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Solskjaer sent packing amid dismal United form

China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-22 11:06
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. [Photo/Agencies]

Watford humbling proves final straw as search begins for new manager

Manchester United fired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after three years as manager on Sunday after a fifth loss in seven English Premier League games.

"Ole will always be a legend at Manchester United and it is with regret that we have reached this difficult decision," United said a day after a 4-1 loss to Watford.

Former United and England midfielder Michael Carrick, who was on Solskjaer's coaching staff, has been placed in temporary charge, starting with a trip to Spain for a Champions League match at Villarreal in the group stage on Monday.

United said it would look to then appoint a manager only until the end of the season.

Solskjaer's future has hung in the balance before but he has finally lost his job at the club where he was adored as a player, notably for scoring the dramatic late winner in the 1999 Champions League final. He could not replicate that success as a manager, failing to win a single trophy.

"While the past few weeks have been disappointing, they should not obscure all the work he has done over the past three years to rebuild the foundations for long-term success," United said.

"Ole leaves with our sincerest thanks for his tireless efforts as manager and our very best wishes for the future.

"His place in the club's history will always be secure, not just for his story as a player, but as a great man and a manager who gave us many great moments. He will forever be welcome back at Old Trafford as part of the Manchester United family."

Coming after chastening losses to fierce rivals Liverpool (5-0) and Manchester City (2-0) in the last month, Solskjaer said he was "embarrassed" after United's lackluster performance at Watford, but insisted after the game he still could turn things around at the club.

Recent results suggested otherwise. The team is seventh in the Premier League, 12 points behind leader Chelsea after 12 games.

Defeat against Villarreal in Spain this week would leave the Red Devils needing both results in the final round of matches in Group F to go their way to avoid crashing out at the group stage for a second consecutive season.

That's far from good enough for a team that finished second in the EPL last season and was supposed to challenge for the title after adding superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in the offseason along with the big-money signings of England international Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.

Solskjaer, who played for United from 1996-2007 under Alex Ferguson, was hired as caretaker manager to replace Jose Mourinho in December 2018 and was handed the job permanently after a promising start at Old Trafford, having rediscovered some of the team's attacking verve and bringing calmness after a toxic ending to Mourinho's tenure.

United finished third and second in the last two seasons in the Premier League, suggesting the team was heading in the right direction under Solskjaer.

However, the regression has been stark this term and he leaves as a nostalgia appointment gone wrong, his tactical limitations clearly apparent and the team's inconsistent performances leading to ever-present doubts among fans and critics about his pedigree as a manager.

The Norwegian had been able to ride out previous stretches of underperformance, in part because of his popularity with fans as a former striker who took on legendary status because of his ability to come off the bench to score crucial winners.

However, even the traveling United fans at Vicarage Road on Saturday seemed to turn against Solskjaer when he walked across the pitch to applaud them after the final whistle.

Zinedine Zidane, who won three Champions League titles with Ronaldo and Varane at Madrid, is the favorite with bookmakers to succeed Solskjaer, with Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers and Ajax's Erik ten Hag also in contention.

However, the decision to wait until the summer to make a permanent appointment could open up a wider pool of potential candidates, including Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino, who has previously been linked with the job.

Whoever does take over will have a richly talented but bloated and unbalanced squad to work with.

United boasts abundant riches in attack, with Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Sancho, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial all vying for starting spots.

But Solskjaer's preferred midfield pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay has often been overrun this season and the leaky defense has conceded 21 goals in the league, over five times more than Chelsea.

Any new manager will also have to work under the American owners, the Glazer family, who remain intensely unpopular with fans.

Protests have recently died down, but frustrations over the ownership model, which loaded huge amounts of debt onto the club, persist.

One thing is for certain-whoever is next in through the door will face enormous expectations that will not be satisfied until United is top dog again.

Agencies via Xinhua

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