Jose Mourinho Discusses Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United Future

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2019

FILE - In this Wednesday Dec. 5, 2018 file photo Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho gives directions to his players during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. Manchester United says Jose Mourinho has left the Premier League club with immediate effect. The decision was announced Tuesday Dec.18, 2018, two days after a 3-1 loss to Liverpool left United 19 points off the top of the Premier League after 17 games. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson, File)
Dave Thompson/Associated Press

Jose Mourinho has discussed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's future as Manchester United manager, and he has appeared to cast doubt on the Norwegian's impact beyond this season.

Mourinho, who was fired by United in December, raised apparent concerns about Solskjaer's lack of experience when assessing Fulham's recent decision to replace Claudio Ranieri with Scott Parker.

Those doubts were expressed during an appearance on beIN Sports (h/t Liam Prenderville of the Sunday Mirror):

"Can (Fulham) get a better manager than Claudio? Not at all. Can you compare the experience between Claudio and Scott, who is going to coach a team for the first time? Not at all.

"But sometimes in football, and you have the example with my former club (Man Utd hiring Solskjaer), that sometimes changes on the immediate - I don't believe too much in these changes in the long term - but these changes on the immediate, there are sometimes some positive results."

Solskjaer was brought in to replace Mourinho, despite the 46-year-old's only previous coaching experience of the Premier League dating back to 2014. It was a brief and ill-fated spell in charge of Cardiff City, during which Solskjaer was unable to prevent the Bluebirds' relegation.

Solskjaer's time in Wales was bookended by spells in charge of Molde in his homeland. The man who scored the winner to beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to give United a treble, previously coached the Red Devils' reserves between 2008 and 2011 after playing 10 seasons at Old Trafford.

It was hardly the marquee resume to replace Mourinho, who won the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan and also led Chelsea to three Premier League titles in two spells.

Even so, Solskjaer's impact has been more than even the most optimistic United fan could have hoped for.

A 12-match unbeaten in the league has taken United back into the top four. Solskjaer's squad is now in pole position to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League.

He also has United in the quarter-final of the FA Cup after impressive away wins over Arsenal and Chelsea. Those results are part of a record-breaking sequence:

Numbers like these show Solskjaer has passed the grace period or what Mourinho dubbed "the immediate." Some setbacks 20 or 30 games into his tenure won't be a symptom of Solskjaer's lack of experience. They will merely be the inevitable plateau most managers face after such a fast start.

There's more to what Solskjaer has done to revive United than results. He's also restored some of the staples many believe to be core traditions of the club.

Most notably, the former striker has United playing a more expansive game than they did under Mourinho in two-plus seasons. It's meant more goals and greater faith in younger players, particularly those who are former academy graduates.

One graduate thriving since Solskjaer took over is Paul Pogba, the former academy ace who left for Juventus then returned in 2016 as the marquee club-record signing of the Mourinho era.

Yet while Mourinho and Pogba repeatedly clashed, Solskjaer has the Frenchman enjoying his football again. The effect has been staggering, with Pogba finally assuming his role as the creative talisman of the team.

It's little wonder Solskjaer is reportedly now the sole front-runner to land the job on a permanent basis this summer:

Weight has been added to those reports by Solskjaer's recent admission he is the face of United's advertising campaign for season-ticket sales ahead of the 2019/20 season, per BBC Sport's Simon Stone.

Mourinho's doubts aside, United are fast approaching a point where it will take a very good reason not to appoint Solskjaer full time. Only the acquisition of a proven winner, whose arrival would guarantee the signings of several star names, would likely suffice with fans growing used to winning ways on Solskjaer's watch.

Mourinho was supposed to fit that bill, but his cautious tactics and fractious temperament never seemed to fit at the establishment club in England's top flight. Mourinho even admitted "some factors had an influence in that the last period was not a good one. It's impossible to win trophies without a good relationship with players," per beIN Sports (h/t Goal's Iain Strachan).

Solskjaer's appointment, coupled with the return of assistant Mike Phelan, a mainstay of Sir Alex Ferguson's staff, has made United seem more like United again.

It's helped Solskjaer prove that if the job and the manager suit each other, experience is not a necessary trait. In short, if you're good enough, you're old enough.

Solskjaer is proving he's more than just a short-term tonic for the ills of the previous regime. Meanwhile, Mourinho is left repairing a reputation damaged by his troubled stint at Old Trafford, despite winning the UEFA Europa League and EFL Cup during his time in charge.

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