The writing has seemingly been on the wall for quite a while, and yesterday morning the Manchester United board made the final move in a game of managerial chess that, until recently, was at a stalemate.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is synonymous with Old Trafford. Over 200 appearances as a player for the Red Devils spanning two decades, scoring 91 goals in his 11-year spell.
Premier League champion six times, Champions League winner once and FA Cup victor twice. A serial winner, maybe, but legendary players do not always become legendary managers.
Manchester United have struggled to reach a club-wide equilibrium since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The status quo is a difficult equation to formulate, but transitioning from one man at the helm for 26 years to five in a touch over seven suggests a failure in calculation.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer offered United a sense of stability in the aftermath of Special One Jose Mourinho’s mixed spell on the banks of Manchester’s famous ship canal.
And while the Norwegian finishes his tenure at one of the world’s biggest clubs trophy-less, his time at United wasn’t a waste.
Solskjaer’s acquisition of Bruno Fernandes, *that* night in Paris, the 2019/20 domestic double over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. The City was red again, for a few hours across a few afternoons, at least.
But it’s hard to look backwards to the sparing moments of joy, triumph and celebration when the present is so dogged with results of despair, anguish and disappointment.
Losing by five at the hands of Liverpool is embarrassing but not entirely unsurprising. After all, Arsenal shipped four goals to Jurgen Klopp’s men on Saturday.
It’s the 4-1 loss to Watford at the weekend, the 4-2 loss to Leicester last month, the seemingly tiring reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo to save United, especially in Europe, that the board, and fans, remember.
But that’s it isn’t it? Big names, a bigger reputation and an even bigger history. It was always a club for a manager who could take the reins and steer them back to the heights their trophy cabinet says they’re capable of.
Was Ole that man in the long-term? Evidently not. But in his tenure, United have seen the likes of Mason Greenwood shine and Marcus Rashford capture the heart of a nation – some things are bigger than results.
Having spent more on transfers (£387m) since his arrival than Guardiola (£380m), Thomas Tuchel (£348m) and Klopp (£112m) did in the same period. Solskjaer had the resources. There was little excuse.
“It was embarrassing, the way we played today,” keeper David de Gea said on Saturday. “It’s not acceptable for this club and the level of players.
“I don’t really know what to say.”
The writing may well have been on the wall, but in the news surrounding Saturday’s board meeting, we were reminded of the cut-throat, lethal business that is football management.
A win record of just over 50 per cent simply doesn’t cut the mustard at United, no matter how much legendary player status carries gravitas.
Solskjaer has been a pawn in the Manchester United machine for nearly three years, longer than many would have expected.
But in managerial chess, you’re never the king. And Manchester United have finally called time on Ole. Checkmate.