Manchester United’s stars ensure that the Solskjaer comedy rumbles on

Nostalgia is a powerful force in sport and it means Norwegian will keep getting his chance

The finger-wag was magnificent, you have to admit. As soon as Cristiano Ronaldo's slingshot volley found the bottom corner of the Spurs goal on Saturday, the camera cut to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his reaction.

There was no explosion of delight from the Manchester United manager, no knee slide of disbelief, no defiant yowl. Nope, just a finger-wag to nobody in particular and everybody all at once.

You'd kill a long afternoon in a college semiotics module pulling on the strands of that finger-wag. What was it, exactly? There was a bit of it, certainly, that was celebrating the two pieces of genius that had combined for the goal - a gorgeous, millimetre-perfect ball from Bruno Fernandes followed by that thump of a Ronaldo finish. Partly too, it had to be a gentle, ever-so-Solskjaer chastising of the doubters, as if to say, 'some crisis we're in, eh?'

Think about it - if and when they eventually pull the plug on Solskjaer, what's his next gig?

But even if that might have been forgivable in the circumstances, you only had to look at the opposition on Saturday to be reduced to a fit of giggles by it all. Solskjaer may or may not survive the coming weeks as United manager but one way or the other, a sweatless walloping of one of the worst Spurs teams in years is unlikely to figure very much in the determinations.


Regardless of where your own particular sympathies may lie, the Solskjaer situation is both objectively weird and nakedly hilarious. Mel Brooks said that tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you walk into an open sewer.

But even the most hard-bitten United fans have to laugh at how hapless it has all become at Old Trafford. And how, in three specific and unique ways, it is a fiasco with no parallel anywhere in world sport.

First off, United currently have as their manager someone who is not in demand for any other job in professional football. Think about it - if and when they eventually pull the plug on Solskjaer, what’s his next gig? Premier League mid-table? Championship? Somewhere in Spain maybe? None of it seems particularly feasible.


Maybe he goes back to Norway, maybe he gets out of management altogether. You wouldn’t fall down in shock to find him working for United again in some sort of ambassadorial role. Which, considering he is the manager who presided over a 0-5 defeat at home to Liverpool last week, tells you a lot about the empty calories of sentimentality fuelling the whole farrago.

Which brings us neatly onto the second United-specific anomaly, namely that if it was any other club or if Solskjaer was any other manager, this would have been brought to a conclusion a long time ago. Professional football doesn’t tend to mess about with this stuff. You either do the thing or you do not do the thing. If you do not do the thing, you don’t get to not do it on the company dime for very long.

Solskjaer has been United manager for just short of three years. There has not been a trophy. There has not been a title chase. He won the Premier League’s manager of the month award in January 2019, his first full month in charge, but never since. Yet he has been rewarded with not one but two three-year contracts.

This despite a roll-call of what should have been unacceptable displays and results. Take your pick of the comedy defeats that would have ended any other manager’s reign. The 6-1 beating by Spurs last October. The 2-1 defeat away to Istanbul Basaksehir a month later that included the concession of maybe the most structurally undignified goal in European competition history. Even back further to the 4-0 loss to Everton in April 2019 that killed off Champions League qualification. Twice being, by an ocean, the biggest, most lavishly-financed team in the Europa League and still not winning it.

Yet Solskjaer endures. Not only that, he is still adored by vast swathes of the support base, even those who want him gone. Nostalgia is such a deeply powerful drug that even if United get battered by City next weekend and the curtain finally falls, Solskjaer will remain comfortably the most popular of the post-Ferguson United managers. And he’ll continue to be, this side of whoever next wins them the title.

Of course, it's entirely possible that they will beat City next Saturday and the whole cycle will begin again. This is because of the third unique factor at play, namely the fact that United's players are too good for things to be too bad for too long. The blunderbuss of transfer spending means there is always an out. There isn't another manager in the game who could survive this run of results while being allowed to leave an €85m signing like Jadon Sancho on the bench.


Nuno Espírito Santo stood along the sideline from Solskjaer on Saturday, a similarly uninspiring manger whose job prospects look to have just as short a shelf-life. It was a deadening game for the first half-hour, two teams doing their level best to not be the first to go behind.

But Nuno doesn’t have Ronaldo and he doesn’t have Bruno and he doesn’t have Cavani. So even though a week ago he was 12/1 to be the next manager sacked when Solskjaer topped the market at 1/7, you wouldn’t put the mortgage on the Spurs man outlasting the United man this week, would you?

All of which washes out into what has become a very post-Ferguson United quandary. The original sin of appointing David Moyes on Ferguson's say-so rather than recruiting a proper replacement. The lurching to past-their-best versions of Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho.

The Proustian appointment of Solskjaer, so redolent of the good old days that honest assessment of his actual managerial capability was deemed a secondary concern.

So now one of the biggest sports clubs in world sport have a manager who can’t get a job anywhere else, who is loved by the fans despite terrible results and whose players aren’t good enough collectively to win anything but are too brilliant individually to get him sacked.

Now that’s comedy, Mel.