'Commercial club' Man United need more than Solskjaer to return to the top
Manchester United's decision to hire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as their manager on a permanent basis surprised few when it was announced on Thursday, as the Norwegian got his just reward for a brilliant spell as caretaker boss.
Given fan perception of Solskjaer's interim reign, the announcement seemed a formality – it was only a question of when it would come, rather than if.
Much has changed in the three months since Solskjaer replaced the dishevelled, joyless and tiresome Jose Mourinho, under whom United's top-four chances were increasingly bleak.
United are now in the Champions League quarter-finals, just three points adrift of third place in the Premier League and the form team in the top flight, having collected 32 points under Solskjaer. However, they need more than just their new boss to enjoy long-term success.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made a great start to his time as Manchester United boss.— Omnisport (@OmnisportNews) March 28, 2019
After getting the job full-time, we take a look at the numbers behind his reign so far. #MUFC pic.twitter.com/j8iwpd6AVW
Players meeting expectations, but one problem lurks
On top of United's general improvement, there can be little doubt that the former striker has got the best out of United's key players, with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba all in exceptional form.
From a coaching perspective, United are clearly moving in the right direction, with Solskjaer's ideals in line with the club's.
But until the structure of the club is finally brought out of the dark ages, they will be working with a handicap.
When Mourinho was dismissed in December, strong reports suggested United planned to install a new "head of football" by the end of the season, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward confirmed last month it was something they were exploring, despite everything going a rather quiet on that front.
That poses the question; who has been making the so-called "football decisions" in years gone by?
"A commercial club, not a football club"
Former manager Louis van Gaal shed light on the structure of United's football operations in a recent interview with the BBC.
He said: "At the moment there is a structure with a scouting division and above that is someone at Woodward's right hand. The structure is not so bad, but the right hand has to be a technical director with a football view, not somebody with a banker's role. Unfortunately, we are talking about a commercial club, not a football club."
A reported confidentiality agreement has restricted Mourinho from saying a great deal about United since his departure, though his time at the club was fraught with speculation suggesting friction with those above him when it came to transfers, supporting Van Gaal's comments.
Woodward may have done exceptional things for United commercially, but he does not have a background in a technical role at football club.
No obvious transfer policy
A glance at United's player incomings over the last few years gives no indication of them having even a semblance of a specific transfer policy.
Although a few younger players – such as Romelu Lukaku, Fred and Victor Lindelof – have been brought in, so have Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Matic and Alexis Sanchez.
The latter three were approaching 30 or beyond that when signed, while Sanchez's signing smacked of wanting to flex their financial muscle and outdo Manchester City.
It is a scattergun approach which shows limited forward-thinking. Alex Ferguson was no stranger to bringing in experienced players, but rarely could you accuse him or United of planning poorly in that era.
Is it any wonder David Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho all failed?
While results have generally been excellent for Solskjaer, it is important not to forget that Mourinho led United to second in the table last season before everything fell apart. Without a structure to help the manager, a club is relying on ingenuity or putting blind faith in money.
Bayern Munich are a prime example of a club working to a transfer policy and carrying it out with impressive efficiency. It's not even April, yet they have already secured transfers for Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, half of the back four that won France the World Cup last year.
When the initial feel-good factor surrounding Solskjaer's appointment dies down, there's undoubtedly a risk of United heading into the close-season transfer window in an identical position to last year, just with a manager who – for now – smiles more.
5 - Managers with the most points from their opening 13 Premier League games at a single club:— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 28, 2019
Hiddink (Chelsea) - 34
Ancelotti (Chelsea) - 33
Scolari (Chelsea) - 32
Solskjaer (Manchester United) - 32
Mourinho (Chelsea) - 32