Under-fire Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job should not be on the line in Saturday’s derby against Manchester City, says former Old Trafford team-mate Mikael Silvestre.
Criticism of Solskjaer reached fever pitch after last month’s 5-0 humiliation at rivals Liverpool, and subsequent results – a win over struggling Tottenham Hotspur and the last-gasp draw snatched at Atalanta in midweek – have only slightly eased the pressure.
But Silvestre, who played alongside Solskjaer at United for eight years, insists outsiders repeatedly underestimate the Norwegian, whose position he believes should not be decided by the result against City.
“No, unless the team absolutely give up and they lose 10-0, but I don’t expect that to happen,” Silvestre told City A.M.
“The response at Spurs was needed to restore confidence within the team. [The Atalanta] result is still a positive one – a point away from home.
“We are at the beginning of November. I think it’s still early to judge. We will see in March, April where they are.”
Silvestre says Solskjaer is disproportionately criticised compared to other managers because of his mild-mannered image.
“He hasn’t changed a bit. He was in the dressing room a very nice and friendly person so he is sticking to what he knows and the way he believes,” he said, speaking in association with MyBettingSites.
“Sadly the media wants outbursts, they want punchlines, and he’s not one of those. So maybe people are getting bored.”
I wouldn’t use the word ‘nasty’ but if he has to cut someone’s throat he will do itMikael Silvestre on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
But he is adamant that the man who scored 126 goals in 366 games for United, including a Champions League final winner, has the inner resolve to ride out the current storm.
“He knows where he’s coming from. You don’t score as many goals and stay as long as he did at United unless you believe in yourself, and he has that,” the Frenchman added.
“That’s why he believes he’s a good manager and that’s why he took the job at United when everything seemed so bad at the club.”
Solskjaer ‘won’t hesitate to bench players’, says Silvestre
More than merely self-assured, Silvestre says Solskjaer has a deceptively ruthless streak that casts his “baby-faced assassin” nickname in a new light.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘nasty’ but if he has to cut someone’s throat he will do it. And that’s the responsibility of a leader,” he added.
“There were times when key players were benched and he won’t hesitate to do that because United is above everybody and himself. He will protect the club as much as he can.”
But would Solskjaer even bench another of their old team-mates, 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, whose goals are currently keeping United in Europe?
Silvestre laughs. “At the moment the team is Ronaldo reliant – it’s amazing. And as much as I was pushing for him to rest, at the moment we can’t give him a rest, it’s impossible.
“There should be a time when hopefully we can do that, when the team has improved, and other players can step in. But until now he has proven that coming back was the right decision.”
Striker Solskjaer and Ronaldo, then a winger, were “not close” as United team-mates “simply because of the language barrier”, says Silvestre.
It is now up to the former to fit the latter into an XI that also maximises the talents of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. So far it has proved a challenge.
“They just need to make it happen because they’ve got enough intelligence,” he said. “The question is if they want to, personally, collectively. If they believe they can do it I’m sure they can.”
Silvestre on almost joining Man City
Silvestre, now 44, almost joined City when he left United in 2008 only for Arsenal to hijack the deal while he was completing the formalities.
“I was close, halfway through the medical. They should have locked me in,” he joked. “This is the craziness of football.”
He insists he has no regrets at missing out on City’s transformation from sleeping giants to superpower, but concedes to being impressed.
“You couldn’t expect that jump from City. Fair play, they’ve achieved a lot in 10 years,” he said. “We always talk about Pep [Guardiola, manager] but what has been done upstairs in terms of strategic planning, the expansion of the City Group around the world, it’s massive.”
Since United last won the Premier League City have been champions four times, but Silvestre disputes whether the Blues have eclipsed the Reds.
“They are a bigger team but not a bigger club,” he said. “They need to achieve a lot more. They need to start winning the Champions League more than once.”