Commentary

No doubt it's time for Norwegian to put pen to paper

If there was any doubt about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being appointed permanent manager of Manchester United, it surely vanished when the interim coach pulled off this incredible Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain.

What is the Norwegian for "Football, bloody hell"?

Cold, hard logic says that Mauricio Pochettino remains the shrewder, safer long-term bet but try telling that to the United players, fans and staff in the Parc des Princes celebrating giddily at the climax of a night that will go down as one of the most famous European nights, even for a club with their history.

This was another extraordinary triumph for Solskjaer, who was wearing a yellow substitutes' bib on Wednesday. The sight of the baby-faced assassin in a bib raised hopes among United's travelling fans that their former super-sub striker might come off the bench to produce one more night of European glory.

The real reason proved rather less fantastic - he was forced to wear it because the referee's assistant was in danger of confusing his dark coat with PSG's shirts - and, as it turned out, he could mastermind the miracle very easily from the sidelines instead.

In his 12 league games, United have five points more than Man City, seven more than Liverpool and 10 more than Tottenham.

They have won away to Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup. Now they have beaten a highly rated PSG, Kylian Mbappe and all, with a depleted team, pulling teenagers like Tahith Chong off the bench.

Solskjaer has had a transformative effect, beyond anyone's expectations, but the really hard work will take many more months and require him to show a whole range of skills including an eye for shrewd recruitment.

We have been learning fast about Solskjaer and, here, we discovered how long it takes him to correct a significant error.

Eric Bailly lined up at right-back, his first start since the first leg, and it rapidly became apparent that he was not only out of position, but out of form, fitness, confidence and any hope against Angel di Maria and Juan Bernat.

Bailly had already cost United one goal by the time he was hauled off after 35 minutes, with suggestions of an injury, but it was also a necessary exercise in damage limitation.

Diogo Dalot arrived, with Ashley Young stepping back into defence, and Solskjaer could count that as another lesson learnt.

There will be plenty more, for all the optimism he has stirred among United fans, if he is to be given the job permanently - which former United defender and pundit Gary Neville believes will happen in a matter of two or three weeks after a remarkable three months.

"I think Ole will be given the job," he said. "The right time for me was always mid-March or towards the end of March, that's when the international break is, and I'll be surprised if he isn't awarded the job during the international break.

"He will. He will be the king of Norway, prime minister of Norway. I can't believe what has happened.

"His results are Premier League title-winning results, the form guide says it all, the performances are very good and the fans love him. He has had a sensational three months.

"When he first came in, I just thought it was to reconnect the club with the fans, the players, get everybody happy. Someone they could rely upon to get information to the boardroom about what the players are like and they would then appoint the best manager in the world."

Solskjaer has had a transformative effect, beyond anyone's expectations, but the real hard work will take many more months and require him to show a whole range of skills, including an eye for shrewd recruitment.

Will United wait as long as the international break to ask him to put pen to paper?

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2019, with the headline 'No doubt it's time for Norwegian to put pen to paper'. Print Edition | Subscribe