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Why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? For this Manchester United team, it's more of a case of why not?

This is without doubt an emotional decision and one designed to try and make everything that bit happier, even if only temporarily

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Wednesday 19 December 2018 14:45 GMT
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appointed caretaker manager of Manchester United

If the Manchester United players and Jose Mourinho himself were shocked by the decision to sack the Portuguese on Tuesday morning, those around Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were not. There had already been contact between the club and the Norwegian, as well as Laurent Blanc.

United knew they wanted someone steeped in the club’s traditions, but from outside, with executive vice-chairman having discussed the situation with the Glazer family in Florida last week.

Few are as steeped in those traditions as Solskjaer. He is not only responsible for the greatest moment in United history, but embraced every element of that history in a way even few homegrown players do. Those who know Solskjaer talk of the “almost child-like joy” he displays when discussing anything to do with Old Trafford.

The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust described him in a statement as a “patron”, and that from a group that have often declared opposition to his new bosses, the Glazers.

But perhaps that’s part of the point. Solskjaer is United’s unity candidate after such a fractious period, not completely unlike Kenny Dalglish with Liverpool in 2011.

It is an emotional decision, but not in the sense of entirely being based on what happened against Liverpool on Sunday.

It is rather to just improve the mood around the club; to give people a lift.

The effect of that will be instant. That is the emotional power of a figure like Solskjaer.

This is why it is, on the very surface, a good appointment. Old Trafford will immediately feel happier.

After that, though, it’s a bit harder to say. Not least whether that happiness can be sustained. It only takes two successive bad games for that initial effect to almost completely evaporate, for fans and everyone else to look to what next.

That curious situation is what frames much of this. To a degree, the fact this is only temporary in what is already a mostly lost campaign means it is the most inconsequential season now possible, and creates an element of “why not?” about this appointment.

Even that, however, is somewhat staggering when you stand back and consider it. It is remarkable that one of the biggest roles in football can be just handed out like that, even if only temporarily.

Mourinho's sacking has opened the door for Solskjaer (Reuters)

It isn’t all about the emotion of course. There is some rationale.

One key factor is that Solskjaer knows players like Paul Pogba from his time as reserve manager between 2008 and 2011, and there is a belief they will respond to him in a way that is now badly necessary after the attritional bad feeling of Mourinho’s time.

Solskjaer followed that up with profound success at Molde, and although there was a complete failure at Vincent Tan’s Cardiff City, that is seen as having so many caveats and variables that it is almost irrelevant to taking over United. Trying to keep a basket-case lower-table club up mid-season is very different to just steadying what is, well, a basket-case giant.

This is also key. There is a hope that, a bit like Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, Solskjaer can just come in and effectively facilitate what remains a talented squad, allowing them to express themselves. The more brutal reality for football in general is that United are a club so much wealthier than so many of their Premier League opponents that they should be able to accumulate a critical mass of points necessary for the top six almost by default. It actually takes properly negative effect to endanger that, which is something that Mourinho was responsible for by the end.

Solskjaer's history with the club is in his favour (Getty Images)

He’s also left a situation where only two games right now truly matter in United’s season: that Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain. The competition has proven that temporary emotional responses can go a long way in a cup competition like that. That can be what such nights are actually about, and many have already pointed to the caretaker precedents of Tony Barton and Roberto Di Matteo.

Solskjaer also says all the right things about playing the right way, and getting his teams to attack.

Saying it is one thing, though. Knowing how to get it done to a certain level at the very top level is something else.

As those who Solskjaer from Norway also say, his talk about it can be a bit general and vague.

And while just allowing players to play and express themselves can have an initial effect - see United’s opening games of the 2017-18 season - it needs more structure over time. That is where the question of sustaining that happiness actually comes in.

Solskjaer still has much to prove (AP)

Will Solskjaer introduce the type of co-ordination of movement and pressing that really marks out attacking football at the top of the game?

That it is someway important, since United ideally want to have the squad and general situation in a happier place at the time the next man actually arrives.

Some in the dressing room have already wondered whether Solskjaer might be a bit too soft, especially “given the egos in here”.

Some are of an age where the Norwegian’s club past will actually not mean that much. Many wanted Michael Carrick in charge.

If all that is the case, then it does become fair to ask why they couldn’t have gone with any of another number of United heroes in management. That is the situation they’re at. Steve Bruce was interested and, with his Valencia failure not unlike Cardiff, would Gary Neville really have been much a worse choice than Solskjaer?

The former striker has a big job on his hands at Old Trafford (AFP/Getty)

That in itself does perhaps point to some of the politics at United, and how the ‘Class of 92’ have been sidelined by the Woodward regime, despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s restored influence.

The appointment of Mike Phelan is highly relevant there, and he is seen as capable of filling in any gaps in the Norwegian’s managerial talents.

So, why Solskjaer?

Well, it really comes down to 'why not'? But by going for the so-known, United have entered the unknown.

They will, at least temporarily, be that bit happier.

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