By Ivan Lim
He scored the winning goal in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in 1999, when Manchester United won the Treble of trophies, and was fondly referred to as the Baby-faced Assassin.
But today, as manager of Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks more like a babe in the woods, looking perplexed at the TV monitor while his team languishes on the pitch.
And a reported dressing room clash, while unconfirmed, could be an indication of just how bad things are at Old Trafford.
“We are supposed to be Manchester United! This isn’t supposed to be happening!”
Those were the fiery words of Bruno Fernandes at half-time in the Red Devils’ last Premier League match before the international break, against Tottenham Hotspur, according to an unnamed match official.
United, who had Anthony Martial dismissed for retaliating against Spurs’ Argentinian actor Erik Lamela (who was given only a yellow card for bad acting), were then a man short and 1-4 down at Old Trafford, their only goal coming from a Fernandes’ 2nd-minute penalty.
The match official, who said he heard Bruno shouting at his teammates in the dressing room, added: “He was clearly in a rage after having a face like thunder when he raced down the tunnel.
“He laid into team-mates, accusing them of not upholding the proud name of Manchester United.”
The match official also suggested that Fernandes, who was replaced at half-time, was critical of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics. However, the purported bust-up between United’s new talisman and their struggling manager has been denied by those close to the player.
While Football Siao has no means of telling who is lying – truth is, we probably can, but it’s just too much effort for something so trivial – the alleged incident has forced us to ask that question: Is it time for Solskjaer to go?
Manchester United fan Hunter Yap doesn’t think so. At least, not yet.
“For me, I will give him till the end of the season,” says the company director who has been a fan for 32 years, and has rubbed shoulders with the players on several occasions during that period.
Not even with someone like Mauricio Pochettino already available?
“As a United fan, having Pochettino or Massimiliano Allegri or Carlo Ancelotti is tempting,” says Hunter. “But I don’t think it’s the best time to let him go. If they have to let him go as manager, maybe they can promote him so he becomes director of football. Then hire someone else. Most people will still want him to stay.”
Especially fans of Liverpool, but I see no need to provoke Hunter.
“I’m a fan of Pochettino,” he says. “I think he is a very good manager. But even if a new manager comes, and if the owners still don’t back him 100 per cent, there will be no-one good enough,” he explains.
“Except Sir Alex Ferguson,” he adds. “Only he can produce miracles.”
So, Hunter is of the opinion that United now need a miracle, not a Solskjaer replacement, to turn things around at the club.
Hunter feels that confirming him as manager in the first place may have been a mistake.
“But he was needed at that time, and it was all about timing. Solskjaer is a club legend and he was appointed to solve a crisis and he needs time, but the board is not helping.”
He also thinks it is sad to call for Solskjaer’s head at a time when he needs the backing of the fans and Manchester United’s board of directors.
“We love him to bits. Maybe, in the first place, we shouldn’t have hired him, but now that we have, I think it would be better if we gave him a bit more time.”
But would waiting until the end of the season to replace Solskjaer be too late? What if he fails to get a Champions League place? What if United miss out on European football altogether? And what if Solskjaer succeeds in getting the great club he’s in charge of relegated?
“If that happens, if United get relegated, then he deserves to be sacked. But I think we need to stick by him until the point of no return,” says Hunter, who considers making Harry Maguire captain the only major mistake Solskjaer may have committed in his time as United coach.
“Everyone was calling for Fergie’s head at the start, too,” explains Hunter. For him, it is not that Solskjaer is doing a bad job. He thinks that the structure of the club and the owners are the issues that need fixing.
“Even when Jose Mourinho was sacked, I was still backing him – because I knew it was not his fault. United’s owners – the Glazers – need to sort themselves out. Look at the stadium – it is in such a bad state. It only goes to show that the owners care only for their own pockets and not the club.”
While Hunter considers relegation the “point of no return”, United fan Jeremy Phua feels that United need to be relegated.
He believes that Solskjaer’s appointment was, in his own words, a “set-up to fail”.
“It makes no difference whether he stays or not,” says the United fan who thinks that Solskjaer is “clueless”.
“If United escape relegation, it would only prolong the pain,” he explains. “It happened in 1974 and they were spirit-cleansed after that.”
Jeremy, however, seems to be in agreement with Hunter when it comes to the club owners.
“You have a billionaire buddy who is willing to buy out the Glaziers?” he asks, probably only half-joking.
For Mellissa Halim, who has been a fan since shortly before United won the Treble, watching United play has now become a scary experience.
“All I hope these days when I watch Manchester United play is to be surprised by a win, and that says a lot,” says the marketing executive of a bank.
“Should Solskjaer leave United? It’s definitely a thought in every Manchester United fans’ mind, whether we like him or not. And I feel his time as manager is on its last stretch,” she says.
But that’s not to discount anything he has done so far for the club, and that includes finishing third last season, she explains.
“No doubt I respect and appreciate his past contributions as a player and current contributions that got us into the Champions League towards the end of last season, but are those reasons enough for him to stay?
“With teams improving with each game played and us being constantly inconsistent, the mounting pressure might be too much for him to handle.”
However, Mellissa does not believe that United’s troubles are entirely Solskjaer’s fault.
“It’s like the players are so lazy, and from my view, it feels they are not even trying hard enough,” she says. “They got complacent towards the end of last season.”
She feels that if anything, United need a coach who has better control of his players. Someone like Sir Alex, who would give them the hairdryer treatment, when things were not right.
“I felt maybe it was too early to confirm Solskjaer as manager,” says Mellissa. “He doesn’t seem to have as much a hold on them, in the way that Fergie had the respect of all his players.
“But even if United were to replace him, the golden question would then be, who’s next?
“Pochettino? He would fit in well and perhaps the players would have more respect for him than they have for Ole,” says Mellissa.
“But then again, what do I know, right?”
Someone who knows, or at least, thinks he does, is Hezri Karim, who has been a Manchester United fan since he picked them over Liverpool when he was only seven years old.
“Solskjaer must go,” he says unequivocally. “He was already given ample time to work his magic but it seems that things are going down,” adds the private-hire car driver.
His choice as the Norwegian’s replacement? Pochettino, of course.
“Mauricio Pochettino worked wonders with Spurs before his unfortunate dismissal. Having him to steer United back to the top is something mouth-watering, considering his success with Spurs. United must get Pochettino sooner rather than later,” he insists.
And Bruno Fernandes’ dressing room outburst is an indication that Solskjaer has lost the trust of his players, according to Hezri.
“Two humiliating defeats at the start of the season just shows that he is losing the plot,” he adds. And he believes Fernandes’ fantastic rant at his teammates also suggests the players do not have the right attitude.
“That argument with Victor Lindelof showed Bruno’s frustration,” says Hezri.
And while he feels Ed Woodward may not have been aggressive enough during the transfer window, Hezri feels the United squad is already brimming with talent.
“United already have a crop of players to be among the top three, at least,” he says. All United need now, he adds, is someone to get these players to perform to the best of their abilities.
“And I believe Mr Pochettino has the ability to do that,” says Hezri.
So, sack or back Solskjaer?
As a disinterested neutral, I’ll tell you I don’t know which would be better. But do one or the other, because change is needed. For if things remain the way they are, Solskjaer would continue to be Liverpool fans’ favourite United coach of all time, whether they admit it or not.
And that cannot possibly be a good thing.
This article, “The once mighty Manchester United are no longer great. So, is it time to sack Solskjaer?”, originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.