Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing what Jose Mourinho did with the Glazers at Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in a difficult predicament when Manchester United fans’ anti-Glazer protests were at their most vociferous last season.
As whispers about possible protests outside Old Trafford were swirling around ahead of United’s planned home game against Liverpool, Solskjaer struck all the right notes when he condoned supporters’ rights to protest peacefully.
He did the right thing in meeting a group of supporters who had stormed United’s Carrington training ground, using his trademark charisma to chat matters through with them. He came across as responsible and also understanding about the fans’ concerns. He was an outspoken critic of the European Super League proposals.
But Solskjaer could not condone the violent elements of the protests that did occur by Old Trafford and United’s team hotel on the day of the (scheduled) Liverpool game.
Some fans believed, and still believe, that the Norwegian was defending the Glazer family when he was critical of the way the protests unfolded. Some accused him of being an apologist for the unpopular American owners.
Yet all of the manager’s public utterances about the summer transfer window — which is about to open — and the need for United to strengthen their squad would suggest he is putting his own form of pressure on the owners.
The dust had barely settled on United’s agonising Europa League final defeat to Villarreal when Solskjaer boldly voiced his intention to sign three first team players this summer. His desire to improve on a progressive but not perfect season at Old Trafford was plain for all to see. Not settling for mediocrity or resting on his laurels.
He said: “We are here now, we need to do better, we need to work better, work harder, cleverer. But as I said two or three players to strengthen the starting XI and the squad all together is important for us to go even further.
“Because I’m sure our contenders or challengers will also want to improve and we want to improve as much as we can.”
Solskjaer no doubt has in his mind the summer of 2018 when United were in a similar position under Jose Mourinho, but allowed themselves to drift and go backwards after a second place finish in the Premier League.
It was well documented that summer Mourinho wanted to sign a centre-back, amid interest from United in Harry Maguire, Diego Godin and Toby Alderweireld. But Ed Woodward and the Glazers refused to release funds, United spent less than £70million on just two players (Fred and Diogo Dalot) and slipped to a disastrous start to the 2018/19 season. Mourinho was on his bike by Christmas. United finished sixth.
So it’s little wonder Solskjaer is upping the ante, reiterating his desire to see United do the absolute best transfer business they can this summer.
He doubled down on his message to the Glazers in a more recent interview with Norwegian media this week.
“We want the best players here, and the club knows what I want,” said Solskjaer. “I do not know how the dialogue goes, but if we are to fight for the best trophies, we must have the best players.”
It’s no secret that Solskjaer wanted Jadon Sancho last summer, and with United reprising their interest in the Borussia Dortmund right-winger after failing miserably to sign him a year ago, they cannot afford to miss out a second time.
Solskjaer would also like a centre-back to partner Harry Maguire, which feels like ominously familiar ground to the situation that tripped up Mourinho three years ago.
He’s doing everything he can to ensure the same mistakes aren’t made at Old Trafford.
With United fans continuing to maintain the pressure on the Glazers, recently quizzing co-chairman Joel Glazer at a productive fans’ forum meeting, this summer should be different to 2018.
Time will tell. But Solskjaer may prove to be the unfortunate fall guy if history repeats itself.