LAle Gunnar Solskjær has little patience for those who complain about the frequent presence of rain clouds in the skies above north-west England. “We have a saying in Norway that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” says Manchester United’s manager.
When Solskjær took caretaker charge of United in December 2018, Sir Alex Ferguson’s one-time super-sub striker swiftly decided the squad was dressed inadequately and inappropriately for the task in hand.
By the time the Norwegian agreed a formal three-year managerial contract in March 2019 such views had hardened. Solskjær remained convinced that several of the players he had inherited from José Mourinho lacked the fitness, pace and sheer ruthless ambition which had seen Ferguson’s United teams win trophies galore. Cuando, en abril 2019, United lost heavily at Everton, Mourinho’s successor told disbelieving reporters: “I’m going to be successful but there are players here that won’t be part of it.”
Although the man who will for ever be revered at Old Trafford for scoring United’s stoppage time winner in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich is still to collect his first silverware as the club’s manager, Solskjær has proved those journalists wrong. His side now look extremely well dressed for combat.
The United board’s decision to extend the 48-year-old’s contract until 2024 reflects a growing confidence that after the Norwegian’s intelligent reconstruction a steadily improving first XI will soon end a four-year trophy drought.
Admittedly United were wise to avoid creating the mood of uncertainty and fevered speculation which would have been inevitable corollaries of allowing their manager’s contract to enter its final season but there are genuine reasons for optimism in Manchester’s red half.
Until recently Solskjær habitually referred to “this team” or “our team” but, just lately, he has started talking about “my team”. Considering that, as a striker, he consistently refused to celebrate the scoring of unplanned fluke goals, the wording is unlikely to be accidental.
Cuando, la semana pasada, United completed the £73m signing of the England winger Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, Solskjær’s reaction was telling. “Jadon epitomises the type of player I want to bring here," él dijo. “He’s a forward in the best traditions of Manchester United.”
In between losing four semi-finals and one final, while finishing third and second in the Premier League during his two full campaigns in charge, Solskjær has not only survived two boardroom dalliances with the idea of installing Mauricio Pochettino as manager but built a team true to longstanding Stretford End footballing philosophy.
Quite apart from introducing some exciting young faces, perhaps most notably Dean Henderson and Mason Greenwood, while getting the best out of Luke Shaw, he has bought extremely well. In acquiring Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and Sancho United have begun thrilling fans and unnerving opponents in almost equal measure.
Should, as expected, the France defender Raphaël Varane arrive from Real Madrid and Paul Pogba either recommit to United or a high-calibre midfield replacement be recruited, Solskjær could yet complete a contract which would make him the third longest serving United manager, behind Sir Matt Busby and Ferguson, since the second world war.
The sole caveat is that, after months of incremental, sometimes almost imperceptible progress, finally winning a trophy seems imperative this coming season. Man managing the high maintenance Pogba with a skill unrivalled by many peers and deploying an amalgam of unfailing courtesy and a refreshingly well disguised ego to charm club executives have bought Solskjær valuable time. Ahora, aunque, he must channel his inner spirit of 1999 and deliver silverware.