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Solskjaer Needs to Speak with Conviction

Solskjaer Needs to Speak with Conviction

23 January 2019, by: Leonard Solms

Solskjaer Needs to Speak with Conviction

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has become disillusioned with the state of Manchester United — and in his interactions with the press, it shows. He is not the first Red Devils boss to find himself in this position, but right now, Manchester United need an injection of confidence. If he seeks to provide it, a change in media strategy would be a good place to start.

After leaving United, Louis van Gaal slammed their lack of direction in terms of recruitment, as well as the imbalance between football and commercial activities at the club.

This gave some insight into what a Red Devils manager has to deal with behind the scenes. Chances are it must have an effect on what they believe they can achieve at the club, hence the public pessimism of José Mourinho and David Moyes before Solskjaer.

That pessimism may sometimes have been disguised as optimism, but in essence, Moyes and Mourinho told us that Manchester United did not have what it took to be a top side.

Moyes set the trend with interviews that betrayed a lack of confidence, most famously saying that United would “need to try and aspire to get ourselves” to the level of Manchester City. The very phrase “try and aspire” was as Moyesian as one could get.

Then, after van Gaal, there was Mourinho, who said that finishing second in the league in 2017-18 was “one of my biggest achievements in the game”. The implication was clear — he was still Manchester United manager, but he was letting the world know that he was unhappy with the players at his disposal.

Enter Solskjaer. At first, he seemed a breath of fresh air, but it appears even the former United striker has grown disillusioned.

Saying after an abysmal performance in the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool that United had taken “strides forward” was clutching at straws.

He would do well to take a look at Sir Alex Ferguson’s post-match comments after Manchester United went down 3-0 to Chelsea in April 2006, extending their title drought to three seasons.

“It was harsh and I don’t think 3-0 was a fair reflection of our performance,” said Ferguson, as quoted by BBC Sport. Like Solskjaer, he wanted to stand up for his players. 

However, there was also a clear reminder that this was Manchester United and mediocrity was not acceptable under any circumstances.

“If you lose goals as softly as we did today you have to take your medicine for that,” Ferguson said bluntly.

“We had a lot of the play and made some good chances but we didn’t make it count.

“But Chelsea deserve all the plaudits they will get and, especially on their home form, they are worthy champions.”

Ferguson, by the way, was derided after the game by Kevin McCarra, then of the Guardian, for having claimed that United had “as good a squad as we have ever had”.

The Scottish manager had the last laugh as United won three straight Premier League titles and the UEFA Champions League in the next three seasons. Maybe he didn’t believe what he said about his players’ ability in 2006, but what mattered was: he made his players believe it.

Solskjaer is already the subject of ridicule for his post-Liverpool comments. If he is ridiculed for overconfidence rather than managing expectations, it won’t hurt him one bit.

What it might just do is inject renewed self-belief into his players — who have taken criticism from all corners over the last few years. 

One need only look at Romelu Lukaku and Ángel di Maria to see that sometimes the weight of playing for an underperforming Manchester United side can keep a player from fulfilling their potential. The pair have reminded the world of what they can do at Inter Milan and PSG respectively.

Mourinho has been quoted as saying: “When I face the media before or after the game, I feel it as part of the game.” During his first spell at Chelsea in particular, the galvanising effect of his siege mentality in front of the press was clear.

Solskjaer cannot solve all of Manchester United’s woes overnight by sounding more confident in his players in front of the press, but it would be a good place to start.


Leonard Solms is a sports journalist who features regularly on various local and international platforms including ESPN, New Frame, FARPost, Tagged Online and Careers Magazine, as well as this one. He enjoys the occasional bet and the most important tip he can give you is to bet within your means.

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