And so it finally came to pass. The irresistible force of Manchester United’s awful performances under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ultimately overcame the immovable object of their bizarre reticence to do the right thing and shift him out the door. United eventually came to their senses and recognised that scoring lots of goals as a substitute 20 years ago cannot be the primary qualification of a manager at the elite level.
A Premier League sacking which had been in the post for weeks was finally confirmed on Sunday morning. By early evening Solskjaer was starring in an emotional and slightly weird exit interview broadcast across United’s official channels and by 9pm he was being bantered off by Ant and Dec on the new series of I’m A Celebrity. Life comes at you fast.
Arsenal fluff their lines at Old Trafford - The Warm-Up
In fact, Solskjaer’s parting interview - surely the first of its kind - did have a reality TV flavour to it. An emotional Ole kicked off by repeating how he had “made good friends” like he had just been dumped from Love Island after week six. The Warm-Up was half expecting it to wrap up with Laura Whitmore instructing him to look back on his best bits. With Harry Maguire nowhere to be seen.
It was very surreal. And let’s be honest, touching and sad. And it really got to the core of why sacking Solskjaer was so hard.
Speaking about the friendships he forged, Solskjaer at one point claimed, “that’s what it’s about at a club like this.” For Ole, maybe the real Manchester United job was the friends he made along the way. Except that’s emphatically not what it’s about at a club the size of United. It’s about winning matches and trophies. That’s basically all there is to it.
You can imagine just how desperate Ed Woodward was for it to work out for a beloved figure at the club and a genuinely good guy who wanted to be mates with everyone. You can really get a sense of why they persisted so long and abandoned reason and sense in hoping that someone like Solskjaer would transform into an elite managerial mind in front of their eyes.
‘Honoured’ – Solskjaer says it was a privilege to be Manchester United manager
But it was never going to happen. And sentimentality has only led United directly down a path of fatal mismanagement.
Three weeks ago Antonio Conte was unemployed and club football was preparing for a prolonged break to accommodate World Cup qualifiers. The opportunity was delicious and yet United wasted it. For what? To sack Solskjaer just one match later and two days before a crucial Champions League match, leaving Michael Carrick in charge? Carrick, who finds himself cast bizarrely as the interim to the interim manager - a football equivalent of Gareth Keenan, the assistant to the regional manager.
Somehow the humiliations at the hands of Liverpool and Manchester City were not enough to spur United into action. But a 4-1 reversal to Watford was just too much to bear. You knew a tipping point had been raised when even David De Gea was telling the media that, “we don’t know what to do with the ball. We don’t know how to defend properly.” He was one criticism away from becoming a David Moyes meme made flesh.
The fraught final scenes at Vicarage Road saw Bruno Fernandes apparently try and tell disgruntled United fans not to direct their ire at Solskjaer, instead gesturing with a sweep of his arms that the whole group were responsible for the mess the club found themselves in.
But maybe he should have let his arm linger in the direction of the directors’ box to find some alternative culprits. The men who quite understandably didn’t want to shoot Bambi. But instead put him on public display each week, in the hot and full glare of the spotlight, even though his frightened eyes told you he wasn’t enjoying it and probably would be better off back home.
It was only the latest bout of indecision or incompetence to afflict those who really wield power at United. Ever since appointing David Moyes, the top of the hierarchy have made blunder after blunder when trying to address the managerial situation. Van Gaal. Mourinho. And Solskjaer, who absolutely should never have been given the job permanently. Ultimately you can’t blame him for clinging on at the club of his life, however bad things got.
And now what? Laurent Blanc? Mauricio Pochettino? Wayne Rooney?? The Warm-Up would argue that if Manchester United are serious about delivering on the best traditions of the club - which in the Woodward era mostly means living up to their own branding as the biggest TV show in sport and announcing impressive growth in social media metrics in quarterly shareholder calls - there’s only one man for the job: Roy Keane.
'The time has come' - sad Man Utd fans react to Solskjaer sacking
Here’s what you could have won
At around the time United were probably putting the finishing touches to Ole’s exit vid, Antonio Conte was giving a timely demonstration of what life might have looked like in a parallel universe where United had some basic competency at the executive level.
Spurs were 1-0 down at home to Leeds at half-time before some presumably ‘stirring’ words from Conte which helped inspired a 2-1 win, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Sergio Reguilon the unlikely heroes.
Cue scenes at full-time that could best be described as ‘going full Conte’ as he celebrated like he’d just won the Champions League.
Is it performative? An over-the-top display to provoke a cheap emotional reaction from his new players and supporters? Frankly, who cares. One of the best coaches in the world is back in the Premier League and loving life.
More trouble in France
The Ligue 1 season so far as been afflicted by issues involving crowd trouble and it reached (another?) peak on Sunday when Lyon’s game with Marseille had to be abandoned after Dimitri Payet was struck by a near-full water bottle while attempting to take a corner.
Remarkably it’s already the second time this season Payet has been struck by a bottle, and the second Marseille match which has been abandoned, amid a series of other incidents which have littered Ligue 1.
Lyon re-emerged after a prolonged break to warm-up but Marseille, quite understandably, weren’t prepared to play. We will be hearing more about this.
IN OTHER NEWS
Now here’s your Manchester City 3-0 Everton match report in full:
Are you f****** kidding me, Joao Cancelo?
IN THE CHANNELS
Felix Afena-Gyan is an 18-year-old who last night was making only his third Serie A appearance. He scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Genoa, including this:
There’s a smattering of European matches tonight so instead maybe it’s a good moment to remind you of two big events coming live to you on Eurosport and discovery+.
From tomorrow, it’s the UK Championship in snooker, and from Thursday it’s the Davis Cup in tennis.
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