I caused a bit of a stir over the weekend when I said I could have done what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done at Manchester United, but let me explain a bit more what I was getting at.
With nine wins from 10 games as United’s interim boss, Ole has been absolutely fantastic. He has lifted the cloud from over Old Trafford, and the team is playing a lot better than they were under Jose Mourinho.
But the point I was trying to make on ‘Saturday Morning Savage’ was that we all knew the problems United had under Mourinho and, as a manager, I know it is relatively simple to solve them in the short-term.
I am not just a pundit who has never managed a club – I have managed in the Premier League and all four English professional divisions, so no-one can say I don’t know what I am talking about here.
And, as a manager, I could see the signs that under Mourinho the players were not happy and the atmosphere and environment was not great. Let’s be honest, everyone could see that.
My argument was that it was easy for whoever came in after that to right the ship, and lift the players and the dressing room – and put the whole club back on track.
When I said anyone could have come in and done the same, I did not mean to be disrespectful to Ole.
What I meant was any manager – for example myself, Mark Hughes or Steve Bruce – could have recognised the issues at Old Trafford and come in and changed the environment in a positive way.
There is far more to it than just bringing some of the fun back, but you would start by allowing the players to play with freedom, and in their correct positions too.
Ole has done all of that and has obviously made a big difference.
With his results, he has then taken it on to the next level too – but even that improvement does not mean he is the right man to get the job in the summer.
‘Caretaker managers are rarely the long-term answer’
I have got absolutely nothing against Ole, but when I look at teams who have done something similar and given permanent jobs to interim managers who turned things around in a short space of time, not many of them have lasted very long.
Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea is a good example of that, as is Craig Shakespeare at Leicester.
Shakespeare did brilliantly when he first replaced Claudio Ranieri in February 2017, but he was soon gone.
Di Matteo was appointed a caretaker manager in March 2012, won the Champions League and FA Cup in May, signed a permanent contract in June – and was sacked in November.
Chelsea thought at the time that what he had won meant they had to appoint him but, long-term, he was the wrong choice.
It could be the same with Solskjaer – no matter what he achieves this season, it will not mean he is the right man to take the club forward.
What happens when things start going wrong?
It is easy to change the mood of a club but the real job at United is far bigger than that. There is a lot of rebuilding to be done, over the next three or four years, so they can compete with Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham for the title.
The reality is that we don’t know whether Solskjaer is the right man for that job, and the next four months won’t tell us either.
At the moment there is no pressure on Ole or his players. They don’t have to worry about anything because expectations were so low when Mourinho got the sack.
At that stage they were 11 points off the top four, and most United fans were thinking that just a top-six finish would be great, whoever came in.
Ole has arrived and changed the way everyone is feeling, including the supporters, and all of a sudden there is a little bit of excitement back. So are their hopes of making the top four.
But we don’t know how he deals with adversity – when things start going wrong, when results dip and when some of his players maybe start biting back.
That will happen because it happens at every club.
‘Focus should be on trophies, not speculation’
I think it is great that the United fans are desperate for Solskjaer to get the job but let’s not be too hasty about giving it to him now.
If United finish in the top four and they win the Champions League or reach the final in Madrid, then his name is going to be very high on executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s shortlist in the summer.
But the next month is massive for United, and I do not mean for Solskjaer’s job prospects – I am talking about their hopes of winning a trophy this season. That is what the focus should be on now, and he has alluded to that himself.
|Man Utd’s fixtures in February|
|Fulham (a)||Premier League||Saturday, 9 February|
|Paris St-Germain (h)||Champions League||Tuesday, 12 February|
|Chelsea (a)||FA Cup||Monday, 18 February|
|Liverpool (h)||Premier League||Sunday, 24 February|
|Crystal Palace (a)||Premier League||Wednesday, 27 February|
Solskjaer has already said that silverware is his target, and the exciting thing for me is that they have got a real chance in the FA Cup, and in Europe.
Mourinho was still United’s manager when the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League was made, and if you had asked me then about whether they would get past Paris St-Germain, I would have said they are out of it.
Now, because of the way they are playing, I am starting to believe in them again.
I think the team are starting to believe in themselves too. Game by game, their confidence is growing. Unlike when Mourinho was in charge, they are playing as a team, playing for their manager and performing at the levels they should be at.
Of course, that has seen the fans clamour for Ole to get the job permanently, but if he is going to be successful this season then he and the United players need to ignore all that kind of talk.
For me, it is a case of everyone getting on with it, with United playing the way they have been recently, and him continuing to try to improve the team.
Let’s see where they are at the end of the season, and then Woodward has got a decision to make.
Why Pochettino should be United’s next manager
United cannot afford to appoint another manager and sack him again after two years, or less.
Compared to their rivals, they have gone backwards in the past few years while City, Liverpool and Spurs have all built and progressed.
They are going in the right direction now, but there is still a lot of work to do for them to get close to those teams again.
So, who should get the United job in the summer? My choice would be Mauricio Pochettino because he has got a proven track record as a Premier League manager over several seasons. Solskjaer doesn’t.
And, everything United need from their next manager, we know Pochettino can do – based on what we have seen from him at Tottenham.
He can build a team that can challenge for the title, playing the right style of football too. We saw what Spurs did to United at Wembley last month – yes, United won because of the brilliance of David de Gea in goal, but that is how I want to see a United team play.
And while I am not saying Solskjaer definitely shouldn’t get the job, I just think he would be a gamble, while Pochettino has the kind of CV you would want from a man who should be United manager for the next four or five years.
That is the way United should be thinking now. They have got their last three appointments wrong, so they need to get the next one right.