There is an eery sense of déjà vu as Manchester United prepare for their short trip down the East Lancs Road tomorrow to face Everton.
In April 2014, an under-pressure David Moyes took his United side to Goodison Park and was greeted in the stand by a man dressed as the grim reaper, who indeed proved to be prophetic as the side lamely succumbed 2-0 to the hosts and Moyes was sacked two days later.
Six years and three managers on, if you squint as you watch current incumbent of the position go by you can almost see that grim reaper just a step behind him, sickle half aloft.
Whist Sky Sports were quick yesterday to dispel the hysteria caused by The MEN’s report that United have contacted Mauricio Pochettino to take over from Solskjaer should United lose tomorrow, that denial seemed hollow and most journalists appear to believe that it is indeed that reaper, and not the United board, who stands fully behind the Norwegian ahead of tomorrow’s game.
‘The noises coming from Old Trafford today were that Solskjaer retains the backing of the board and that they have faith in him to turn things around,’ The Times’ Paul Hirst says.
‘That is exactly what United said about Moyes in the build-up to the Everton game, so it remains to be seen how long the club hold that position.’
A second ominous sign for Solskjaer is that there is such an obvious replacement waiting in the wings. Louis van Gaal may not have been sacked had one of the world’s best managers, José Mourinho, not have been freely available in 2016. Mourinho would not have waited for ever for the job and neither will the new pretender, Pochettino, who in less than two weeks will have been out of work for exactly one year.
A year is a very long time in football and the Argentinian has every right to tell the United board that it’s now or never. His timely appearance on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football this week was certainly a strange coincidence and again reminiscent of Mourinho’s ad-hoc interview at Anthony Joshua’s fight at the O2 arena back then in 2016. As Hirst again notes, ‘Rather than turn down the advances of the Sky Sports reporter present, Mourinho gladly granted him an interview and stated that he wished to return to management in the summer, six months after his dismissal by Chelsea.’
Another anniversary of sorts this week was the sacking of ‘Big’ Ron Atkinson by United on November 6th 1986 after a poor start to the season. Granted, United had played 11 league games that season by that date and were in the relegation zone. But the parallels are there – a popular manager who had brought the club some great highlights, but who just appeared to have fallen off the horse at the time.
A fourth star that appears to be aligning in this constellation is the fact that tomorrow’s game is followed by a two-week break from club football due to the international calendar. Such breaks are often seen by football boards as ‘good’ times to replace a manager, for two reasons: first, it is arguably less unsettling for everyone, because the break from the usual routine means the manager’s withdrawal is not so public and humiliating. Second, it allows the new manager time to settle in and get to know the staff and players before having to take to the pitch.
Four strange coincidences for the superstitious. Of course, Solskjaer’s men always seem to perform best when their backs are up against the wall and all this will become moot if, as could well be the case, United put in a convincing performance against the Toffees tomorrow. But if things do go from bad to worse, the omens are certainly not good and the Baby-Faced Assassin may well find out that he is the one in the sniper’s sights on this occasion.
United have had some world class goalkeepers over the years and some entertaining ones too. Take our quiz below to find out how much you know about United’s number 1’s, past and present.