Home » Has Manchester United’s ‘cultural reset’ kept Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the job?

Has Manchester United’s ‘cultural reset’ kept Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the job?

by Scott Eckersley

Only the most perversely optimistic Manchester United fan could consider any part of the crisis enveloping the club as a positive.

Such has been the rate of decay that it already seems feels like a lifetime ago that Raphael Varane received a rapturous reception prior to the opening day hammering of Leeds United.

The Liverpool debacle neatly tied every concern together in a performance of such singular awfulness that it seems to have made Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future untenable.

And, following that scouse apocalypse – the akloppalypse if you will – the media has been ablaze with stories of boardroom summits, dressing room divisions and managerial change.

So, in this environment of white-hot meltdown, is there a positive angle to be found?

If there is a consolation, it might be that this represents the first genuine stress-test of the much-vaunted cultural reboot that began with Solskjaer’s appointment.

The overdue installations of John Murtough and Darren Fletcher as, respectively, Sporting and Technical Directors were largely viewed as the natural conclusion to the slow-burn overhaul.

However, among an understandably suspicious fanbase, opinions over the restructure were divided.

For some, they were the final piece of the jigsaw. For others they were nothing more than tokenistic figure heads – the flickering mirage of a functional, high-grade sporting institution obscuring a crumbling empire.

If then, the club really is shedding its reputation as ‘an adult Disneyland’ it would be reasonable to expect that both Murtough and Fletcher would be key decision-makers in a time of crisis.

After all, something as fundamental as a change of manager would be a ‘football first’ decision, and not something to be left to the same suits who have botched most major decisions since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

If the Daily Mail is to be believed, neither were present in recent talks as “…Joel and Avram Glazer held crisis talks with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and managing director Richard Arnold, as the shock of losing so pathetically to their bitter rivals continued to reverberate around the club.”

Now, it’s possible that both Fletcher and Murtough were consulted about the club’s direction and that their feedback was passed up the chain to Woodward and Arnold.

It’s possible they recommended standing firm until the right candidate becomes available, rather than reverting to type and lurching towards someone like Antonio Conte.

The question is, based on the United hierarchy’s track record of baffling decision-making, do they deserve the benefit of the doubt at such a critical juncture?

It takes some serious mental gymnastics to invoke the old Monty Python joke and ask, ‘What have the Glazers done for us?’…and come up with a positive.

After all, Darren Fletcher’s past comments about his idea of a successful Manchester United already appear out of sync with reality.

Last year he sketched out his ideal, saying, “Mason plays off the right-hand side, Anthony Martial in the middle and Marcus Rashford on the left, with Bruno Fernandes at no.10.

“That’s the best attack and the one that put people on the edge of their seats after lockdown and produced United’s best form.

“I’m sure Mason’s evolution is to be a no.9. He’s got world-class potential.”

Fast forward a year and Martial is frozen out, while Greenwood’s evolution into a centre-forward has been impeded by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo.

There’s clearly a disconnect somewhere.

Meanwhile Murtough was introduced as the person with “…overall leadership and responsibility for operations and strategy across all football functions.”

He would, “…work closely with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the rest of the football staff to create the structures, processes and culture to deliver sustained success on the pitch.”

If that’s the case, why do so many elements of the rebooted United feel so eerily similar to the previous model?

Since the new structure was announced, Juan Mata and Eric Bailly have been given new contracts, despite not being part of the manager’s plans.

Donny van de Beek and Jesse Lingard remain in limbo. Edinson Cavani was persuaded to sign a new deal only for Cristiano Ronaldo to arrive and take his place.

Jadon Sancho was signed for big money only to drop out of the side when Marcus Rashford returned from injury.

The midfield and right-back spots were neglected and now continue to look like team-breaking weak spots.

Solskjaer and his coaching staff were recently rewarded for their laboured progress with three-year-contracts and now find themselves on the brink with no clear contingency plan in place.

Are Fletcher and Murtough really coordinating all this? Forgive the cynicism, but doesn’t all this absolutely stink of Edward Woodward’s inimitable musk (Eau No)?

Perhaps, in Woody-world, contracts aren’t considered to be football decisions, so don’t fall under the remit of a Sporting Director.

If so, it’s surely complete nonsense to suggest that the retention of playing and coaching staff isn’t a football matter?

And on it goes…

You would be justified in wondering where the positives lie in all of this.

Well, whether by accident or design, the club made the right decision in resisting the nuclear button and giving Solskjaer a stay of execution.

If the Red Devils want to become a youthful, attacking force, they’ll need to wait for a manager whose principles align with that vision. Conte, for all his talents, probably isn’t that man.

If they aspire to be a football club and not a meme-factory or model in dysfunction, they need to stay true to their word and let the football people call the shots.

If they can do this, there might eventually be a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

If they can’t, at least everyone will know who’s to blame.

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