Next month Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will celebrate his two-year anniversary as Manchester United manager, but how long can he truly expect to stick around?
Solskjaer has one full season remaining on his contract after this campaign and the message being sent out by club insiders is that his job is safe. He will lead United into a new year and another transfer window, but this has to be the time to deliver consistent results and performances that prove he is the man to lead the club forward.
Solskjaer’s status as a club legend gives him breathing space that David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho did not have time to earn, but the club will still have to judge him in the same areas of development. Mourinho lost his job at United in December 2018 after the board decided there had been no progress with results or style during his tenure. From his 144 matches, Mourinho recorded a 58.3% win ratio. The signs are not great in this respect for Solskjaer, as he is currently on 103 games and his win record is at 55.3%.
United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has been patient and still believes the overall outlook is good, but he also knows that another losing streak would bring pressure from some sections of the support to take action. So far he has resisted any knee-jerk reactions to bad results.
Solskjaer himself has had frustrations during his time at United, particularly in terms of transfers. The failure to capture Jadon Sancho was significant in terms of his planning for this season and it is a subject that is about to rear its head again. As the January window nears, United fans want to know if and how this squad will be strengthened. United are tenth in the table and a defender or forward - or both - are wanted by most supporters.
- The Zidane plan: Mbappe to lead mammoth Madrid rebuild, Pogba in picture too
- Chelsea want Bellingham, Lampard likes Barkley, and the players who will leave
- City's crucial six months: Pep uncertainty, the Messi factor, and targeting Haaland
Will the Sancho deal happen?
Sancho is an obvious name that will be spoken about and Solskjaer really wanted him last time around. He was under the impression, too, that a deal would be completed by the summer deadline. He did not make a fuss of United’s failure to land him but there there was, and still is, a feeling that someone of Sancho’s style and confidence would breathe new energy and excitement into this side.
How likely is it Solskjaer still gets his man? It’s going to be tough.
The chances of Dortmund selling Sancho in the January window are very low. United found Dortmund difficult to deal with throughout the summer, when there were at least three attempts to get a deal done. The feeling from well informed people in Germany right now is that they will not listen to any offers until the end of the season.
The current economic situation could be one factor though that helps United eventually get their man. The Bundesliga has been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic and an empty Signal Iduna Park has had an obvious affect on Dortmund’s financial plans. But we will have to see towards the end of the season just how their stance changes. United will start to get an idea of a timeframe and current valuation of the player for any potential transfer soon.
In terms of alternatives, they continue to look around. The chance to sign Ousmane Dembele from Barcelona won't crop up again in January but they would be willing to discuss a deal for Watford's Ismaila Sarr, if an opportunity opens up. It was a deal which looked possible a few months back and he remains a player they feel could provide good value for money.
Upamecano and other centre-back options
Dayot Upamecano of RB Leipzig looks on during the Bundesliga match between RB Leipzig and 1. FSV Mainz 05 at Red Bull Arena on September 20, 2020 in Leipzig, Germany.
Image credit: Getty Images
News on Dayot Upamecano arriving as United’s new centre-half is not much better than on Sancho, as it stands.
RB Leipzig are sending out the message that their man is not for sale this winter. United were linked with him towards the end of the summer window and the intent was there, but the truth was always that the pursuit would really kick on in 2021. They will try to make that a reality but Leipzig have a clear vision for this season and he is a big part of it.
It is considered that United's best hope of getting Upamecano would be to strike a deal ahead of time, so they guarantee him for the summer. The player has a €42m clause - but the fact Bayern Munich are now on the scene and considering a move for the player is a concern. Battling with them for a Bundesliga talent is very different to competing with rival Premier League clubs.
United do have other names in the background that are being worked on as potential defensive targets for 2021. Sources indicate that Pau Torres of Villarreal and Jules Kounde of Sevilla are both on the radar, while Brighton’s Ben White and Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu have been discussed.
Nothing concrete is being looked at in terms of bids at this stage though, sources say. But the potential of injuries in this chaotic season means they will always be prepared with potential targets in case they need to react to a situation quickly.
Meanwhile, Donny van de Beek and Edinson Cavani will become more influential players soon, as Solskjaer has been taking time to figure out how they best fit into each of the four tactical set-ups he believes United can use.
An exit for Henderson?
Dean Henderson of Manchester United in action during a first team training session
Image credit: Getty Images
There are other issues to deal with too and in January we might see more headlines about players who leave than players who arrive.
One of those is goalkeeper Dean Henderson. It is understood he is frustrated by his decision to stay, as he hasn’t had an opportunity to play in the Premier League and prove his worth. He will probably push for a loan move again.
Celtic has been mentioned as a possibility, which sources say United would be very open to.
Sergio Romero, United’s other keeper, also expects to be made available though. And Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones are high profile names who will have decisions made over their future.
Ole's still at the wheel and will drive the club into 2021, but the stakes are about to become higher. We are entering another telling year for United on and off the pitch.