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Manchester United: Five reasons Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost his job

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had teetered on the edge many times before, but this time it was one step too far for Manchester United, and now he is gone.  

Time and again beforehand, a mixture of forces would gather to drag him back from the brink – be that his own players, his old team-mates turned pundits, or the club’s hierarchy. This time though, he was deserted. 

Saturday’s 4-1 embarrassment at the hands of Watford damaged the Norwegian beyond repair, and after post-match crisis talks – and the night to sleep on it – the club’s hierarchy decided enough is enough.

It is, of course, not this result in isolation that caused the Glazers – the owners of Manchester United – to speak to chief executive officer Ed Woodward over the immediate future of the man in charge. 

Criticisms have been levelled at Solskjaer’s United team ever since he took temporary charge in December 2018 following the end of Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated term in charge at Old Trafford.

Eye-catching results and wave upon wave of nostalgia regularly ignited a feel-good factor that had been extinguished by the Portuguese boss’s presence. But underneath, foundations were shaky.

Here, Sportsmail looks at five areas where the 48-year-old’s tenure fell down, and the factors that ultimately led to to his demise. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time at United has come to an embarrassing end after three years

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at United has come to an embarrassing end after three years 

Constant tactical questioning 

It was always going to be a noticeable difference moving from Jose Mourinho to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Mourinho is one of his generation’s greatest tacticians, with a clear identity and a style of play. He likes his side to keep hold of the ball, he likes them to dominate by being strong at the back… and he likes them to win. 

That was not enough for United fans, who, when the victories deserted the team, were left with a brand of football they didn’t like, or indeed enjoy.  

In that way, any brand of football with a whiff of attacking intention was going to win fans over in the short term, which is exactly what Solskjaer was able to do in turning his caretaker role into a permanent one. 

His counter-attacking style caught opponents off guard and made for some memorable nights – not least in Paris in the last-16 of the Champions League. 

United have had to get used to falling behind under Solskjaer - they did so 17 times last season

United have had to get used to falling behind under Solskjaer – they did so 17 times last season

But results like the aggregate victory over PSG only served to paper over a lack of cohesive style that could be regularly implemented. 

Swashbuckling comebacks became the norm, rather than actually dominating matches. No club took more points from losing positions in the Premier League last season, with United amassing an incredible 31 points after falling behind. They fell behind in 17 of their 38 matches. 

That has continued this season – seven times in just 12 league matches to date. For comparison, Chelsea have fallen behind just once, Liverpool and Manchester City twice each. 

Solskjaer’s stars used to be able to dig the team out of those holes. That didn’t appear the case any longer. 

A real lack of leadership 

Solskjaer knows all too well the importance of leaders in a dressing room. He was surrounded by them as he lifted title after title at United as a player. 

Looking around the Old Trafford changing room now, though, is a different story.

There is no doubt that there are players in the current United team who have a desire to win – Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane have both proved that with their national team having lifted the World Cup – and more recently the Nations League – with France. 

But at United, the Norwegian has never found a cohesive group of dependable players he can trust to lead by example on the pitch.

Saturday served as a microcosm for the issues Solskjaer has had with his senior stars letting him down, made clear Bruno Fernandes’ gestures post-match, urging supporters to blame the under-performing players as well as the manager.

Paul Pogba's red card last month served as evidence of the real lack of leadership at United

Paul Pogba’s red card last month served as evidence of the real lack of leadership at United 

Bruno Fernandes made a point of asking supporters to blame the players as well as the boss

Bruno Fernandes made a point of asking supporters to blame the players as well as the boss

Wearing the captain’s armband, Harry Maguire was woefully at fault for the second goal against Liverpool, and his red card against Watford once again showed the bad side of his game. 

Against Liverpool, Pogba was trusted to come on from the bench to regain a bit of composure for the side, but proceeded to be at fault for the fifth goal before being sent off for a wild two-footed lunge.

When the most experienced and influential players in your side are putting in these types of displays, the hotseat can feel a very lonely place.  

It is not something lost on Solskjaer’s old team-mates either. Roy Keane was a prominent leader in Sir Alex Ferguson’s dressing room and his assessment has often been damning.  

‘I don’t see any leaders out there,’ Keane told Sky Sports a year ago. In truth, that still rings true 12 months later.

No cohesive transfer policy 

Solskjaer inherited a squad that needed improving, that cannot be questioned. On an individual level, it is fair to say it has over the past three years. 

And yet, it has all felt just a little haphazard with Solskjaer and United. The criticism levelled at outgoing CEO Ed Woodward is testament to a period where negotiating and recruitment has not been at its strongest. 

United have lost out on top targets, brought in the wrong ones and had to wait an inordinate amount of time to bring the right one in. 

Not recruiting the players he wanted has severely undermined the Norwegian, and no saga demonstrates this more clearly than the inability to secure the services of Erling Haaland. 

The failure of Donny van de Beek has highlighted United's difficulty on transfers in recent years

The failure of Donny van de Beek has highlighted United’s difficulty on transfers in recent years

Solskjaer did everything he could to land his fellow countryman, fast emerging as the next great striking talent in the world game. United did not, and as a result, he headed to Germany.

That left Solskjaer and United scratching around for more firepower, and a series of short-term fixes have been implemented – the latest a snap decision to give in to the irresistible lure of a Cristiano Ronaldo reunion. 

There have been other issues, too. Donny van de Beek has not been the player United thought they were getting to shore up their midfield issues. The pursuit of Jadon Sancho went on more than 12 months longer than it should have. 

It has left Solskjaer without the adequate tools, and is the clearest example of how a manager’s destiny is never always in their own hands.  

Undermined by player power

When you manage a big club, you have to manage big characters. Solskjaer has dealt with them all his life, but it is easier as a player than a coach. 

He was not the most vociferous in the United changing room as a player. He isn’t now. Used to a bit part and content with his role at United as someone who could impact a game from the start, he was never a main man.

So his ability to deal with those who do consider themselves the centre of United’s universe has been fascinating. 

While some have continued to stick up for their manager – Luke Shaw explained the players were at fault for the Liverpool debacle and Fernandes did the same on the pitch at Watford – others have not been so quick to hold their council.

After the recent defeat by Leicester City, Paul Pogba was happy to take the opportunity during his interview with the BBC to publicly question the tactics of his manager.

The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo barking instructions was not a good look for Solskjaer

The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo barking instructions was not a good look for Solskjaer 

It was an uneasy situation, but one that hammers home the stark reality. Pogba felt he could, without any meaningful repercussions. 

While the player is into the last 12 months of his United contract, it isn’t worth running the risk of a prolonged spell out in the cold. Of course, the Frenchman was certain this wouldn’t be the case.

Solskjaer is extremely likeable, but that doesn’t get you places in football. He lacks a ruthless streak and the United hotseat has never looked his own. 

At no time was that more obvious than the defeat by Young Boys in Switzerland, where he allowed himself to share his technical area with Cristiano Ronaldo.

The scene was questioned by former club captain Rio Ferdinand, and rightly so. It was clear who held the authority in that situation. It is clear who holds the authority now.  

That elusive first trophy

There is a feeling that all pressure currently on the shoulders of the Manchester United boss would have been lifted by the presence of any addition in the trophy cabinet.  

Instead, the absence of silverware became another weight, another stick with which to beat Solskjaer.

His depiction as a nearly man was a difficult pill to swallow, a series of semi-final appearances producing the same result every time – defeat and despair. 

Four came and went, two in the Carabao Cup, one in the FA Cup and another in the Europa League. United watched as Manchester City, Chelsea and Sevilla all claimed their berth in the final. 

United lost on penalties in the Europa League final, against a side they should have beat

United lost on penalties in the Europa League final, against a side they should have beat

It looked a different story last April, however. United rose to the occasion against Roma in the Europa League, producing a stunning 6-2 first-leg win to all but guarantee a place in the final. 

There, they met Villarreal, a side that posed little to be fearful of. Yet United buckled, falling to a penalty shootout defeat. 

United need a winner. There is a very credible argument that other managers would have won the match given the same resources and it is this belief now fuelling the desire to reach for a new broom.