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Manchester United fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager, interim search begins

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did not survive Manchester United’s latest embarrassing 4-1 loss to Watford, and he was officially removed as head coach on the morning of Nov. 21 via a club statement

Another former Man United player, Michael Carrick, who was a member of Solskjaer’s coaching staff, will take over the team while the search begins for an interim to take the team to the end of the season. At least that’s the plan outlined in the statement. 

The decision followed an emergency meeting that was called by the club board after the loss at Vicarage Road, which saw Man United’s heaviest defeat to a promoted team since 1989. Multiple reports in the wake of that meeting indicated that a decision had been reached to make a managerial change and dismiss Solskjaer. The official announcement came hours later.

Additional reporting by the Times points to Man United’s owners wanting to recruit free agent manager Zinedine Zidane, who once coached Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. The names of Frenchman Laurent Blanc and Sevilla’s Julien Lopetegui have also come up in media speculation.

Ownership had given Solskjaer the full two-week international break to get things right after the previous 2-0 loss to rival Manchester City. But things did not look much better against Watford in the first game back. Watford scored four goals and it could have had more were it not for a penalty-kick save by goalkeeper David De Gea. It didn’t help that Man United captain Harry Maguire got himself sent off in the match after being caught in possession.

Before the November international break, Solskjaer reportedly had three matches to save his job following the humiliating 5-0 home loss to Liverpool. But it was never clear what those results needed to be. 

Club management had decided to keep the 48-year-old manager at the helm after the debacle against Liverpool, despite “giving serious consideration to dismissing Solskjaer.” After a change in formation to a three center back system, his Man United side went 1-1-1 during those next three matches. A league win at Tottenham and a Champions League draw at Atalanta were followed by the deflating 2-0 home loss to intra-city rival Manchester City which brought back many of the helpless feelings of the Liverpool defeat.

Solskjaer said after the Liverpool match that he still felt like he was the right man for the job despite calling that 5-0 scoreline “rock bottom.” And he was still convinced of it after the humbling setback to Manchester City, during which Man United was outclassed and thoroughly outplayed. He was still hanging on in his postgame comments after the loss to Watford. 

“It’s a definite big, big challenge for everyone in and around the club,” Solskjaer said. “That’s the big question. It’s not for the here and now.

“I’m working for and with the club and I’ve been here for 18 years and of course we’ve got a good communication. And if the club is thinking about doing something that’s a conversation between us,” Solskjaer continued. “The results are not good enough. We know that. We’ve gone 30 games unbeaten away from home. Now we lose two on the bounce conceding four goals in both of them. Of course something’s wrong.

“We’re embarrassed losing the way we do. We know we’re on a bad run in a bad situation but that’s part of football,” he said in reference to his postgame gesture to supporters. “I know they’ll support the team and whoever is on the pitch every single day. Sometimes you have to say sorry, and that’s a sorry for the performance.”

The case against Solskjaer

Despite a number of big signings this offseason, including Raphael Varane ($44 million paid to Real Madrid), Jadon Sancho ($93 million paid to Borussia Dortmund) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($16 million to Juventus), Manchester United has not played well this season, and even many of the wins haven’t been convincing.

United has one win in its last seven league games, a run which has dropped it to seventh place in the standings, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea. The Red Devils have already been eliminated from the Carabao Cup (League Cup) and have needed to come from behind in their last three Champions League matches after opening the group stage with a shock loss to Swiss side Young Boys.

The 5-0 loss to Liverpool was the low point of a challenging few weeks and the Manchester City performance didn’t feel like progress. The Watford loss felt like the final straw.

Solskjaer’s tactics and lineup selections have been called into question for over a month. United has been porous defensively and generally suffered from a lack of organization and coordinated movements without the ball. There are also few clear collective ideas that show up in the attacking sequences, which have instead relied on moments of individual brilliance. The elite competition of the UEFA Champions League has exposed those failings with his team losing half of the matches played in that competition during his tenure (7 of 14).

All this led to public comments from his own players about tactics and gameplans, and that has led to reports that Solskjaer had lost the faith of senior players. His easygoing managerial style reportedly backfired when it came to commanding the dressing room.

But there were still voices in the press, including some of his former Man United teammates, that made the case that Solskjaer needed better players, or more time and support from ownership. One report even blamed the club’s American owners for maintaining low standards that have led to this crisis moment for the club. Rio Ferdinand, however, did not hold back prior to the Watford loss:

Solskjaer’s Manchester United contract

After finishing in second place in the Premier League last season (12 points behind Manchester City) and leading Manchester United to the Europa League final (lost on penalties to Villarreal), Manchester United gave Solskjaer a new three-year contract in July that ran through 2024 with an option for an extra season.

That made parting ways with the Norwegian especially tough to stomach for management and costly, as well. A report indicates that the payout for a firing reached $10 million

Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s Solskjaer who enjoyed the longest time at the helm and the greatest level of player investment:

Manager Arrival Departure Matches Premier League Trophies
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Dec. 19, 2018 Nov. 21, 2021 169 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 7th (Nov. 2021) 0
Jose Mourinho May 27, 2016 Dec. 18, 2018 144 6th, 2nd, 6th (Dec. 2018) 3
Louis Van Gaal July 16, 2014 May 23, 2016 103 4th & 5th 1
David Moyes July 1, 2013 April 22, 2014 51 7th (April 2014)

Who could become Man United manager?

It was believed that Italian Antonio Conte, who was coming off a league title-winning season with Inter Milan in Italy, was the candidate with the best resume to take over a club as storied as United. But despite reports of his interest in the Man United job, he joined Tottenham Hotspur after Spurs fired their manager, Nuno Espirito Santo.

One UK sportsbook had odds on a list of permanent manager candidates (below) and many of the names either have existing club commitments or have already rebuffed any links. Ex-Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, who once coached Ronaldo at Real Madrid, was reportedly not interested at one point, but then it emerged he’s learning English. Brendan Rodgers, Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino have made it clear they’re not interested in a move. 

In the meantime, the name of former France national team boss and Man United player Laurent Blanc is picking up steam, and there’s a report that Ronaldo would want Spain manager Luis Enrique, who has responded by calling mention of his name an “April Fool’s Day” joke:

Manager Current Club Odds
Zinedine Zidane free agent 3.1
Michael Carrick Man United interim 4.0
Brendan Rodgers Leicester City 6.0
Ralf Rangnick Lokomotiv Moscow 8.5
Laurent Blanc Al Rayyan 11
Erik ten Hag Ajax 11
Luis Enrique Spain 13
Darren Fletcher Man United tech. dir. 17
Graham Potter Brighton 26
Roberto Mancini Italy 26

One potential candidate from the list whose coaching philosophy would seem to fit with Man United’s preferred proactive playing style, is the architect of RB Leipzig’s rise to Bundesliga power: Ralf Rangnick, who recently joined Lokomotiv Moscow in a management role. German-based SportBild reporter Christian Falk previously claimed he’s interested.

However, The Independent’s Miguel Delaney reported that Rangnick would only serve as an interim coach until he could hire a permanent manager to take over, allowing Rangnick to ascend to a Director of Football capacity.

Man United’s schedule

The Watford match was only the first in a testing series of matches in late November. 

After the Watford match, the qualification to the Round of 16 of the Champions League will be at stake in a pivotal group stage match at Villarreal in midweek (Nov. 23).

The week wraps up with a massive clash against league leaders Chelsea (Nov. 28), which could virtually knock Manchester United out of the title race for good.



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