While Manchester United fans might have taken Jamie Carragher’s assertion that the club were happy merely to be considered as title contenders with a pinch of salt, given his obvious Liverpool connection, perhaps Ed Woodward is starting to consider that too. Indeed, recent reports suggest United’s executive vice-chairman isn’t prepared to rush contract talks with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and will wait until the end of the season in order to review whether or not to extend the deal that runs out in the summer of 2022.
Clearly, that doesn’t mean the 47-year-old is under any pressure at Old Trafford and, given how good his team have been at times this season, you would imagine he has helped his case for a renewed deal. Still, Woodward’s stance is markedly different to the one that led to Solskjaer’s permanent appointment in the first place.
With a long-term contract handed to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after his rip-roaring initial success as a caretaker manager, Woodward bore the brunt of intense criticism as soon as the early optimism evaporated.
It was seen as a quick-fire decision without taking the due diligence on whether or not one of the giants of European football could realistically have a manager sacked by Cardiff City as the mastermind behind their return to the top table of English football.
Those who think Woodward has now been vindicated may be wrong, despite United’s improvement this season. A glaringly obvious thing to say, perhaps, but it is indicative of the crucial juncture United now find themselves at and arguably a major factor in as to why power-brokers at Theatre of Dreams are reportedly approaching Solskjaer’s future with caution.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was given a contract, United have lost four semi-finals. During what has been their best season since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, they have been unable to take advantage of a Liverpool side in complete disarray and a Manchester City team who have only hit top gear recently.
As big an improvement as the 20/21 season has been, the likes of Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have all won at Old Trafford while their Champions League campaign was ended early in a farcical fashion. That’s not to mention a loss to Sheffield United – statistically one of the worst teams in Premier League history – and an inability to get past an Everton outfit who conceded three goals at Old Trafford.
Taking a wider view, their standing hasn’t really improved all that much. They may have shown flashes suggesting they can beat anyone (as the old adage goes) ‘on their day’ but is that really good enough for Manchester United and enough to warrant a new contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Generally speaking their defending has still been woeful at times and the suspcion remains that their recent success is more down to the impact of Bruno Fernandes than Solskjaer’s managerial acumen.
There is, of course, a huge element of luck in football but to merely hope it will be your ‘day’ often enough to compete with the best teams in Europe seems rather fanciful. Teams may not need 95-100 points to win the Premier League this season but, given the strength of City and Liverpool during the last few ‘normal’ years, it’s not out of the realms of possibility that such a tally is the minimum requirement once again.
Can a team without much more of a plan than hitting opponents on the break reach that figure? Well, given the fact Jose Mourinho – a manager synonymous with that kind of approach – is now looking increasingly behind the times, it does seem unlikely. The game has moved on.
Solskjaer has done wonders for Manchester United in terms of lifting the spirit after the Mourinho reign. In turn, the club have done wonders for him by raising his profile and restoring his reputation as a manager
What much more they can do for each other will surely be decided between now and the end of the season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has certainly improved his lot at United but whether that is enough to earn an extended contract is yet to be seen.