Three months. On 1 April, that is what would have remained of the original six-year contract that David Moyes, Alex Ferguson’s successor, signed with Manchester United in 2013. Except that he was sacked 10 months later. Since then, two other managers have come and gone—Louis Van Gaal and José Mourinho. Van Gaal promised neat, tidy football and a resolute defence. But that came at the cost of uninspiring football. When Mourinho, the self-proclaimed special one, took over at Old Trafford, there was optimism before it all unravelled for him earlier this season.
Now, it has taken a little more than three months for Ole Gunnar Solskjær to convince the powers that be at United that he is the right choice to manage the club permanently.
Since he took charge, Solskjær has won 15 of his 21 matches. But with a top 4 finish within touching distance, the chance to upset city rivals Manchester City’s title aspirations, and a massive quarter-final tie against Barcelona in the Champions League (over two legs on 11 and 17 April), the Norwegian’s real test begins now. We revisit five key turning points that led to his appointment as the club’s permanent manager.
18 December CURTAINS FOR MOURINHO
Two days after a damaging 3-1 defeat at Liverpool, United sacked the Portuguese manager. Mourinho was appointed by the club in 2016 and went on to guide them to a Europa League and League Cup title the same year. But this defeat at Liverpool—where they recorded just two shots on target—left United 19 points off the top of the table. The failure to sign a central defender of his preference in the summer and an early onset of his so-called “third-season syndrome” left Mourinho frustrated, and this eventually reflected in the team’s performance. This was also their worst-ever start to a league campaign in 28 years.
22 December THE FIVE-GOAL FEAT
A day after Mourinho was jettisoned from Old Trafford, United announced they had appointed former player Ole Gunnar Solskjær as caretaker manager till the end of the season. A prolific striker for the club during his playing days, Solskjær’s only managerial experience in the Premier League came during an eight-month spell in 2014 with Cardiff City that ended in relegation. His first match as United’s (caretaker) manager, though, was nothing short of spectacular. A rampant United scored five against Cardiff City—it was the first time they had scored five goals in a match since Ferguson’s last match in charge.
12 February THE TASTE OF DEFEAT
After an unbeaten run of 11 games in all competitions, Solskjær tasted defeat for the first time as United manager when Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) outclassed his side in an exhilarating performance in the Uefa Champions League round of 16. Angel Di Maria, formerly of United, created both the goals, finished expertly by Presnel Kimpembe and the excellent Kylian Mbappe. Paul Pogba, who had found his scoring touch again under the new manager, was sent off after a second yellow card. Down by two away goals after the first leg and without probably his best midfielder for the return leg, United were left with the daunting task of reaching the last eight of the Champions League.
6 March A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES
Solskjær promised United wouldn’t panic after the first-leg defeat. Fast forward to the second leg in Paris. United started on the front foot with a goal from Romelu Lukaku but PSG fought back through Juan Bernat. It was 1-1 on the night (3-1 on aggregate) and the tie had swung back in favour of the French side. Lukaku scored in the first half again after a mistake from PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, but United needed one more to advance on the away goals rule. A huge slice of video assistant referee (VAR) luck in the 90th minute handed Marcus Rashford the chance to put his team 3-1 ahead on the night and peg the aggregate score at 3-3. Rashford converted from the penalty spot and United completed a remarkable comeback. In doing so, they became the first team in Champions League and European Cup history to overcome a 2-0 or greater home first-leg deficit.
28 March OLE’S PERMANENT GIG
Fourteen wins from his first 19 games in charge were enough to convince the United hierarchy to appoint Solskjær as the club’s fourth permanent manager in six years. When Solskjaer was appointed as the caretaker in December, the club had issued a statement stating they would conduct “a thorough recruitment process for a new full-time manager”. Big names, including the likes of Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, Zinedine Zidane, Massimiliano Allegri and Laurent Blanc, were thought to be in the running. But Solskjær’s positive effect on the club, both on and off the field, after Mourinho’s uncertain reign clearly had a big role to play in the decision.