Sun. Oct 25th, 2020

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Solskjaer is doing what Jose Mourinho couldn’t with Man United transfers

3 min read

‘Shift the deadwood’, shout the social media mob. ‘Get rid!’

They are rather crudely worded phrases that do not reflect particularly well on the Manchester United players concerned; they are usually quite harsh and scathing, but they show how fans feel about the need for upheaval at Old Trafford. Supporters have demanded the arrival of Jadon Sancho in the past few weeks, but they have also called for player sales to escalate at the same time.

An exodus on the sort of scale fans want to see rarely happens in football. And although United have left it until the final week of the window, they are beginning to see the fruits of their labour. Andreas Pereira is closing on in a move to Lazio, Chris Smalling will surely head to Roma permanently, while Diogo Dalot is the subject of interest from AC Milan. Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero have both been linked with moves away as well. Phil Jones, unfortunately, seems immovable and an injury will likely keep him at the club for at least a few more months.

For the second year in succession, it seems Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be indebted to Serie A for helping him shift the deadwood, as they say.

Smalling’s loan to Roma 12 months ago was a successful piece of business for all concerned, while letting Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young all join another big European club in Inter Milan was deemed risky yet has paid off for both sides. Matteo Darmian also went to an Italian club, in Parma, last year. The Italian exit job could repeat itself in 2020.

Solskjaer has been ruthless with these players. He has belied his own friendly and charismatic veneer and got tough with them. He’s said in no uncertain terms they are not part of his thinking anymore. He hasn’t budged.

Take this summer, for instance, with Smalling and Rojo training separately to the main group at Carrington every day. Other managers may have been coerced into welcoming them back from their loans, but Solskjaer has stuck to his guns, despite criticism of his preferred centre-back choices Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.

It is this kind of mentality that makes many believe Solskjaer is the perfect heir to Sir Alex Ferguson, notwithstanding his shortcomings in terms of tactical acumen (on occasion) and trophy success (thus far).

But not even the self-styled king of ruthlessness Jose Mourinho could not perform the kind of necessary surgery on the United squad that Solskjaer is now pulling off.

It was obvious to many that Mourinho’s United squad required a major overhaul in the summer of 2018, after a season in which they finished second behind Manchester City, but won nothing. They were dumped out of the 2017/18 Champions League in the last 16, lost in the FA Cup final and the football was uninspiring as City romped to the title. All of that after a sixth-placed finish the year before.

Yet the only genuine first teamer to depart in that window was Daley Blind, who ironically went on to play a key part in Ajax’s run to the 2018/19 Champions League semi-finals. Michael Carrick retired that summer.

Even the year before, in 2017, Mourinho sold an ageing Wayne Rooney but the others to depart were all young players, on loan or released. Only in 2016 did Mourinho shift out Louis van Gaal’s players and bring in a heap of his own. Solskjaer has turned his squad over with a more steady pace, quietly ushering out those who did not cut the mustard under Mourinho.

United’s bloated squad needs to be trimmed further, of course, and there will be criticism that these departures are coming so late in the window. But the current situation is not a seller’s market. Finances dictate that clubs are being more cautious than usual, they’re not taking risks on players.

So if United ship out three or four players before next week’s deadline, Solskjaer will at least have done half his job this summer. The incomings may be a different matter.

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