Former Manchester United manager and club legend, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has finally cleared the air in a tell-all interview granted to The Athletic.
The Norwegian, who left Old Trafford about two and a half years ago, has largely been silent on many of the issues that fans may have had enduring questions about.
What really happened with Cristiano Ronaldo? Did Solskjaer lose the squad? What events led up to his sacking? What are his thoughts on the Glazer family? And will he be returning to management?
In The Atheltic interview, many of these issues were laid bare, including thoughts on his future and the new role he’s just taken up.
Fans and pundits alike have long argued that the problems in Solskjaer’s tenure began with the arrival of Ronaldo at the beginning of the 2021 season, and the sacrifices that were required to help him fit into the squad.
There was also the question of whether the United squad, which has developed a reputation for being quite partisan in recent times, was divided over Ronaldo being made captain.
The feeling at the time was that Ronaldo was a vanity signing by Ed Woodward, United’s then-CEO, imposing the marquee signing on the manager.
Solskjaer, however, clarifies that the decision to bring in Ronaldo was one he agreed with, even though he now concedes that it turned out badly.
In his words:
“It was a decision that was very difficult to turn down and I felt we had to take it, but it turned out wrong. It felt so right when he signed and the fans felt that at that Newcastle game, when Old Trafford was rocking (after Ronaldo scored twice in a 4-1 win). He was still one of the best goalscorers in the world, he was looking strong.”
Instead, the Norwegian credits things going awry to bad luck – and to certain players not having the right mental competencies to respond effectively:
“When I looked at the fixtures it was going to be a deciding period: Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham, and Leicester away.”
“Then Chelsea and Arsenal, plus Champions League games. Things went against us. It started with Aston Villa at home (a 1-0 defeat) and a late penalty miss.”
“When you have a group you need everyone to pull in the same direction. When things didn’t go right, you could see certain players and egos came out. We beat Tottenham convincingly 3-0 away, but then we lost two games.”
Ole’s admission that egos played a part in the manner in which United fell apart in the last days of his tenure will confirm what many have suspected all along.
The soft-spoken Norwegian does not mention any names and many of those who played under him have left the club. Still, Erik ten Hag may want to take some notes to aid in his management of the club’s culture as the same old cracks in squad unity are beginning to appear once more.
Despite clearly feeling let down by some of his former wards, Solskjaer is neither angry nor bitter – at least, he does not admit that he is or was at the time. Rather, he says, he was disappointed at how it all ended.
“Not angry. Not bitter. Disappointed. I’d not managed to do my dream job as I’d hoped,” he said.
Solskjaer is even charitable towards Woodward, who ultimately made the decision to axe him.
“I got a text message the next morning from Ed Woodward saying he needed to see me in his office at Carrington. That was pretty hard when you’ve been at the club for 18 years with all those good and bad times. I’d had lots of backing and good times with Ed. He’d given me the chance and for that, I’ll always be grateful.”
But how about the Glazers?
Solskjaer is more guarded in talking about his former employers.
According to him,”In my conversations with them, they were honest and upfront. I had to be patient and mentally strong — and I was. And they’ve backed the manager now.”
While offering limited praise, the implication is that he didn’t feel fully supported, a theme that has been persistent since the Glazers acquired the club.
Solskjaer remained respectful in speaking of the Glazers, however, and the interview quickly moved on to other subjects.
When asked about Jadon Sancho, who United bought from Borussia Dortmund, Ole makes an interesting admission. While he mentions that Sancho, like Ronaldo, was a player he wanted, he also admits that the scouts had identified him as the top choice to fill United’s vacant right flank but the player himself preferred to play on the left.
Such questionable decision-making is emblematic of United’s scattergun approach under Woodward, one that new CEO Richard Arnold has tried to fix with the appointments of Darren Fletcher as technical director, and John Murtough as director of football.
Sancho is yet to find his feet after two seasons at United, and with the player having publicly fallen out with Erik ten Hag, his future appears highly questionable at the moment.
And what about Solskjaer’s future?
He’s been busy with youth football, he says, but now will be taking up a role as a UEFA technical expert.
“I’m doing a lot of coaching, four times per week, and we have three teams,” he beamed.
“I’m helping the kids, who enjoy it. You see a different side to football, the grassroots – except it’s all plastic pitches here. You see the brightness in their eyes, they listen to you, they want to learn.
“But you start to miss it (professional football) when you see the games, either in person or on television. Since I left United, I’ve travelled around as a fan with my kids, going to places like Napoli, Milan and Dortmund to experience games. We loved it.”
“My role with UEFA means watching Champions League matches in person. I can watch teams from a different perspective than being a manager: analyse them, solve problems, see how both teams will try to hurt each other.”
“Then I’m going to the east coast of the United States in a few weeks to see Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, see a few games and see what’s what.”
It’s been nearly two years since Solskjaer left Old Trafford, and fans will surely think back on his time with more fondness than any negativity.
More importantly, fans can only hope that those who direct the affairs of the club will have learned crucial lessons.