On December 19, 2018, Ole Gunnar Solksjær was appointed the caretaker manager of Manchester United, one day after the club had parted ways with Jose Mourinho.
The end of Mourinho’s tenure was a dark one. The club sat 11 points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and 19 points of table-toppers Liverpool. The media had been savage on the manager; the manager was defensive and the club’s fortunes were on an alarming downward swing.
The games were frustrating to watch, the players seemed disinterested, some in open rebellion. All was not well.
The board noticed. The board took action. A defeat at Liverpool, with the manager refusing to bring on Paul Pogba even as the side struggled to score a goal, must have been the last straw.
On the December 18, the club decided to part ways with the Portuguese, announcing that a caretaker manager would be appointed till the end of the season.
Instantly, the intrigue levels were raised. Who would be the manager for the summer? Zinedine Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino were among the favourites to take over the job.
The caretaker manager just had to steer the club to safety and plot a path to glory in Europe, with the club drawn to play Paris Saint Germain in the round of 16.
And then, Solksjær was chosen to be the caretaker manager. The fans were happy to see the 'baby-faced assassin' in that authoritative position as he has been a club legend.
The hero of ’99 had played under the great Sir Alex and knew what the ‘Manchester United’ style of playing was. He was someone who embodied the ‘it isn’t over till it’s over’ philosophy, often also referred to as ‘Fergie Time’.
Suddenly, a fixture against Cardiff City was now going to be an eagerly watched affair as it was Solksjær’s first game in charge, that too against the last Premier League club he had managed.
Millions of fans from across the world tuned in and they were not disappointed as Marcus Rashford scored within three minutes. Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial scored two more before half-time and Jesse Lingard scored a brace to mark a 5-1 debut for the ‘interim’ manager.
Down at the touchline, Solksjær was animated. He celebrated the first goal as if he himself had scored it. He egged his players on, applauded every pass completion, and even applauded the travelling supporters at the end of the game.
Manchester United had scored five goals in a game for the first time since Sir Alex retired. Had the club finally found the heir apparent to the legendary manager? Fans were optimistic, but still cautious.
Huddersfield was dispatched 3-1 at home, Bournemouth was defeated 4-1, Newcastle was beaten at St. James 2-0. The players were happy, the team had returned to playing attractive football and Ole could not stop winning.
The cautious optimism now turned into genuine hype, the cheers returned and suddenly, a new song was being sung from the terraces, “Ole’s at the wheel, tell me how does it feel.”
In those first few weeks, the answer to that question was, “Great!!”
Solksjær’s first big test, away at Spurs ended with United's 1-0 win; a tight game, several heart-stopping moments but three vital points in the bag.
Manchester United was climbing up the table. They dispatched Arsenal and then Chelsea in the FA Cup, drew with Liverpool and even had a come from behind victory at Southampton in the Premier League.
However, in Europe, PSG, at Old Trafford had emerged 2-0 victors. Was it time for the alarm bells to start sounding? It was Solksjær’s first defeat in charge, after all, and it could mean Manchester United would exit Europe in the Round of 16 once again. Not so, in this case.
The hype was still real, solidified by the victory at Southampton and followed by the controversial 3-1 demolition of PSG in Paris. Manchester United had qualified for the quarter-finals, they were coming from behind to win, Fergie time could be renamed Ole time (that last one, perhaps a bit premature).
Manchester United lost to Arsenal, they were dumped out of the FA Cup by Wolves and then lost to Wolves again in the League. Still, no alarm bells. Instead, more clamour for the “Caretaker” tag to be removed.
Then, on March 28, 2019, that wish was granted. Ole Gunnar Solksjær was the permanent manager of Manchester United, with a contract that tied him to the club till 2022.
Solksjær had now tied down a role which was once linked with two of the best coaches of current times, an underdog performance but one that was characteristic of the man himself.
Now, Barcelona awaited in the quarter-finals. During the first leg, at Old Trafford, United managed to hold on against Lionel Messi and company, only losing 1-0.
However, the return leg saw the team demolished, with Messi scoring twice and Coutinho scoring a third to dump them out of the Champions League.
The 'Caution' has returned to the chants. Yes, the supporters still chant Solksjær’s name, yes the club is still in a strong position to finish in the top four.
Solksjær’s record of 16 wins, six losses and two draws out of 24 games played is not a bad record, at all. However, United is now out of the FA Cup, and also the Champions League as the team will play for the fourth spot.
This all seems like a depressing re-run of the previous seasons, the hype and the hope now tempered. Has Solksjær’s bubble finally burst? Can he shake the team out of the slump, can he return the joy and hype to the supporters?
Can he do everything we all thought he could for that short, glorious period? Only time will tell. For now, the answer to the chant, “Ole’s at the Wheel, Tell me how does it feel,” is a mixed bag of feelings.
(Featured Image: FB/Manchester United)
About the Author
Vishnu Rao is a freelance writer and a content creator based in Bengaluru. He loves sports with a passion and is currently dreaming of authoring a book on Wrestling