Solskjaer (Nearly) Makes United Likeable Again

 5 years, 5 months ago 0 Comments

As a player, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had one of those infuriating qualities that you sometimes find in footballers. Namely, there was nothing you could really say that you disliked about him. He joins the likes of Sami Hyppia, Gianfranco Zola, Thomas Hitzlsperger, N’Golo Kante and Juan Mata in the pantheon of likeability, which usually has space reserved for only a handful of players such is football. We’d like to imagine Roy Keane and Duncan Ferguson are the club’s bouncers, keeping Joey Barton and Craig Bellamy from getting in through door.

Anyway, let’s just say that Solskjaer is not the worst guy who could take the United helm from a PR perspective. Sometimes in football, there is more to think about than just the results, and United fans themselves would admit that the current squad have had a real likeability problem over the best couple of seasons. The fans were angry at Paul Pogba for down tools at the end of Mourinho’s tenure; they were upset when Romelu Lukaku returned from the World Cup around five times the size he was when he entered.

Fans much happier with performances

Most of all though, fans were devastated at United’s mentality. “Attack, attack, attack” often rings out at Old Trafford, but far from being the cry of a spoilt fanbase used to winning all the time, it’s simply a mantra that United fans believe the team should live by. They would rather be a Newcastle back in 1996, losing games 4-3, rather than winning games 1-0.

Solskjaer, of course, has started off well with the fans, winning his first five games in charge and scoring 16 goals in the process. But, crucially, he has allowed players to express themselves on the pitch, with the likes of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba looking reborn in recent weeks. Best of all is Marcus Rashford, who has been thrilling the crowds with his jet-powered heels and exuberance on the pitch.

Spurs’ trip will be difficult

However, this renaissance could be soon tested when harder games come up for United. On the horizon is a trip to Wembley for in-form Spurs. Will Solskjaer go for it? Will United fans be happy to leave London with a 6-2 loss, but losing honourably? Or will they be crying out for a Mourinho-type performance, a 0-0 with Ander Herrera sticking to Christian Eriksen like a troublesome verruca?

Indeed, Solskjaer has made the mistake of getting the United fans expectations raised – and the media has followed suit. A look at United’s odds show the bookies have become seduced too: On one hand, you might think 250/1 (Bet365) for United to win the title looks generous, but the suggestion that can make up 16 points on Liverpool is laughable.

United could sneak into Top 4

The same goes for the Top 4 race, United have been priced at 3/1 to make up the six points to Chelsea, and they are even priced ahead of 5th place Arsenal at 10/3. There could, of course, be some markets worth a punt, so check out this guide to recommended free bets for football.

But it is in the Champions League where impressionable United fans have got carried the way most. The name “Roberto Di Matteo” gets whispered in dark corners, with some suggestion that United are in a similar position to Chelsea in 2012. 40/1 is the current price offered from Betfair and others, but they have to get past PSG, who are fourth-favourites at 8/1.

In the end, this is a test for United fans. Solskjaer has played some nice expansive football and fans say they are happy. But will the time come when they expect more conservative tactics? Will they bemoan losing in a blaze of glory?

For example, that PSG match, the sage advice would be for United to kick Neymar up and down the Parc des Princes until he refuses to come back on the pitch. If they head to Paris to play ‘pure football’, they may get slaughtered. Will United fans still be singing Solskjaer’s name if they lose heavily at Anfield, the Etihad, but go for it? Maybe not. But, for the moment, the Norwegian should be applauded for changing the trajectory of a team that had been boring the ass off the country for half a decade. Fair play, fella.

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