The Norwegian boss will reach an important personal milestone on Sunday when Manchester United take on Wolves, symbolising how the club have found some much-needed stability
As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prepares to take his Manchester United team to face Wolves on Sunday, getting three points would be the perfect way to celebrate reaching a personal milestone.
Solskjaer will become the first manager of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era to reach 100 Premier League games in charge of the club.
He has been given more time than David Moyes, the Scot who succeeded Ferguson, lasted only eight months in the role despite being handed a six-year contract.
Louis van Gaal managed Man United for two full seasons but the Dutchman’s failure to qualify for the Champions League sealed his fate.
Even Jose Mourinho just fell short of his century at Old Trafford, having been sacked in November 2018 — with Solskjaer taking the reins.
It represents a success story for the former striker, who had experienced years of success under Ferguson including that historic Treble-winning season in 1998-99.
He arrived back at Old Trafford to help rescue the Red Devils from a toxic period under the Portuguese, who had alienated the United fanbase with his treatment of Paul Pogba and defensive style of play.
Solskjaer’s impact was immediate, taking a more relaxed approach and free his players from the shackles as United stormed their way to 10 wins from 12 matches towards the end of the season.
United rewarded the interim boss with a permanent three-year contract, but the decision drew some criticism with some pundits and fans believing United should have moved for a more established coach.
The jury is still out on whether that was the right call or not. But Solskjaer’s record in his first 100 games in all competitions should not be undervalued.
He had recorded a respectable 55 wins, 21 draws and 24 defeats since taking his place in the dugout, especially so considering that Sir Alex Ferguson managed just 48 over the same period.
He has also played a key role in the transfer market, bringing in world-class talent such as Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.
And it is not just assembling a squad full of stars; Solskjaer has been instrumental in helping Luke Shaw rediscover his confidence and form, while Mason Greenwood’s emergence has coincided with a strategy of developing British talent.
What he may lack in tactical nous, Solskjaer possesses a sense of positivity and character that tends to rub off on his players. As it stands, there are very few unhappy faces at the club.
Ultimately though, what the fans, players and senior figures want to see is trophies — and as of yet, the Norwegian has nothing to show in that area.
That is viewed as an unacceptable and disappointing result of Solskjaer’s £500million expenditure on new players over the past 32 months.
Van Gaal and Mourinho both won silverware during their respective tenures in Manchester and Solskjaer will need no reminding of the pressure placed upon his shoulders.
He has been afforded the kind of patience and faith that several of his managerial counterparts, notably Frank Lampard at Chelsea, were not.
He signed a new contract over the summer, keeping him at the club until 2024, which has perhaps hamstrung United in their future plans should this season fail to produce a trophy.
It is not like he has not reached the latter stages of competitions. As recent as May 2021, United put in a lacklustre display to lose out on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League final.
The year prior to that, United reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup, only to lose all three ties.
But there is a feeling that United’s trust in Solskjaer is finally set to pay dividends in 2021-22.
Armed with new signings Sancho and Varane, the Red Devils have landed their top two targets this summer. Yet neither started the opening game of the new season, a convincing 5-1 drubbing of Leeds United, which offered some hope for even better performances down the road.
Additionally, Solskjaer is confident that with the right squad and coaching staff, the club are equipped to challenge on all fronts for silverware again.
“I have a fantastic coaching team around me, and we are all ready to take that next step on our journey,” Solskjaer said after signing his contract.
“ Manchester United wants to be winning the biggest and best trophies and that’s what we are all striving for.
“We have improved, both on and off the pitch, and that will continue over the coming seasons. I can’t wait to get out in front of a packed Old Trafford and get this campaign started.”
United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who is set to leave his position at the end of 2021, has been a strong supporter throughout Solskjaer’s reign and believes the club are heading in “the right direction.”
The problem with the 50-year-old getting exactly what he wants is the expectation that comes with it. United will no longer settle for finishing 16 points behind Man City in second place — they will insist on a serious challenge.
Barring a disastrous opening half of the season, Solskjaer knows he is safe from the sack and can look forward to building upon some promising results over the past 12 months.
But there will come a time where his accomplishments will be held up and dissected, at which point Solskjaer will be hoping he has ended the club’s nine-year wait for a league title.