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Defeated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left with no way back as Manchester United surrender once more

The Norwegian oversaw another pitiful performance as the Red Devils were humiliated by a struggling Hornets side at Vicarage Road

Miguel Delaney
At Vicarage Road
Sunday 21 November 2021 10:00 GMT
Related video: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer vows he can turn Man United around amid sack rumours

In the Vicarage Road dressing room, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was already talking to some players about how he didn’t know if he’d be in charge for the next Manchester United match.

Most of the squad feel it is done. Most, in truth, want it done. Many around United would argue the performance in a pitiful 4-1 defeat to Watford said that more than anything.

This was no longer a team fighting for their manager, no matter how much they profess to like him in private. It was barely a team at all. It could really have been 4-0 to Watford at half-time.

The final collapse that made it into the rout it should have been felt like a final nail. It was all the worse because Watford had looked nervous at 2-1. They looked there for the taking.

United just didn’t have it in them.

Solskjaer didn’t look like he had the fight in him any more. He tried to give off an image of defiance after the match - insisting he believes he is the right man for the job, and saying they can turn it around - but his facial expressions and body language stated otherwise.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the Norwegian as he came onto his post-game conference and quipped, with some gallows humour, that “you don’t need to see my face today” when the camera didn’t work.

He had earlier been overheard saying to Claudio Ranieri “when the seagulls follow the trawler…”

That was of course the famous line by Eric Cantona when he faced huge media scrutiny after attacking a fan, and it felt a depressingly fitting conclusion that Solskjaer he was repurposing another piece of United nostalgia, only this time so plaintively.

As astonishing as the events on the pitch had been, it became one of those evenings where there was even more fascination with what was happening off it.

All manner of rumours swirled around Vicarage Road as everyone waited for a statement that hadn’t yet come by the time the ground had emptied. Everyone was saying it was inevitable without Solskjaer’s fate yet being confirmed.

Executives were naturally discussing his future after the game, but any decision will ultimately come down to Joel Glazer. His mind may be made up for him.

The stadium had already witnessed a moment that was probably more significant than the scoreline.

De Gea appears dejected as Watford pile on the misery for United

That was United’s famously loyal travelling fans booing and flicking Vs at Solskjaer when he went over.

As many connected to the club were saying, “there’s no coming back from that”. Bruno Fernandes did give a bit back to supporters, reproaching them for the response.

The Portuguese, whose own form has nosedived, later pleaded with everyone to blame the team as a group.

David De Gea’s words were much more loaded.

“We don’t know what to do with the ball,” the goalkeeper. “We don’t know how to defend properly.”

This is really a long-running problem that is now coming to a head. A frequent criticism from those within the game is that Solskjaer just doesn’t coach teams or co-ordinate them to a level anywhere close to the top managers.

Even if that weren’t true, though, this has the feeling of one of those managerial reigns that has just run its course.

The truth is that United have known that for some time. They haven’t yet acted because of the lack of elite options and the vain hope that Solskjaer might at least steady things for a time.

The opposite has happened. It is almost like Chelsea 2015-16 in that regard, if for entirely different reasons.

Every time you think it can’t get worse, and the team just have too much quality for it to get really bad, it somehow does.

“Losing to Watford just wasn’t on the agenda,” one source said after the game. “So to lose 4-1?”

As a consequence of that kind of indecision and basic lack of football intelligence, any eventual sacking is likely to be even more costly - and that doesn’t even apply to Solskjaer’s needless new contract from the summer.

The situation is worse in the table. There are fewer available options.

“They’re in a mess entirely of their own making,” another source added.

One argument has been that they don’t want to destabilise things with so short a break until a crucial Champions League match against Villarreal, but can they really trust Solskjaer of any of his available backroom staff with that?

And if they do make a change - with the club apparently ready to throw money at Zinedine Zidane - do they really want any new manager’s first league game to be Chelsea away before a hugely difficult run? But then the feeling is they have to do something to stay in the Champions League… and on and on.

There is a problem almost everywhere they turn, much like the players found on the Vicarage Road pitch.

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