In the aftermath of Manchester United’s loss to Liverpool in December, Jose Mourinho was sacked as manager. With the team placed closer to the relegation zone than challenging cross-town rivals Manchester City, United were clearly underperforming. In addition, Mourinho’s ego and defensive style went against the values instilled in the club by their previous manager, the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.
After Mourinho was released from his contract, speculation over who would be appointed as next Manchester United manager was rampant.
Names like Zinedine Zidane, Laurent Blanc, and others have been thrown into the conversation, but the two biggest candidates for the job are current interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Former United player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has arrived at Old Trafford on a managerial loan from Molde in his native Norway. Dubbed “the baby-faced assassin” in his playing days, Solskjaer has had quite the amazing start to life at United.
While Solskjaer’s performances have supporters and pundits arguing that he should be given the full-time job, Mauricio Pochettino has been a favorite for some time. The Argentine has been Tottenham Hotspur manager since 2014 and has worked wonders at the North London side.
With that being said, there is a divide over who should be Manchester United manager for the start of next season: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Mauricio Pochettino?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Don’t change what’s not broken – Why Solskjaer should stay
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s connection to Manchester United stems back to his time as a forward under Sir Alex Ferguson. Signed at the age of 23, the Norwegian striker remained at the club for eleven seasons. Pursuing a career in management, he later fulfilled the position of striker coach and manager of the reserve team at Manchester United, after being offered the roles by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Clearly, Manchester United has become a huge part of Solskjaer’s life. He knows what the badge represents, what it means to play for United, and understands the standards of the club.
At various points during the reign of managers after Ferguson, the identity of the club has come into question. If the Red Devils want to get back to the attacking identity the fans have come to expect and the identity that brought them so much success, Solskjaer seems like the perfect choice.
Playing off that idea, Solskjaer knows the football philosophy that United have come to be defined by. Each of the three previous managers before him, David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, and Mourinho all played defensively at times, much to the dismay of the fans. Sure, Solskjaer can also be accused of that after the recent match against Liverpool, but he has displayed the closest football to Ferguson’s in his short time in charge.
In that match against the Reds, it displayed the willingness to adapt the Solskjaer has. Even under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils could be seen defending in hopes of scoring a goal from a counterattack. Likewise, Solskjaer is open to doing that and nowadays is a necessity in football. Tactical flexibility is important to any manager. Yes, the attacking front-foot style of play might have to be sacrificed from time to time, but if positive results , the fans won’t complain and neither will the players.
Against Liverpool, Manchester United had 35% possession at home. When playing at Old Trafford, fans want to see their team control the game and score goals. But, seeing the danger Liverpool pose on the counterattack and understanding the risk being the dominant team has, Solskjaer made the conscious decision to absorb pressure before trying to exploit spaces left behind by Liverpool. Despite the fact the game ended in a 0-0 draw, it still represents a valuable point for the club, a point more than they may have earned if they had taken the game to the Reds instead. This was further emphasized when United visibly settled for a draw towards the end of the game by taking their time on set-pieces and not sending up certain players to take advantage of those free-kicks.
Decisions like those made against Liverpool have led Solskjaer to the success he has sustained so far. He became the first manager in Manchester United history to win the first six games in charge of the club, and went on to reach a total of eight wins in a row. In addition, he set a new Premier League record for the number of points earned after ten matches. Most recently, Solskjaer broke United’s record for consecutive number of away wins, taking his tally to eight after United’s victory against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
As a result, Solskjaer has lifted the club to fifth place in the league, just a point behind Arsenal and a coveted UEFA Champions League place. In addition, Manchester United have advanced to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. Improvement in performances have certainly been backed by results on the field.
Early in his reign, many were quick to point out Solskjaer’s fixture list was relatively “easy” considering most of the teams United played against were in the lower half of the league table. Yet, these arguments were promptly put down when the Red Devils beat Tottenham away in the league 1-0 and Arsenal away in the FA Cup 3-1.
Importantly, after floundering under Mourinho, several players are now thriving under the Norwegian’s tutelage. Academy graduates Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, in particular, have played some amazing football in recent months. Rashford went from second choice striker after Romelu Lukaku, to becoming the first choice under Solskjaer and his faith in the young Englishman has been repaid. Since Solskjaer’s arrival, Rashford has scored six goals and recorded two assists in 14 games.
A similar trend has been seen with record signing Pogba. The French World Cup winner came to the club with huge expectations on his shoulders and was expected to continue on the path to becoming one the best players in the world. Things didn’t turn out as many had hoped as Pogba only provided glimpses of the potential ability he possesses. Before Solskjaer came to the club, Pogba had 5 goals and 4 assists this season; from then on he has scored 9 goals and created 7 assists in six games less.
These are just two examples, but the players, for the most part, have all positively responded to Mourinho’s interim replacement.
Is United’s great run of form illusory? – Why Solskjaer should remain under the microscope
On the other hand, not everything has been positive for Solskjaer. A criticism pointed at him was that he excelled against “weaker” opposition, but struggled against the top six. Even though United beat Arsenal and Tottenham, these victories aren’t as impressive as they seem. Arsenal are currently undergoing a transitionary period. After 22 years under the immense Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have a new face in the Emirates dugout- Unai Emery. As Manchester United can attest to, this can be a very difficult period of transition, but so far, Arsenal are coping far better than United did under David Moyes’ ill-fated reign. Under Emery, Arsenal remain a strong team but are nowhere near to being the finished product.
United’s win against Tottenham looked good on paper, but after watching the game, one can see that the Red Devils didn’t deserve to win. Spurs created a number of great chances and they just couldn’t convert their chances into goals. Largely, this was down to the heroics of David De Gea, with the Spaniard recording an incredible 11 saves. Looking at the shots during the game, Tottenham had eight more shots than their opponents. Manchester United took the three points, but this was a game where the scoreline told a vastly different story to what actually transpired on the pitch.
On a similar note, the game against Paris Saint-Germain showed a continued disparity between United and Europe’s top clubs. Perhaps unfair to judge Solskjaer so harshly considering his limited time with United so far, but PSG out-classed United at Old Trafford and won convincingly. As Solskjaer will know all too well considering he played a major role in United’s UCL victory in 1999, the team is expected to perform in Europe and that just was not the case against the French side.
The one real downside to Solskjaer is his lack of experience. Historically, the Norwegian doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to the Premier League or in the UCL. In the Premier League, he has previously suffered relegation with Cardiff City and had never managed in the UCL before this season. But with his current displays and United’s drastic improvement in form, this notion may quickly diminish, as United challenge for the top-four.
Tested and proven on a budget – Why Pochettino deserves to manage United
Mauricio Pochettino has established himself as one of the best managers in the Premier League during his time at Tottenham. Previously, Spurs targeted finishing in the top four, but often had to settle for fifth or sixth place. However, since the arrival of the Argentine manager, Tottenham have finished their last three seasons in the top three, and have even mounted title challenges. Pochettino’s impact on the club is there for all to see and truly makes him a worthy choice for the United job.
What’s really impressive about Pochettino’s ability to improve Spurs is that he has been able to do so despite the large difference in spending power between his club and the others around them. During the past two transfer windows, Tottenham have not spent at all and yet, continue to occupy third place. That is an impeccable achievement for Pochettino and goes to show the talent he has. If one looks at the current league table, Spurs are only nine points behind league leaders Manchester City, and eight points behind second-placed Liverpool. Both clubs have spent large sums of money in recent years and have a squad brimming with talent from the starting eleven to the bench. Meanwhile, Tottenham don’t have that and so there is always a worry whenever Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen, or other starters get injured.
Perhaps partially a result of that, Pochettino has a good record at promoting youth players into the first team. Players like Kyle Walker-Peters, Harry Winks, and most recently Oliver Skipp have all had their chances to play and that is a quality Manchester United would greatly value for their new coach. Manchester United have had an academy graduate in the squad in every game for over 81 years which highlights the importance promoting youth is for the Red Devils. Pochettino has shown he is capable of trusting and developing young talent.
Unlike Solskjaer, Pochettino has shown positive experience within the Premier League. Although his counterpart has performed well during his time in charge, Pochettino has been doing it for longer.
Conversely to United’s loss to PSG, Tottenham managed to beat a strong Borussia Dortmund side 3-0. Dortmund currently tops the Bundesliga standings and have been a formidable side this season, but Spurs got a comprehensive win at Wembley Stadium. Barring a remarkable comeback from the German side, Spurs should move on to the quarterfinals of the competition. That would be yet another unbelievable achievement for Pochettino during his time at the club.
One last point supporting Pochettino is his style of play. Tottenham play an attractive brand of football that United fans had been craving for since the Ferguson days. An argument could be made that Solskjaer has already brought that entertainment back to the club, but Pochettino could very well do the same as well and possibly do better. Plus, with the immense financial backing at United, funds he did not have a Spurs, Pochettino might be able to do something rather special at the helm of the Red Devils.
No trophies and a serious disadvantage – Why Pochettino might not get the job
When it comes to negatives in Pochettino’s CV, there isn’t much that goes against him. However, there are a couple of points including his lack of silverware. Has Tottenham improved during his time as manager? Yes. Immensely. Have they won any trophies during that time? The answer is no.
Tottenham fans and the media may be expecting too much, but as a United manager, the expectation is to challenge for every trophy. Failure to capture silverware often signals failure at Old Trafford. Whether or not Pochettino has what it takes to win a trophy and then create a habit winning remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Solskjaer has won titles in Norway; it must be said the top flight in Norway isn’t really comparable to the English Premier League, but the fact is, he has won titles and Pochettino has not.
The second con is one that wasn’t in Pochettino’s hands to begin with – Solskjaer already has his foot in the door. The Norwegian is already at the club and has them playing better as well as getting consistently positive results. It is hard to see why Manchester United would overlook what he has done since he took over on an interim basis for Pochettino no matter how highly he is rated.
What a United fan thinks
Personally, I would go with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He knows the club, the players seem to love him, and he has got Manchester United playing well again. I don’t see a reason to change anything. I’m done suffering through defensive football and the lack of impetus in attack. I will always remember the second leg against Sevilla last season when we sat back at home with the tie 0-0. Manchester United are a better club than Sevilla (no disrespect to Los Rojiblancos) in my opinion and should be on the front foot, regardless of where it is played. At home in the second leg of a balanced UCL Round of 16 match, a favored United side should always go for the win.
However, I could be wrong. After all, I thought Moyes was a great appointment when he came to United…
After having three full-time managers come and go, this next one is vital for Manchester United to get back to where they were under Sir Alex Ferguson. The choice between Solskjaer and Pochettino is a difficult one because both have shown themselves to be great choices for the role, but time will tell if the club gets it right.
A big decision looms over the Theatre of Dreams, one that could begin the road back to becoming the top team in English football again or continue the sporadic ups and downs the Red Devils have endured these past few years.
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