Reports: Manchester United set to fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager


Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer survive a 4-1 loss to Watford? We’ll soon find out after an emergency meeting was reportedly called by the Manchester United board after the latest loss. 

The Times in London reported that Solskjaer’s job was the topic of conversation at the meeting, and despite initial reports that there had been no final decision made, the same outlet indicates that Solskjaer is set to be dismissed.

Multiple publications are running with the same news and all that’s apparently left is an official announcement:

Additional reporting by the Times indicates that Man United’s owners want to convince free agent Zinedine Zidane, who once managed Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, to take over on the sidelines. The names of Frenchman Laurent Blanc and Julien Lopetegui have also come up. In the meantime, the duo of ex-players Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick would possibly take over on an interim basis. 

Ownership had given Solskjaer the full two-week international break to get things right after the previous 2-0 loss to rival Manchester City. But things did not look much better against Watford in the first game back. Watford scored four goals and could have had more if it were not for a penalty-kick save by goalkeeper David De Gea. It didn’t help that Man United captain Harry Maguire got himself sent off in the match after being caught in possession.

Before the November international break, Solskjaer reportedly had three matches to save his job following the humiliating 5-0 home loss to Liverpool. But it was never clear what those results needed to be. 

Club management had decided to keep the 48-year-old manager at the helm after the debacle against Liverpool, despite “giving serious consideration to dismissing Solskjaer.” After a change in formation to a three center back system, his Man United side went 1-1-1 during those next three matches. A league win at Tottenham and a Champions League draw at Atalanta were followed by the deflating 2-0 home loss to intra-city rival Manchester City which brought back many of the helpless feelings of the Liverpool defeat.

Solskjaer said after the Liverpool match that he still felt like he was the right man for the job despite calling that 5-0 scoreline “rock bottom.” And he was still convinced of it after the humbling setback to Manchester City, during which Man United was outclassed and thoroughly outplayed. He was still hanging on in his postgame comments after the loss to Watford. 

“It’s a definite big, big challenge for everyone in and around the club,” Solskjaer said. “That’s the big question. It’s not for the here and now.

“I’m working for and with the club and I’ve been here for 18 years and of course we’ve got a good communication. And if the club is thinking about doing something that’s a conversation between us,” Solskjaer continued. “The results are not good enough. We know that. We’ve gone 30 games unbeaten away from home. Now we lose two on the bounce conceding four goals in both of them. Of course something’s wrong.

“We’re embarrassed losing the way we do. We know we’re on a bad run in a bad situation but that’s part of football,” he said in reference to his postgame gesture to supporters. “I know they’ll support the team and whoever is on the pitch every single day. Sometimes you have to say sorry, and that’s a sorry for the performance.”

The case against Solskjaer

Despite a number of big signings this offseason, including Raphael Varane ($44 million paid to Real Madrid), Jadon Sancho ($93 million paid to Borussia Dortmund) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($16 million to Juventus), Manchester United has not played well this season, and even many of the wins haven’t been convincing.

United has one win in its last seven league games, a run which has dropped it to seventh place in the standings, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea. The Red Devils have already been eliminated from the Carabao Cup (League Cup) and have needed to come from behind in their last three Champions League matches after opening the group stage with a shock loss to Swiss side Young Boys. The 5-0 loss to Liverpool was the low point of a challenging few weeks and the Manchester City performance didn’t feel like progress. The Watford loss seems to be the final straw.

Solskjaer’s tactics and lineup selections have been called into question for over a month. United has been porous defensively and generally suffered from a lack of organization and coordinated movements without the ball. There are also few clear collective ideas that show up in the attacking sequences, which have instead relied on moments of individual brilliance. The elite competition of the UEFA Champions League has exposed those failings with his team losing half of the matches played in that competition during his tenure (7 of 14).

All this has led to public comments from his own players about tactics and gameplans, and that has led to reports that Solskjaer has lost “the trust of a number of players.”

But there were still voices in the press, including some of his former Man United teammates, that made the case that Solskjaer needs better players or more time and support from ownership. One report even blames the club’s American owners for maintaining low standards that have led to this crisis moment for the club. Rio Ferdinand, however, was not holding back prior to the Watford loss:

Solskjaer’s Manchester United contract

After finishing in second place in the Premier League last season (12 points behind Manchester City) and leading Manchester United to the Europa League final (lost on penalties to Villarreal), Manchester United gave Solskjaer a new three-year contract in July that runs through 2024 with an option for an extra season.

That would make parting ways with the Norwegian especially tough to stomach for management and costly, as well. A report indicates that the payout in case of a firing would reach $10 million

Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s Solskjaer who’s enjoyed the longest time at the helm and the most player investment:

Manager Arrival Departure Matches Premier League Trophies
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Dec. 19, 2018 N/A 169 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 7th (current) 0
Jose Mourinho May 27, 2016 Dec. 18, 2018 144 6th, 2nd, 6th (Dec. 2018) 3
Louis Van Gaal July 16, 2014 May 23, 2016 103 4th & 5th 1
David Moyes July 1, 2013 April 22, 2014 51 7th (April 2014)

Who could become Man United manager?

It was believed that Italian Antonio Conte, who was coming off a league title-winning season with Inter Milan in Italy, was the candidate with the best resume to take over a club as storied as United. But despite reports of his interest in the Man United job, he joined Tottenham Hotspur after Spurs fired their manager, Nuno Espirito Santo.

One UK sportsbook had odds on a list of permanent manager candidates for United and many of the names have existing club commitments or have already rebuffed any links. Ex-Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, who once coached Ronaldo at Real Madrid, was at one point reportedly not interested, but then it emerged he’s learning English. Brendan Rodgers, Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino have made it clear they’re not interested in a move. 

Manager Current Club Odds
Zinedine Zidane free agent 1.74
Brendan Rodgers Leicester City 3.5
Erik ten Hag Ajax 12
Mauricio Pochettino PSG 15
Ralf Rangnick Lokomotiv Moscow 19
Roberto Martinez Belgium 21
Luis Enrique Spain 26
Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United 26
Graham Potter Brighton 26
Roberto Mancini Italy 26

One potential candidate from the list whose coaching philosophy would seem to fit with Man United’s preferred proactive playing style, is the architect of RB Leipzig’s rise to Bundesliga power: Ralf Rangnick, who recently joined Lokomotiv Moscow in a management role. German-based SportBild reporter Christian Falk claimed he’s interested.

However, The Independent’s Miguel Delaney reported that Rangnick would only serve as an interim coach until he could hire a permanent manager to take over, allowing Rangnick to ascend to a Director of Football capacity.

When could Manchester United change managers?

Some clubs wait until the extended breaks offered by FIFA international windows for World Cup qualifiers before they make a change. The Nov. 7-Nov. 17 period would have been one of those.  

Although he was missing his international players who joined their respective nations for World Cup qualifying, Solskjaer had two weeks to work on tactical aspects that are tougher to do when the team is playing and recovering from competitive matches every three days.

The Watford match was only the first in a testing series of matches in late November. After the Watford match, the qualification to the Round of 16 of the Champions League could be at stake in a pivotal group stage match at Villarreal (Nov. 23).

The week wraps up with a massive clash against league leaders Chelsea (Nov. 28), which could permanently take Manchester United out of the title race.

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