It’s hard to know what the most embarrassing moment of Manchester United’s humiliating 5-0 hammering against Liverpool was.
For this writer it was the fact that many fans of other clubs were begging Liverpool to ease up on the goals to try and ensure that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stayed in his job. Not even David Moyes was thought of this poorly was he?
Hard to make an accurate judgement on that one, after all Moyes wasn’t even given a season to finish the job. We’re coming up to the third of year of the Solskjaer experiment and it’s hard to say they’ve really made much progress in that time.
Champions League
Chelsea continue to reap the rewards of that transfer ban – The Warm-Up
24/11/2021 AT 08:29

Solskjaer feels ‘rock bottom’ but believes in himself after Liverpool thrash Man Utd

If and when Solskjaer’s services are dispensed with there are two key lessons to take away. The first is that the leadership at United is cowardly, lazy and simply not fit for purpose. Ed Woodward, for some bizarre reason decided to stay on until the end of 2021 rather than hire a Director of Football over the summer, and if they do not fire Solskjaer after this then surely that has to be the only reason the Norwegian is staying, they are waiting for the new head of football to decide who he wants to take over. A shambles in of itself.
The second, and the subject of this article, is that hiring a former player as a manager is not a foregone conclusion, it is a gamble at the best of times.
Across football there are a host of top managers who were also top players. Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Hansi Flick, Mauricio Pochettino, Antonio Conte, Diego Simeone, Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti are all great examples.
But most of them have a key trait; they were allowed to cut their teeth before getting top jobs. Nearly all of them spent time developing in smaller leagues or at smaller clubs in top leagues. And they spent time there as well. Klopp (who we are probably stretching the definition of top player for) spent five and a half years with Mainz. Flick was in charge of Hoffenheim for five years before becoming Germany assistant. Simeone spent a number of years in Argentina and Conte managed Bari for a period.
There are exceptions of course, Zidane and Guardiola being the most obvious. Apart from managing Castilla and Barcelona B they had no real managerial experience but went on to have great success at two of the biggest clubs in the world. They are the outliers though, not the rule, and they had previously learnt under some of the game's greats (see Johan Cruyff and Ancelotti). They also benefited from having two historically good teams. It takes pretty much all former players time to adjust to the rigours of managing a team, particularly with the difference between generations.

Zinédine Zidane

Image credit: Getty Images

So hiring Solskjaer after a couple of titles in Molde (and ignoring the problems at Cardiff City and struggles on his return to Molde) is always going to be a gamble. It feels harsh to call the decision a poor one, it is just a gamble that has not paid off.
But the failures are eerily similar to another former player, Frank Lampard at Chelsea, and the pair's struggles should really give teams pause for thought before they consider hiring an inexperienced manager who was a fine player.
Because despite what some people say clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea do not “simply manage themselves” because of the calibre of player. These jobs are the best paid in the world for a reason. You are not only going against some of the finest tactical minds in the world trying to pinpoint the most minute of details in each other’s games, you are also dealing with some of the most talented, and therefore egotistical, people in the world. On top of that you have to deal with the incredibly intense pressure that comes with managing one of the world’s biggest clubs. There are always multiple star players are these clubs, there is only one manager.
Unless these ex-players have actually spent the time doing the work to understand what it takes to be a manager they are going to be caught out. Solskjaer and Lampard are perfect examples of this. They both started off fairly brightly but couldn’t adjust their tactics once their preferred playing style was found out. Both really seem to struggle to coach a proper defence that doesn’t get carved apart by opponents at will.

Solskjaer signs autographs after 5-0 Liverpool humiliation

There’s also how they used certain marquee signings. Lampard was clearly flummoxed about what to do with Kai Havertz, and Solskjaer doesn’t seem to be sure on how to use Jadon Sancho. Both excellent players who didn’t deserve the treatment they received. A certain Donny van de Beek would also like a word. Leaving out big players is fine if you’re winning and playing well, but not knowing how or refusing to use these players became more inexcusable as time went by and the losses began to stack up.
Fans of United should feel comforted by the uptick in fortune for Havertz once a real tactician, Thomas Tuchel, took over at Stamford Bridge.
Of course the elephant in the room, which we glanced at earlier, is that Solskjaer has been badly let down by the United board. Aside from failing to put him out of his misery there have to be questions about the squad they have created, particularly in the centre of midfield, and this seemingly never-ending fetish for old strikers. Some of this is on Solskjaer for not being able to coach players up or make them work in certain systems, but it’s also on the board.
Because, like Chelsea when Lampard was sacked, it didn’t necessarily feel like they had to be top of the table (although with the amount of money they had spent they should have been close). No it was more about not feeling as if they were a million miles away. Lampard lost 3-1 to Arsenal and Manchester City in the space of the week and it was impossible to escape the feeling that he was out of his depth and he was in fact now holding the team back. The same is now true of Solskjaer.

Frank Lampard was sacked by Chelsea in January 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

Like Solskjaer Lampard brought a group of unhappy players together after a tumultuous and moody former manager (Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea and Jose Mourinho at Manchester United) and they both benefited from giving some chances to younger academy players which helped improve the mood around the club.
But like Lampard Solskjaer has now been found out, and the good will has now well and truly run out.
What United will do next will be fascinating. The bookies favourite at the moment is Zinedine Zidane because of his success at Real Madrid and relationship with Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo. That is actually going to be a huge gamble. We are yet to see how Zidane copes without a squad of superstars (which that three-peat Champions League winning side were) and are United any better than the Real team he walked away from last summer?
The problem is that there doesn’t appear to an obvious sure thing. The other main favourites; Brendan Rodgers, Antonio Conte, Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino all have their own risks or complications. But United have to get it right, they’ve used up their mulligan with Solskjaer. The gap between the top two (City and Liverpool) in the season Solskjaer was hired was 25 points. No-one expected an instant turnaround, those two were reaching the apex of the Guardiola and Klopp eras.
But we were supposed to be at the apex now, and we’re not. Meanwhile Chelsea have closed the gap under Tuchel in a short period and teams like West Ham have become friskier under, ironically, David Moyes. It’s early on in the season but the gap between fourth and tenth is just three points. In ten games time United need to be part of a top four that is pulling away from the pack, they won’t do that under Solskjaer.
But who will they do it under? That’s the pivotal question…
Premier League
Lampard ready to swoop if Rodgers heads to Man Utd – Transfer Notebook
16/11/2021 AT 10:34
Premier League
Lampard withdraws from race to become new Norwich boss
12/11/2021 AT 15:42