Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is far too nice to get himself involved in a civil war at Manchester United.
He is not Jose Mourinho and that is one of his strengths: his charisma, his relaxed attitude and his ability to connect with people have made him a popular choice as United manager despite everything.
When he arrived in December 2018, he gave everyone around Old Trafford a significant lift and although his tactical acumen and managerial nous have been severely tested in the intervening period, his mantra has remained the same. The mask has never sipped.
So anyone expecting fireworks in Solskjaer’s first press conference since the end of last season, amid frustration over United’s transfer dealings, was always going to be disappointed.
The words ‘back the manager’ have been prominent on United fans’ social media accounts over the past few weeks, as the club drag their heels over negotiations for Jadon Sancho and while rivals strengthen their squads. Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Reguilon and Gareth Bale were all linked with United in recent weeks, but are heading to Premier League rivals instead.
It is a positive indictment of what Solskjaer has achieved in 18 months at United that supporters believe he should get more financial backing in the transfer window. They see, as the Norwegian noted in the pre-Crystal Palace press conference, the progress that has been made on the pitch, helped hugely by some smart transfers like Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
It was, in fairness to Solskjaer, interesting that he chose to name-check all three of those signings when asked about further additions. And he did not refuse to talk about the need for more incomings to add to Donny van de Beek this summer. Okay, there wasn’t any screaming or shouting, and Solskjaer’s veneer never changed, but there was a message of-sorts to Ed Woodward and the United board.
“Fans will always want the best possible team to watch, the best possible Man United team,” Solskjaer said when asked about the discontent among many fans, especially online. “And that’s the passion we want and, of course, the history we have. We can look back 10 years or 20 years and you look back at the great players we have.
“For me, going forward, since Sir Alex [Ferguson] left we’ve been averaging fifth. Last season we got third, which was a big step forward. Everyone saw the development in the team throughout the season, Bruno coming in, Harry being captain and really showing leadership skills on and off the pitch. Aaron was good.
“And we want want to take a step forward and we can go into the new season with confidence, but we’re looking to give the group a boost and we’re working on it.”
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Solskjaer paid Sancho and Borussia Dortmund the courtesy of leaving out their names from any comments, but his message was certainly discernible. Having been backed with nearly £150million 12 months ago, following an up-and-down six-month spell in charge, Solskjaer must surely feel he warrants at least that amount in backing this summer — albeit in a market reeling from the impact of coronavirus.
Right-wing was highlighted as a transfer priority for United long ago and, as the window approaches its final fortnight, there is still no deal forthcoming.
Again, Solskjaer was never going to show his full feelings on the matter, though it’s likely he is secretly far more frustrated than he dare admit to the world’s gathered media.
He tends to toe the line with the Glazers and Ed Woodward. He is a master of diplomacy and communication, but even Mr Nice Solskjaer struggled to hide his feelings this time. United must respond accordingly in the transfer market.