helm and risk the possibility of not making Champions League next season. What would perhaps have rankled more for the board than the prospect of missing a Champions league place would have been the excess of 300 million pounds spent by Mourinho to bolster a side that still looked bang average at best.
Tales of disharmony in the dressing room and spats with players dominated newspaper headlines, team selections for games at times bordered on the diabolical, an established tradition of playing free-flowing and attacking football jettisoned for a caustic pragmatic approach and perhaps worse still, were the many times in the season where Mourinho looked like a man that had been dragged from the comforts of his hotel room in the wee hours of the morning and made to walk three miles in search of braai materials, only to realise a mile away that he had forgotten his wallet back at the hotel room.
Despite all of those misdemeanours, it must have come as something of a surprise when the hammer eventually did come down on his reign days after some emphatic reassurances from the board who might have thought the Portuguese could salvage something in the upcoming match against Liverpool. Perhaps it was the insipid performance against their bitter rivals or a cumulation of other factors that informed their decision to eventually axe the Portuguese tactician but the announcement at noon of his sacking was as unequivocal as the intention to install an interim manager indeterminate.
Bring some sanity to the dressing room
Nonetheless, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a legend of the club was drafted to come in and bring some sanity to a dressing room that was rumoured to be on the precipice of mutiny. The wisdom of Solskjaer’s appointment has been put through the intensest of scrutinies especially because the Norwegian, while a personable fellow, astoundingly, lacks the required pedigree to steer a monster the size of Manchester United. Critics even pointed to a failed stint at Cardiff (which was incidentally, the club United were scheduled to meet on the Saturday after his appointment) which presumably exposed a lack of tactical nous that culminated in the club’s relegation and ultimately, his eventual departure to Norway where he once again picked up the reins at Molde and by all accounts did a decent job.
But Molde is a small club by European standards the critics argued and turning an otherwise average side to become competitors in an average Norwegian league is not exactly the most auspicious audition for a job the size of managing Manchester United even at a caretaker capacity.
If the Norwegian was flustered by all the scrutiny around his appointment, his first interview with the club’s television station, showed little of that trepidation as he extolled the virtues of the club and its current crop of players. It was refreshing to see how he skillfully shied away from the unsavoury narcissism that had come to characterize so many interviews of his predecessor. The mandate of the job is for Solskjaer to bring back a certain degree of levity that had been sorely missing in the Manchester United dressing room and hopefully get the club ticking again for a new manager expected to be announced at the current season.
Cheerful and infectious personality
On paper, that doesn’t seem like such a difficult mandate for a man whose cheerful disposition is rumoured to be as infectious as influenza and already, there seems to be a positive response from the players as United have at the time of writing this article, come away with two impressive victories over Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town. Should United continue to respond to his tactics and make a Champions League place come end of the season, who says the board will not be under pressure to install him in a full-time capacity?
If it just doesn’t work out in the end at Manchester United, you get a sense that he will return to Molde with pride and the very real possibility that other clubs around Europe would have noticed his efforts at United and will be looking at him as a viable option. Solskjaer can’t really lose in all of this, can he?