The Fall of a Hero
Issue 7, Volume 112
By Nakib Abedin
With only seconds left in the game, Manchester United midfielder David Beckham stepped up to take a corner. He whipped the ball in, and after a deflection, the ball landed right in front of Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who smashed the ball into the back of the net. His goal had won Manchester United the UEFA Champions League and completed its first ever treble (when a club wins three trophies in one season) in the history of English football. With his name echoing across the stadium, Solskjær quickly became the most adored man in Manchester.
Twenty years later, the Red Devils found themselves in ruins. They had just sacked José Mourinho, their third manager in five years. With the future looking bleak, an old hero came back to save them. Solskjær was appointed as the interim manager, with the majority of fans expecting him to serve as a placeholder while United searched for a more experienced leader. Though Solskjær had some experience coaching Molde FK, a small team in Norway, it was a massive leap to begin managing one of the most successful teams in the history of English soccer. However, the world was stunned as Solskjær’s team won 14 out of a possible 19 games, putting them in strong contention for a spot in the top four. With many fans hoping that Solskjær would bring United back to their former glory, it was no surprise that he was handed a three-year contract. Unfortunately, things would soon take a turn for the worse for the Norwegian manager.
Solskjær finished the 2019-2020 season off with United in the top four, but his side still landed a massive 33 points behind league champion Liverpool and 15 points behind runner-up Manchester City. Fans were content given that Solskjær had joined halfway through the season, and they were expecting United to compete for a trophy in the following season given the strength of the roster.
The new season, however, started off poorly for Solskjær. The Red Devils received a 6-1 humiliation from Tottenham Hotspur FC early on and found themselves in shambles. They were able to recover to finish as runners-up in the league, but much of the success was attributed to the individual brilliance of players such as Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba rather than managerial tactics. At the end of the season, the Red Devils reached the Europa League final. United lost by razor-thin margins, with the game heading to a penalty shootout that United narrowly lost 11-10. Many fans questioned Solskjær’s decision not to sub out David de Gea, who failed to save 40 penalties in a row, for backup keeper Dean Henderson, who had saved an impressive 8 out of 17 penalties in his professional career.
With fans furious after another trophyless season, Solskjær found himself as the scapegoat for all of United’s woes. Nonetheless, the board kept its faith in him, even bringing in Jadon Sancho, Raphaël Varane, and Cristiano Ronaldo to bolster an already strong squad. Despite a four-game undefeated streak at the beginning of the season, Solskjær’s side crumbled as the season progressed. The Red Devils were humiliated 5-0 by Liverpool, outclassed 2-0 by Manchester City, and destroyed 4-1 by Watford FC within the span of five games. After relentless pressure from the fans, Solskjær parted ways with Manchester United under mutual consent. Once a cherished hero, Solskjær left the club as a villain, the man responsible for the downfall of Manchester United.
In reality, the true villains of the story are the owners of the club. Since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester United has struggled to win trophies. Though it may be easy to blame Solskjær, the reality is that world-class managers have faced the same fate. Louis van Gaal and Mourinho were two of the most experienced and accomplished coaches when they joined United. However, they too were unable to find long-term success. The root of the problem stems from the Glazers family, which bought the club over a decade ago. The Glazers consistently make poor decisions and investments but often get away with them since there isn’t much that fans can do to force them to sell the club. Earlier on in 2021, Manchester United fans stormed Old Trafford in order to protest the Glazers’ ownership. In response, they invested money in the club, spending over $150 million. Though this action was a seemingly positive turn of events on the surface, the reality is that the Glazers recruited players in the wrong positions. Despite being in desperate need of new defensive midfielders, the Glazers bought players like Sancho, who often struggles to make it into the starting roster, and Ronaldo, who was a solid signing but wasn’t entirely necessary, considering that United was already known for its strong offense.
Nonetheless, these purchases took pressure off of the Glazers family, and all of the blame went to Solskjær. Even though Solskjær’s results were far from acceptable, the fact that many great managers suffered the same fate suggests that the problem isn’t with the manager, but rather with the owners. History tends to repeat itself, and United will likely face the same dilemma again. Next time, however, United fans must ensure that the Glazers take accountability themselves for the fall of a historic club.