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Can Solskjaer succeed long-term at Manchester United?

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United - FA Cup Quarter Final

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Interim Manager of Manchester United gives his team instructions during the FA Cup Quarter Final match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United at Molineux on March 16, 2019 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has Manchester United fans over the moon, and he’s earned the permanent job earlier than anticipated as a result. Yet the club still has a long way to go to return to the heights of old, and while many have tabbed the results of the past three months as a sign of things to come, there are still plenty of unknowns as the 2018/19 season heads down the home stretch.

The decision to officially hand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the keys to Manchester United was essentially a foregone conclusion given the immediate and spectacular turnaround of the club in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s departure. Few have passed a trial phase with such flying colors as the Norwegian, masterminding the first six-game league winning streak in club history to start a managerial career. Yet somehow, despite all the fanfare and accolades, the timing of the announcement still comes with a twinge of perplexity.

[ MORE: Official Solskjaer announcement ]

Solskjaer is in the midst of his first losing streak as manager, falling 2-0 to Arsenal in a vitally critical game that saw the club fall back out of the top four, before dropping 2-1 to Wolves in the FA Cup quarterfinals. With those two losses, the honeymoon phase is finally over for the Norwegian, and yet Manchester United didn’t wait to find out how he and the club respond to their first true bout with adversity together.

Manchester United still has plenty of business to take care of this season as the campaign rockets towards the finish line. With his first Manchester derby plus a date with Chelsea and a rematch against Wolves all still left on the docket, not only does Solskjaer have plenty still to prove but Manchester United still sits outside the Premier League’s top four, the loss to Arsenal a major setback in the quest for a Champions League place. There’s also still this season’s Champions League to take care of, with the high from the PSG comeback quickly drowned out by a quarterfinal draw against runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona. An exit against the Spanish giants would be a blast of cold air to the face, a reminder that this season still potentially leaves so much on the table.

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Ultimately, Solskjaer’s time in charge has been about calming the Mourinho chaos. He’s successfully quieted the noise around the Old Trafford locker room, made sound tactical decisions and adjustments on the pitch, and brought a friendly smile back to the postgame interview room. He’s reignited the spark in the club’s best players like Paul Pogba, a fatal flaw of Mourinho’s time in charge. He’s rekindled the club’s feeling of pride in its past and stature in the English game, something the three previous post-Sir Alex managers had critically let slip. He’s steered the ship like he has nothing to lose, an accurate approach given he took over with the Red Devils seemingly out of league contention and barreling aimlessly towards Premier League obscurity under his predecessor. Suddenly, that no longer seems the case, and with hope comes expectation. Should the Red Devils fall short on all fronts, nobody would blame Solskjaer for the club coming up empty, but there would be an empty feeling given the serious return of the chase.

At the time Solskjaer was named caretaker manager in December, the club stated he would remain in charge until the summer when a decision on a permanent replacement for Mourinho would be made. That stake in the ground gave the Red Devils a free pass through to the summer, with the club able to point back to its original announcement even in the face of increasing pressure to make a decision. Instead, Ed Woodward chose to change course and end the speculation early to put Ole at the wheel. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with confirming a decision many felt was overdue, it’s nonetheless a true statement of intent, one Woodward must own if it ultimately proves to be rash.

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