Barcelona’s dominance over this season and last has shown everyone what a young manager with an understanding-not to mention love- of the club he’s in charge of can achieve. Pep Guardiola’s successes at the Nou Camp have made the rest of Europe salivate with envy. Not only has Barca’s prodigal son, delivered countless trophies and victories in his short stint as manager, he’s also done it by playing attacking football that is often so mesmerising it seems almost bad manners when teams have the audacity to win or draw against him. Admittedly this is not something the man who made nearly 500 appearances for the club has had to worry about too often as his team at times seems capable of scoring at will and appears to treat certain games, be them Champion’s League, La Liga or whatever, as though they are exhibition matches.
While expecting any manager at any club to emulate Guardiola’s achievements would be about as foolish as wearing short studs on the Wembley playing surface, it has given hope to some that success can happen at a club without bringing in one of the more experienced coaches in world football.
In the English Premier League, the last two coaches to arrive at any of the clubs aiming for real success have been the high profile Italians Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini. It is true that so far, both men have done very well and despite the odd hiccup generally look like making their debut seasons ones to remember.
It seems now whenever a coach or manager- or football managerial consultant if you’re Hull City- is mentioned as a candidate for a Premiership club it is usually a high-profile name with bag loads of experience and a cupboard full of winners medals.
Jose Mourinho has been touted as a possible successor to any one of Sir Alex Ferguson, Rafa Benitez and rather implausibly Mancini. Recently there was even some paper-talk, probably made up in a pub somewhere, of the possibility of Fergie moving upstairs at Old Trafford, if Mourinho became available at the end of this season, so Manchester United wouldn’t miss the chance of grabbing the Special One. While that seems about as likely as Alan Wiley getting a round of applause next time he visits White Hart Lane, the very fact that it’s even been mentioned- or made up- indicates how highly Mourinho is rated by many.
The list of candidates as successor to Fergie often contains the names Martin O’Neill, Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho- with very few others even being mentioned. While all three of those venerable coaches have something to offer, little talk has been of United promoting from within the club.
The departure of Carlos Quieroz last summer and the subsequent promotion of Mickey Phelan meant that the chances of someone from the Old Trafford boot room stepping up seemed slim to say the least. After all can you really see Mickey Phelan as United manager? Mind you, could you ever imagine him as assistant?
However one man who may be just the one to succeed everyone’s favourite German-bashing Scot is currently doing a fine job of running United reserves. Step forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. At first the idea of a legend managing the club he was legendary at seems doomed to failure. After all, Glenn Hoddle, Graeme Sounness and Alan Shearer have all shown that success as a player at a club does not guarantee success as a manager. If it were that simple then Eric Cantona or Roy Keane would already be getting their car parking spaces painted at Old Trafford. No, the reason that Solskjaer could succeed is that as Guardiola has shown, sometimes, being around a club as a player then serving an apprenticeship with the reserves can be the recipe for success.
If you look at Liverpool’s dominance of the 70’s and 80’s it came not from importing the latest big name coach every time the manager needed replacing but from promoting from within. While many United fans would not readily look down the M62 for a lesson in how to run a football club and at the present time who could blame them, there’s no denying that for many years Liverpool’s policy was an unmitigated success.
Solskjaer, like Guardiola did at Barca, has done a fantastic job with the reserves, picking up two cups in his first season, he looks on course to win the division title in his second. While that hardly qualifies you for managing one of the world’s biggest clubs, it may be exactly the sort of training he needs for the job.
After all, Solskjaer knows a lot of the youngsters coming through the ranks, not just the Darron Gibsons and the Danny Welbecks but also the Cameron Stewarts and Corry Evans’s of this world. In other words the players who could just be the next generation of United stars. Solskjaer will probably know whether they’re good enough to make an impact on the first team or not and with United’s current financial uncertainty that knowledge could prove invaluable.
There’s another factor which may give Solskjaer an edge- his relationship with Fergie. If the baby-faced assassin was made United boss, he would no doubt be willing to seek Fergie’s advice, something for some reason I can’t imagine Mourinho doing. This could also be a reason Fergie would be willing to suggest Solskjaer to the board as his successor, he wouldn’t be totally out of the loop with team affairs.
If United did appoint Solskjaer I can’t see too many fans complaining, after all the Norwegians goal-scoring exploits, not to mention likeability and loyalty to the club as a player, would hardly see protests outside the ground.
If he was able to achieve just a fraction of what his Catalonian counterpart has then I doubt anyone would look back on his appointment as a failure. A man who loves United and who the fans respect may just be the answer to one of the biggest questions facing the club.
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’