Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be the first to admit he’s made his fair share of mistakes since becoming Manchester United manager.
For a coach whose only prior experience was with Molde and Cardiff City, his appointment was a risk, especially when United turned the Norwegian’s role from caretaker boss to the fully fledged first team manager.
Solskjaer got plenty right in his first few months after replacing Jose Mourinho, but it’s been a tougher time for him in the time since, before United’s form turned again when 2020 arrived.
Now, with football still on hold due to coronavirus, it’s a good time to reflect on Solskjaer’s best moments in charge of the Old Trafford club.
Below, MEN Sport lists five of his best decisions as United boss in ascending order…
5. Promoting Greenwood and Williams
It was always on the cards that Solskjaer would lean fairly heavily on the United academy, having been such an integral part of the club for years under Sir Alex Ferguson. He came back to United in December 2018 with a good knowledge of the club’s proud history.
And after Mourinho’s rather more reluctant use of the academy, the fact Solskjaer ushered through the likes of Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong and Brandon Williams felt like a breath of fresh air.
In the cases of Greenwood and Williams specifically, Solskjaer’s faith has been completely justified. Both players have hit the ground running in senior football this season and are cementing themselves are key first team figures for United’s future.
4. Bolstering defence
There were few raised eyebrows last summer was Solskjaer moved quickly to reinforce United’s creaking defence. Not since the days of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra had United truly had an effective back four, and the Norwegian – who wanted to play attacking football – knew the foundations had to be built from the back.
Spending a combined £125million on Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was deemed risky by some and opened Solskjaer up to criticism. But both Englishmen have vindicated their hefty transfer fees, making themselves undroppable with a series of ultra-reliable performances.
3. Moving Martial back to No.9
Although Solskjaer received a huge amount of criticism for his decision to sell Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan last summer, time has proven it wasn’t such a risky decision after all. It allowed the Norwegian to boost Anthony Martial’s confidence, giving him the No.9 jersey back to reflect his return to a more central forward role.
Since the departure of Lukaku, the goal tallies of Martial and Marcus Rashford have increased in comparison to recent seasons. Martial has developed an ability to score the ‘ugly goals’ that Solskjaer wants from his forwards.
And although United had to bring in Odion Ighalo on loan to fill the void vacated by Rashford following his injury, there is no doubt the Frenchman is approaching his peak.
2. Shifting the ‘deadwood’
A year or so ago, United fans were concerned about the number of fringe players who remained in a bloated squad. The likes of Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Alexis Sanchez had never really fired for United, but they remained at the club. Solskjaer has secured loan departures for Darmian, Rojo, Sanchez and Chris Smalling, while selling Lukaku.
It has allowed younger players to emerge into the first team squad and given them more responsibility. United are beginning to reap the rewards from this brave decision, which also showed Solskjaer’s ruthless side.
1. Signing Bruno Fernandes
It’s easy to look back on the decision to buy Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon in January and say it was a no-brainer.
Yet many Premier League clubs had considered the Portuguese playmaker and remained unsure whether he would shine in the English top flight. Even United took their time in weighing up a move.
But the decision to sanction the transfer had an instant impact on Solskjaer’s side, with Fernandes bridging the solid defence with a quick forward line. Solskjaer has always been keen to play with pace – but his team struggled to create chances and break down resilient defences. Fernandes has been a creative catalyst.