Solskjaer has had an immensely good start in his tenure as the Manchester United interim manager. Will it be enough to convince the board of directors to give him the job on a permanent basis?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has thus far refused to entertain any invitation to weigh up what he may need to achieve between now and May if he is to become Manchester United’s permanent manager.
Having been handed the title of ‘caretaker manager’ back in December, it is understandable that people would want to ask him about his long-term job prospects at Old Trafford, with the 12 wins and two draws he has chalked up in 15 games in charge thus far having significantly aided his cause.
However, the Norwegian’s calm, measured approach to the situation is not about to change now. A hoard of huge fixtures remain ahead of United this season, despite him already having gained positive results against the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Paris Saint-Germain has turned into an opportunity to make history following United’s 2-0 loss in the first leg at Old Trafford, and a miraculous turnaround in that tie may be enough in itself to prompt executive vice-chair Ed Woodward and the board to sanctify Solskjaer’s permanent reign.
That would especially be the case should they gain another win at Arsenal four days later. Otherwise, there are still plenty of opportunities to impress, or pitfalls to avoid.
United’s progress in the FA Cup could help to swing the casting votes, while Manchester City and Chelsea both head for Old Trafford in the space of four days in April. If a decision has not already been made by then, the results of those two fixtures are likely to weigh heavily.
The incontrovertible fact of the matter right now as United prepare for Southampton’s visit on Saturday is that Solskjaer is in a far more commanding position at the beginning of March than he was when leading the side for the first time at Cardiff just before Christmas.
His manner has been convincing to this point, and the way in which he and his side have tackled the hurdles thrown in front of them has left nobody in any doubt that Solskjaer can do this job.
The early run of eight successive wins was one thing, but managing to coax positive responses after every setback suffered has surely been the greatest evidence of his suitability to the role.
After the home league draws against Burnley and Liverpool, and the first-leg loss to PSG, tricky away fixtures followed on each occasion.
Yet Leicester City, Chelsea and Crystal Palace were all used as a springboard for better things, rather than allowed to throw further spanners in the works.
When United could have been tentative and self-confidence might have been in short supply, they have instead bounced back with a champion spirit at every turn.
In the process, the manager himself answered many questions about his abilities.
He has switched formations to tackle new challenges, juggled personnel to highlight opponents’ weaknesses, promoted youth players when the need or opportunity has arisen and, latterly, gained significant credit for the way he has dealt with an injury crisis.
In many eyes, Solskjaer has already done enough to earn the job but United don’t need to jump the gun. There is nothing so unique about the situation on March 1 that will not still be true on April 1 or May 1.
“The players will have a say in the way we play the rest of the season,” he said after beating Crystal Palace in midweek. “In that we can manage to keep going, keep progressing, keep getting results, keep getting the crowd behind us, because we need that.”
Mauricio Pochettino, widely believed to be United’s only external consideration for the position, continues to audition for the potential vacancy at Old Trafford in his management of Tottenham’s outsider run at the title, and the United board can only have a deeper field of vision in the latter stages of the season.
However, Solskjaer would be making a huge statement if United were to overtake even Spurs by the end of the season, and there are now just five points separating the two sides and 10 games available to chase down third-placed Tottenham.
The sight of Solskjaer’s United usurping Pochettino’s team would surely be the final deciding factor but, in the meantime, the Norwegian just needs to continue doing what he is doing.
He is leading United with grace and class, refusing to take anything relating to himself or his team for granted, and all the while carrying himself in a manner befitting a Manchester United manager.
When he arrived there were zero expectations, but now the permanent gig is his to lose.