Ole Gunnar Solskjaer demonstrated to Manchester United players that he was far more than a smiling face with positive ideas during the club’s 2-0 win over Reading in the FA Cup.
Following a first half during which Man United, despite claiming a two-goal advantage, had performed poorly, Solskjaer evoked the famous Sir Alex Ferguson practice of giving players the hairdryer treatment, screaming directly in the faces of several members for a couple of minutes.
He then proceeded to speak calmly to his players about how to negotiate the second half and, crucially, never spoke of the matter again. Solskjaer’s direct and honest nature when discussing the issue with players meant the team could move on and progress.
That style of man-management, according to the Telegraph‘s James Ducker, constitutes a marked distinction from Jose Mourinho, whose capacity to hold grudges for weeks created an atmosphere of cliques, hostility, and fear.
Solskjaer has treated United players as both adults and indeed top level footballers, and they have responded to that trust. Mourinho, very often, would describe his players as the exact opposite.
Another key change responsible for transforming the mood at Old Trafford has been the work of Solskjaer and Mike Phelan to focus the attention of players away from how best to stop the opposition and instead towards what United can do with the ball. Both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho spent hours outlining how to approach particular opponents, often hanging players out to dry in front of the group in video review sessions by showing their faults from previous games.
It appears Solskjaer has done little aside from switch the emphasis back to United players, to United as what it should be, to focusing on what this team has rather than what it lacks. That is a very fundamental – and necessary – difference to the past regime.