As a player, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was renowned for getting Manchester United over the line. Clive Tydesley’s immortal words ‘and Solskjaer has won it’ are etched into the minds of anyone who watched the 1999 Champions League final, but as a manager the Norwegian has won nothing.
Rather than getting United over the line, Solskjaer’s side have tripped up just before the line more than once. Indeed, the Old Trafford side has lost all four of the semi-finals they have reached under the 48-year-old’s stewardship. Thursday will see Solskjaer lead United into a fifth with Roma standing between the Norwegian and a first final.
Another semi-final defeat will put a stain on Solskjaer that not even a second place finish in the Premier League this season will wash off. Despite his peculiar claim that trophies are an “ego thing” for managers, Solskjaer will ultimately be judged on the silverware he delivers to Old Trafford.
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For all that Manchester United have allowed their standards to slip dramatically in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson age, David Moyes is the only manager to have failed to win at least one trophy since the legendary Scot’s retirement in 2013. No post-Ferguson United boss who has been in charge for a full season has failed to lift silverware.
It’s important Solskjaer proves his credentials as a managerial winner. Once he does that, Manchester United can plot the route forward. The club has undeniably made progress with the former penalty box poacher at the helm, but that will count for nothing if it doesn’t result in the honours list being added to.
Solskjaer’s comments on Roma offered another hint of how he is still to learn how to win as a manager. While the Norwegian likely meant little by his throwaway remark that he didn’t know United’s Europa League semi-final opponents, and that he hadn’t seen them play, it has seemingly fired up the Serie A side and their fans who placed a poster with those words at the entrance to Roma’s training ground.
Knockout games at this level are often decided by the slimmest of margins and Solskjaer’s comments could put his side on the back foot against an opponent eager to ensure Manchester United know all about them by full time. A more seasoned manager wouldn’t have given his opponent such motivational ammunition.
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Roma might be slumped in seventh place in the Serie A table, but Paulo Fonseca’s side boast a lot of quality. They demonstrated this in the win over Ajax in the previous round. Lorenzo Pellegrini, in particular, could cause problems, occupying the awkward no-man’s land between United’s midfield and defence.
Roma, Europa League 2020-21
Image credit: Getty Images
The Europa League often brings the best out of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as United fans know well following the Armenian’s performances for the club in the competition. Edin Dzeko also has the potential to offer a threat in the air, an area Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire are often lacking in.
Nonetheless, United should have enough about them to brush past Roma and into their first final for five years. There is nothing left for Solskjaer and his players to fear in this season’s Europa League, a tournament United are now favourites to win. But it was a similar case in last season’s Europa League, when Sevilla disposed of the Old Trafford outfit at the semi-final stage.
United under Solskjaer might be plotting a route back to a level beyond the Europa League, but winning the competition would be a rites of passage for the Norwegian as a manager. Silverware, any silverware, would be a symbol of how the club is heading in the right direction again. Another trophyless season, however, could be proof of the opposite.
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