OLE Gunnar Solskjaer did something remarkable at the weekend – he took the FA Cup seriously. The team he picked signalled his intent to not only win the game, but to win the entire tournament.
To be fair, Unai Emery was clearly taking it seriously as well.
Solskjaer has now won all eight of his games as caretaker manager of Manchester United. Some of those matches have been as laidback as a Paul Pogba penalty run-up, but Friday night’s wasn’t.
Arsenal fielded a strong side and the FA Cup got a genuine heavyweight contest in the fourth round.
United are now floating like butterflies and stinging like bees. Not so long ago – nine games in fact – they were doing the opposite.
The transformation at the club has been incredible and Solskjaer deserves huge credit for it. He’s galvanised the squad, given them confidence, and simplified the style of play to get the best out of the attacking talent he has.
Many pundits are suggesting that he’s already done enough to earn the job on a permanent basis, or at least become a genuine contender. That’s a bit premature.
But if ever there was a sport that lives in the moment, it’s football. Solskjaer is seizing his, just as he did as a player. If he isn’t appointed United boss in the summer, I suspect he won’t have to spend much time looking for work.
For now he’s winning games, but he’ll really give the club hierarchy something to think about if he wins a trophy. The Norwegian knows the FA Cup is his big chance to claim silverware this season.
Paris St Germain won’t be looking forward to their Champions League tie with United nearly as much now as they were when the draw was made. That’s the sort of test for Ole that will be more heavily weighted by the job selection panel.
There’s also the question of whether there will be any Champions League football at Old Trafford next season. It didn’t appear likely a few weeks ago.
Now though, United are just three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
Liverpool and Manchester City will occupy the top two spots at the end of the season, but it remains to be seen in what order.
The other two Champions League places have suddenly become a really intriguing four-way battle betweenTottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, and United.
Spurs have a lengthy injury list, Chelsea’s players have recently been described as hard to motivate by their manager, and Arsenal remain strangers to consistency. United have momentum.
How far will that momentum take them and their interim manager? Above Arsenal for a start.
Gonzalo Higuain should reinvigorate Chelsea, while the most important member of staff at Spurs is now the club doctor.
The job that Mauricio Pochettino has done this season – without spending any money – is almost as remarkable as Solskjaer’s recent cameo. If I was making the decision at Old Trafford, Pochettino would remain the number one choice.
Recent rumours, however, suggest that the Spurs manager is keen to stick around and build a legacy at the club, in the hope of finally getting some financial backing when the new stadium is ready.
Solskjaer’s legacy at Old Trafford was secure from the moment he stuck out his right leg in the last dramatic minute of the Champions League final of 1999. Taking United back into the tournament would be a big achievement but giving him the job permanently now is a risk.
As a manager at the highest level, Solskjaer is still proving himself. Even after the disappointment of the “special one” United should opt for a proven one.
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