Spectator sport

Poor Ole wasn’t cut out for Man U

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

Manchester United have ended up with a temporary coach before they look for an interim manager. Haven’t we heard that before? Oh yes, a few years ago, shortly before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was given the job. It sounds like United haven’t got a clue what they are doing. Which is a bit rum for a stock-market-listed club and one of the biggest brands in the world.

Poor old Ole just wasn’t cut out to be an elite football manager. But could anyone cope with the presence of that choleric United legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, up in the stands shaking his head mournfully at some on-field idiocy before burying his head in his hands in a piece of theatrical despair? Solskjaer wasn’t helped by his players: goalkeeper David de Gea observing that United just didn’t know what to do with the ball, for instance.

The truth is, though, that Fergie’s 25-year reign was the aberration. After Sir Matt Busby there was a chain of short-lived managers (including Frank O’Farrell, Tommy Docherty and Wilf McGuinness) before Ferguson, and even he had a shaky start. In the eight years since he stood down, Old Trafford has had four for heaven’s sake, including marquee names like Van Gaal and Mourinho. Now the finger of fate seems to be pointing at Mauricio Pochettino, who has made it clear he’s happy to leave PSG.


Why United won’t look at an English manager seems a mystery, though that stock-market listing is probably the decisive factor. How sad. Anyway, the board’s dithering means that they have missed their chance with Steven Gerrard and Eddie Howe. Gerrard did brilliantly at Rangers but now has to turn Aston Villa into a top-four club. Not impossible, and he’s off to a good start. Howe will have his work cut out to save Newcastle from the drop before he has the chance to splash the Saudi millions.

Perhaps the best English manager of the current crop will turn out to be Brighton’s inspirational Graham Potter. He has always had the ability to develop players’ self-belief in an almost Barca-like way. His teams play attractive, attacking football: he transformed Swansea and deserved to win the FA Cup with them a couple of years ago before a disputed offside disallowed a brilliant Celina goal that would have sent Manchester City, no less, packing. Brighton are now a lovely side to watch, punching way above their weight, and Potter shows every sign of turning them into a semi-permanent member of the Premier League, which is quite something. He’s an interesting man too, who took himself off to Sweden to learn his trade, managing small-town Östersund to considerable success.

In the end though, whatever Potter achieves at Brighton, it is highly unlikely that the suits at United, whether in Manchester or America, would have the stones to give him a chance. He is more likely to have a crack at England when Gareth Southgate stands aside.

So much ink has been spilt on off-field issues recently, thank the cricketing gods for the Ashes, which will soon be with us. It’s hard to predict this one. A 5-0 thrashing? 2-1 to England? I’d go for the latter, though with caution. Meanwhile, weepy Tim Paine — appointed as a soothing replacement to clear the air — now turns out to be as useful as a small strip of sandpaper.

England’s problems are clear: the openers look as durable as a snowball in summer, though I think Haseeb Hameed will surprise us all. But if Root isn’t coming in at 32-2 or thereabouts, and if Malan can emulate Broad (the 1988 version, and there are big physical and stylistic similarities between David and Chris), and if Ollie Robinson fires, then we could take the bookies to the cleaners. That is three big ‘ifs’ though.

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