Gary Neville: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave Manchester United their soul back
Gary Neville says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has “rebuilt the soul” of Manchester United but admits the time had come for the club to replace his former team-mate and believes Mauricio Pochettino is the ideal long-term candidate.
United parted company with their 1999 treble hero in the wake of their 4-1 defeat at Watford and have put Michael Carrick in temporary charge while the club look to appoint an interim manager to the end of the season.
The decision comes at the end of a torrid run of results for United under Solskjaer, the club great who himself took over on an interim basis back in December 2018 after the sacking of Jose Mourinho.
He rode out a chastening 5-0 home loss to Liverpool and appeared to be back in calmer waters after a 3-0 win at Tottenham, but a comprehensive derby loss to Manchester City meant that the Watford game was essentially a must-win.
Neville told Sky Sports: “Ole will reflect with sadness but he can be proud of the work he did in the first two years. He rebuilt the soul of the club, the club was in a dark place at the end of the Jose Mourinho era.
“Ole can’t complain, he’s been given three years, he’s been backed in the transfer market. David Moyes was given eight months and kicked out, so I don’t think Ole can complain about the time he’s been given and the money he’s been afforded.”
The former United full-back believes Solskjaer’s departure had become inevitable.
“It’s been coming for the past few weeks, performance terrible and results shocking. Yesterday was wimpish at Watford,” Neville added. “You’re always hoping the players would respond, that the two-week international break would bring some freshness but it looked like they had the world on their shoulders, their performance levels over the last few weeks have dipped.
“When a manager can’t get a performance out of his players and results are getting as bad as they are, in this game, you’re going to lose your job.
“The worst thing is the performances, the team have looked all over the place, yesterday, the highlights, some of the goals, the defending is absolutely woeful, the goalkeeper and defenders and that’s a back four, five that have played together a number of times.
“Watford aren’t the best team in the league by a long stretch but they got mauled, Manchester United. Ole couldn’t get a performance out of them in the end, the players looked drained of confidence and I’m not surprised it’s ended.
“What’s happened this last two months I can’t explain. Villarreal at home, Everton, Villa is where it started, they looked so open, so blasé, they thought they could go and beat anybody.
“They’ve not been able to get right since. They’ve looked rudderless on and off the pitch and it’s caught everyone by surprise. When (Cristiano) Ronaldo signed no one thought this was going to happen.
“A couple of weeks ago I thought getting to the end of the season was the right thing to do if they could, they obviously haven’t been able to do that.”
Neville does not believe there is an obvious candidate available to replace Solskjaer and is not surprised the club are looking for an interim manager. He also feels the club might hope Paris St Germain manager Pochettino comes onto the market.
“They are waiting on Mauricio Pochettino not being successful at another club. If he was to win the Champions League, then PSG wouldn’t let him go,” Neville added. “He’s always been a stand-out candidate and the only name I‘ve mentioned as someone I thought really suited Manchester United in terms of core principles and values and how they play, how he acts and behaves.
“They haven’t planned or prepared for this, it’s deteriorated so badly and so quickly; Michael (Carrick) takes over now, the only option the club had was to put someone in to the end of the season, that’s been obvious for the last few weeks.
“If there was a world-class manager sat on the shelf ready to go two or three weeks ago, I think Ole would have been gone by now.
“People will say ‘Antonio Conte has gone to Tottenham’. He was never coming to Manchester United. This board were never going to appoint him. I don’t think he’d have been a fit for Manchester United and I don’t think there is one at this moment in time so they have to get someone in temporarily until someone becomes available.”
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand told BT Sport: “This has been inevitable, the way the team has kind of gone backwards since the start of the season after a very excitable transfer window with some big names coming in.
“It is not the way we wanted it to end, the way we wanted it to go. It has looked inevitable the last few weeks especially the way Man Utd lost at home to Liverpool in the manner they did and again in the manner they did to Man City. I thought maybe then would be the time (for Solskjaer to leave).
“Disappointed obviously in the way the team has performed. It is unfortunate for someone like Ole but it is the way football goes, it is a cutthroat industry and if thing aren’t going according to plan, big decisions are made. We have seen one made this morning.
Peter Schmeichel, who won the treble alongside Solskjaer in 1999, said he did a “great” job in difficult circumstances but says United have to get their next appointment right.
“It is a very sad day,” the Danish goalkeeper told Sky Sports News. “It’s the fourth time we have to sack a manager (since Alex Ferguson retired) so clearly something is not going right at the club.
“Hopefully, the fifth time we get the right person in to get the club organised in the right way.”
Derby and United’s all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney says the players need to shoulder the blame.
“I was so disappointed watching that game yesterday because, as a manager, you can set a team up and work on shape and how you want the team to play, but there’s no excuse for some of those performances from some players,” he said. “To see players waving their arms around and giving the ball away but blaming other people was not acceptable.
“I would be very angry if I saw that from my players. Those players are at one of if not the biggest club in the world and should feel privileged to be there.
“In my opinion, the players have to show more – that doesn’t necessarily mean winning the Premier League or the Champions League but showing the fans that they are working hard for the club.”
On him being linked with a coaching role, Rooney added: “I’m committed to this football club until somebody above me tells me otherwise. I speak to people at Manchester United on a regular basis and I’m sure, if they were going to come calling for me, that would have happened by now.”
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