LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 23 – Manchester United played out the final stages of Wednesday’s humiliating 2-0 defeat to Burnley in front of banks of empty seats, raising fresh questions over how long beleaguered boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will survive.
The United teams that Solskjaer played in during the glory years of Alex Ferguson were famed for their great escapes but his young, jaded players are struggling to live up to the club’s swashbuckling traditions.
Solskjaer has now lost more Premier League games than he has won since being handed the job on a permanent basis in March after an exhilarating three-month stint as caretaker boss.
His appointment increasingly looks a rash and misjudged decision by the club’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who is blamed by large sections of United’s support for the club’s malaise.
Those who stayed to the bitter end of Burnley’s first win at Old Trafford since 1962 did so to make their thoughts on Woodward and the club’s American owners, the Glazer family, clear as the atmosphere at Old Trafford turned toxic.
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand, a Premier League and Champions League winner with the club, called on the Glazers to take action to stop the rot.
“Fans are walking out after 84 minutes. It’s an embarrassment. People at the top need to look and see this and make changes,” Ferdinand told BT Sport.
“The downward spiral in this short space of time, it’s only seven years, has been remarkable.”
Should Solskjaer be the fall guy for yet another disappointing season, he would be the fourth manager to come and go since Ferguson retired in 2013.
– Transfer errors –
But a change in the dugout would not address the deeper-lying problems at the club, with repeated errors made in the transfer market.
United have spent close to £1 billion ($1.3 billion) on transfers in the past seven years and still have the highest wage bill in the Premier League.
Yet they find themselves 30 points adrift of league leaders Liverpool, who also have two games in hand, and just 11 above the relegation zone.
“If you don’t lose your job for essentially overseeing that investment, that wage bill, and putting that team out on the pitch then I have to say something is really wrong,” former United captain Gary Neville said of Woodward.
“In terms of what the club needed to do for a number of years now — put the best in class football operators into that club and they’re not doing it. They’re not doing it and it’s a mess.”
Solskjaer’s desperation to turn things around quickly to save his job may only be making matters worse.
Top-scorer Marcus Rashford is expected to miss the next couple of months after being rushed back into action for a FA Cup third-round replay against Wolves last week only to suffer a serious back injury.
Long-term injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay have left United’s midfield threadbare.
“These players are stretched, and I’ve got no complaints on any of them — they give everything they’ve got,” said Solskjaer in a revealing assessment of what the players at his disposal are capable of.
“Some of the players have played more than they should have. More mentally rather than physically, they need a mid-season break.”
That break starts on February 2 and the pressure is on Woodward to deliver in the next week before the January transfer window closes.
However, the risk is of another expensive attempted quick fix rather than a concerted effort to address the long-term problems at the club.
Mauricio Pochettino is likely to be the man United turn to should Solskjaer go.
The Argentine proved his ability to work wonders with a young squad on a far more restricted budget than he would have at United in five years at Spurs before being sacked earlier this season.
But it is change further up the hierarchy United fans most crave, starting with Woodward letting go of his grip on football operations.