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Manchester United must stick with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer….for now

In the seemingly endless back and forth debate about sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United, there always seems to be a bit missing. Who replaces him?

Throw that into the beery circle of discussion down the local and watch how quickly the faces at the bar go blank.

It’s the important bit, too. The really important bit. Sacking a manager is not difficult. Finding an upgrade is often much harder and that’s especially so at United’s level of the game.

I don’t think United will win the Premier League with Solskjaer in charge. I have said this before and, for all his team’s incremental improvement, I still believe it. I think he is a fair manager but at least a grade down from where he needs to be.

But that doesn’t mean United should sack him. Not now. Not yet.

At Old Trafford, the needs are multi-layered. They have felt the impact of the pandemic too. For sure, they need a league title after eight years and counting.

But after the collapse of the European Super League, they also need top-four football, sporting and commercial relevance, smooth water. After the tidal wave years of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, Solskjaer gives them that.

It’s not sexy. It’s not a narrative that would have made much of a strip in Roy of the Rovers. But it’s important. United cannot afford to move backwards through the pack again.

Is it possible to imagine a coach like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp improving their squad in terms of performances, results and direction? Yes, it absolutely is. That must be desperately frustrating for fans of the club.

But rather than serve as evidence that Solskjaer must go, it tells us there is little point replacing him until a candidate who has the potential to reach that exalted standard of work actually emerges.

When Moyes was sacked in April 2014, United were seventh. When Van Gaal went in the summer of 2016, they were fifth. Mourinho had them at sixth, 19 points off the top. So room for improvement was clear.

Were Solskjaer to go now, the task would be to take United top from second, third or fourth — to overhaul teams like Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. The margins for improvement are so much smaller.

So a stellar candidate is required and if, for argument’s sake, the job was open today, who would be available to take it? Mauricio Pochettino, who was previously unattached and is now in work at Paris Saint-Germain? Brendan Rodgers, once of Liverpool and set on the City job?

There are others dotted around Europe but none that would come without risk of failure attached. And risk is one thing the modern United cannot really afford to get involved with.

Solskjaer is United’s safe option and always has been, ever since he replaced Mourinho after that embarrassing no-show at Anfield in the winter of 2018.

United should stand for something other than top-four security. There should be a little more glory about the whole thing and Solskjaer’s departure in the medium term continues to feel a tad inevitable.

But the truth is that United under Solskjaer are better than they were. The Norwegian has moved his team forward and they are fourth in the league.

And who knows the real reasons for United’s enduring faith in their man anyway? Maybe they do believe he can win them the title one day. If so, there is probably another column in that.

Or maybe — as I suspect — they are happy to allow him to nudge his team gently along until the day someone of the required standard finally comes along.

If so, would that be a little cruel on a bona fide club legend? Maybe. Would it also represent reasonable business sense? Yes, that too.

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