Manchester United: All vibes, no substance?

Abdel Rahman El Beheri
9 min readSep 24, 2021

Disclaimer: this is not a tactical piece.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Carrington during training sessions.

Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjær have been under constant scrutiny ever since has gotten the job permanently. The ironic part is the scrutiny he received early in his tenure came from those that were demanding he receives the job — at the time. This is Manchester United though, the scrutiny comes with the job. Not only because the managerial seat of Manchester United football club is hottest seat in football but also because it is the easiest clickbait in the age of social media.

Manchester United’s social media presence is a behemoth compared to many other huge clubs in the sport. Manchester United is the Godzilla of the European football when it comes to social media presence. You don’t even have to look too far for proof. When Cristiano Ronaldo was resigned, the unveiling post became the most liked post on Twitter in under an hour. Fusing Manchester United with a player like Ronaldo almost broke the Internet. As such, if the grey hair on Solskjær’s head got a little whiter, it will be talked about.

The problem with Solskjær is criticism turned to hatred and jealousy. The things that Solskjær gets criticized for the most are not even his tactics, its his persona. There are those who critique his tactics but they are getting lumped into the group that just hates the person.

Some of the things that were said by both Journalists and fans on Social media:

“The best day of my life hasn’t come yet — with a picture of Solskjær’s hypothetical sacking”

“A manager that was never relevant.”

“I feel Solskjær plays with vibes. There’s no style or tactics.”

“He’s not a leader or a manager that would get hired by any respectable club.”

“In few months, Ronaldo will manage the team not Solskjær. Solskjær can’t manage big players like Ronaldo and Varane.”

There’s no need to mention where the quotes came from but we have all seen them before.

I have explained before how Solskjær operates, what his philosophies are and what is his style in one of my articles — What is Manchester United under Solskjær — so I am not going to repeat it here again. If you are interested, give it a read but warning: It is a long article.

There are three things to address here. One, the hatred. Two, the dumbfounded criticism and three, the toxic positivity. Fans and Journalists that actually discuss real concerns with United’s performances, for example the latest cup exit (League Cup), are not implied upon or talked about here.

Let’s start with the dumbfounded unconstructive criticism, that it is all just vibes and there’s no tactics or Solskjær can’t coach.

One: Dumbfounded, lazy criticism

First, Solskjær admitted long ago — when the criticism about his coaching methods were questioned loud in the media — that he doesn’t coach the team, he manages the club. Here are his quotes:

“I’ve never hidden the fact that I’ve got coaches who are better than me on the pitch”, Solskjaer has explained in the past. “The main chunks of the sessions, that’s Kieran [McKenna], Michael [Carrick], Martyn [Pert] and Fletch [Darren Fletcher]. They do them.

“But man-management is my passion. I’ve got other skills, of course, but you’ve got to look at what other people can bring to the table that you can’t. For me, to get the best out of every single player, by hook or by crook, by praise or by stick, that’s an art and a science.”

Solskjær is very good at recognizing strengths & weaknesses. He knows better than anybody the strengths and weaknesses of his players, coaches, the club & himself. He’s not too proud or stubborn to think he can do it all on his own or to ask for help. He’s a team player.

Solskjær, normally, addresses the issues he identifies through bringing in a player or a coach. Last year, United were 2nd/3rd bottom in the league for defending set-pieces. Solskjær hired Eric Ramsey. This year United are yet to concede from a set piece.

This is why man-management is his best attribute. Where he lacks he asks others to add their input. He makes his weakness a source of strength. It’s great to see and it can only bodes well for Manchester United and him as a manager in the future.

There are question marks still on the pitch. Why they have not been addressed yet, seeing that this is Solskjær 3rd full season (i.e. defensive transitions, balance in midfield, etc..)? This is one of the issues.

However, this is where the other side of the argument comes in. Manchester United have been a completely dysfunctional club since 2010/11 onwards. SAF’s last great team and his genius papered over the cracks. The hiring and firing of three managers who couldn’t be further away from each other — in terms of style of football and managing — added to the proof of how hysterically incompetent those in charge are. The deterioration of the academy, the removal or lack of sports science department, the dysfunctional recruitment and, top it all off, disgruntled players that see no future at the club.

First of all, rebuilding a club isn’t and shouldn’t be a part of the job description of the manager/head coach. What are the other heads of departments doing? When you read pieces on The Athletic about Manchester United like the one in the image below, you realize how big his job is and, at the same time, you fume that the club was this far back and this mediocre.

Article from The Athletic about the inner working of United and Solskjær.

Therefore, those who think Chelsea “showed up” Manchester United by letting go of Frank Lampard and hiring a “proper” manager, ask them: How of much of Chelsea football club did Thomas Tuchel rebuild?

Frank Lampard was massively under-performing and lost the trust of the German players he bought earlier in that summer. Manchester United player’s, on the other hand, came out and defended their manager whenever a rumor that they are un-happy with him came out.

And no, you don’t have to take the player’s words with a pinch of salt because they don’t have to come out and say what they said. They can talk generally or they can run away from the question by answering something different. Players are trained to talk to the media. Varane had no reason to say this for example:

Raphaël Varane: “I’ve just started my adventure here, but I feel the training sessions are very detailed — the goal is always to be at our best. Solskjær always tries to talk to the players so he knows how we feel after matches, and tells us where we can get better.” [tv2]

The point here is, if you are going to criticize Solskjær at least criticize him with a full grown argument. Don’t be a reductionist and say: “well look at this manager at that club”, because the questions will be, did that club have the same exact issues as Manchester United? Did that club suffer from a lack of structure, greed, a dying academy, a bunch of lazy players or players who wanted to leave? Was that club set 50 years back by its owners and ex-managers?

The only other managers that had to deal with such a humongous rebuild of a club are Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Matt busby (twice), and Bill Shankly of Liverpool. With Shankly, Liverpool were in the 2nd division in 1959 and were getting beat by non-league oppositions. It took Shankly 3 years to get them out of 2nd division. Another 2 years to win English first division. Remember at the time, there was no dominant force in the league. Almost every year, there was a different winner. The club’s levels were very close to each other. No billionaires making one team so hard to reach. It still took Shankly 6 years to reach the top and they only became the dominant force in the 70s, which was another 6 years later. No rebuild happens in 1 or 2 or even 3 years.

You can also consider Jürgen Klopp as a manager that had a rebuild on his hand when he arrived at the club. Nonetheless, if you read extensively about Liverpool, you’ll know that Liverpool were already rebuilding the club from the inside before Klopp came. Brenden Rodgers was just not getting the results on the pitch.

If you argue that Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal “won things” despite the mess of the club. Well then, you have to remember that both contributed to the demise of Manchester United as a club. None more so than Jose Mourinho. Van Gaal only contributed through bad signings but Mourinho was a comprehensive destruction.

The winning trophies part is easy to rebuttal as you only have to look at the level of competition at the time those trophies were won. FA Cup 2016, all the other top 5 clubs were in transition, hence why, Leicester took advantage of the only chance they were going to get to win the league. There was no favorite in the cup. Now, Manchester City or Chelsea are the favorite for every cup competition they are in.

Europa and League Cup, Manchester United’s biggest competition was a bunch of kids from Ajax and an undeveloped Guardiola team of Manchester City. And yes – Solskjær should have won the Europa vs. Villarreal, there was no excuse for him there.

Moving on, then, United headed down the road of mediocrity while Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea (up and down as always, that’s their model any way), soared to dominance domestically and on the European stage.

Solskjær had a humongous job coming in; rebuild, play catch up, and try to establish dominance among titans. If you are going to criticize Solskjær, make it about his actual work not the man. If you are going to criticize Solskjær, drop the snide remarks and unbeneficial, unconstructive, and lazy arguments.

Two: Toxic positivity

This section really gets on my nerves as a fan. We all want Solskjær to succeed but there comes a time where it is counterproductive. It reached a point with this section where any sort of healthy criticism, as mentioned previously, gets lumped with the negativity and hatred group. This is not healthy and it is not right, you shouldn’t be discrediting genuine criticism even if you don’t agree with it. Be humble. Solskjær is not perfect. He will tell you that himself. He makes mistakes, A LOT.

You have to open your eyes and see the faults in your loved ones, if you really want them to improve and succeed. If you don’t, you are just as bad as those who hate them.

Tough love, as they say...

Three: The hatred.

If you are a heavy social media user, then you have probably seen the death threats, abuse, harassment, and vulgar comments, bad articles and threads written about Solskjær.

It reached a point where it feels personal. It feels like its about the man not the job he is doing. I struggle, sometimes, to understand where this is coming from. I’ve never seen anything like it!

It feels like it’s envy, like in their mind, they are all asking themselves dumbfounded-ly: “how can someone with the experience and the personality of Solskjær get one of, if not the biggest jobs on the planet. It must be just because of his historical connection to the club or just dumb luck. It can’t be anything else.”

Therefore, this is what gets highlighted the most about him. How out of his depth he is after each loss. How nice or “soft” he is. Funny enough, all his players came out and debunked this and said you don’t want to see an angry Solskjær.

It feels or seems to be its more about them being right than the benefit of the club they seem to support — if they are fans to begin with— or the club they follow journalistically — if they are journalists obviously, lol.

I, personally, reached a point where despite the problems I know exist tactically and despite some of the short-comings that Solskjær has – which he happily admits he’s not one to shy away and I respect that about him – I want him to succeed. I want him to succeed so bad just so his success will be the biggest “F**k you” to all those who took it personally and wish him failure for clicks instead of constructively criticizing or wishing him well.

I reached a point where, I want Solskjær to win a trophy with Manchester United more than I’ve wanted any manager to win something with United. I want HIM, Solskjær, to succeed — because remember in the end, United also succeeded.

Thank you,

Abdel Rahman