Louis van Gaal still says he should have seen his dismissal come to Manchester United six months before it happened, and while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not yet here the similarities are striking. Two managers grappling with the suspicion of not being backed by the club when it mattered, an inconsistent squad struggling to calm critics and another manager sitting in the shadows.
For Van Gaal, it was Jose Mourinho. For Solskjaer, it's Mauricio Pochettino. Van Gaal's time ended with Mourinho taking over; Solskjaer is still fighting to make sure he doesn't suffer the same fate.
The victory at Everton on Saturday was the latest example of the Norwegian manager bringing up a result when he needed it most, but it is undeniable that after seven games United are 14th in the table. Already this season, they have lost to Crystal Palace and beaten Paris Saint-Germain. They suffered terrible home defeats to Tottenham and Arsenal, but they also dismantled Newcastle and RB Leipzig.
The inconsistency has persisted in Solskjaer's stint at Old Trafford and, with their two-year anniversary approaching, United remain a difficult side to form. Privately, United have gone to great lengths to stress that Solskjaer retains the faith of Vice President Ed Woodward and the board, but ultimately it's up to Woodward and the owners, the Glazers, to decipher whether the good wins. on evil.
Van Gaal remains convinced that in January 2016, Woodward had already decided to replace him with Mourinho. Investigations were carried out through intermediaries to ensure that neither Woodward nor Mourinho got their hands dirty while another manager remained in post. It also gave United plausible denial even when Mourinho's agent Jorge Mendes strategically leaked information in the background to step up the pressure.
Pochettino and his allies are different, already avoiding opportunities to shake the boat. His November 2 appearance in Sky's Monday Night Football was well timed – it had been in the works for almost a year and came 24 hours after Man United lost 1-0 at home to Arsenal – but he made it clear that he wouldn't. comment directly on United or Solskjaer.
When asked an open question about whether he would like to return to the Premier League, Pochettino gave an open response: “I am not going to close any doors. I'm waiting to feel what is the right project for us, which is the right way to take. “
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Sources told ESPN that third-party agents sought to learn more about Pochettino's future plans in late September ahead of a series of tough fixtures for United that included games against Tottenham, PSG, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Arsenal. and Everton. Now, thanks to this spell, their streak of matches after the international break appears to offer Solskjaer more chances to stabilize the campaign.
Pochettino, meanwhile, has let the right people know that he will jump at the chance to manage United, but also that they are not his only option. He has also distanced himself from comments that as a former Espanyol player he could never handle Barcelona, where new boss Ronald Koeman is already under pressure. There were also questions about Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid and Thomas Tuchel at PSG.
Pochettino also remains the most likely candidate for Manchester City, who are staunch admirers of the 48-year-old if Pep Guardiola does not sign an extension of the contract which expires in June. All of this raises the possibility that United could miss Pochettino for the second time.
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Pochettino isn't Woodward's only candidate to be United's next manager if they need him. The United boss has told his close associates he is a fan of Tuchel's Julian Nagelsmann and RB Leipzig, who is also on City's radar. Massimiliano Allegri, who left Juventus in 2019, has made it known that he would be interested if the opportunity arises, despite being further down the list.
It is admitted that United's performances against Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir, in particular, were not good enough, but high profile figures highlighted the results against PSG and Leipzig, as well as the 14 games unbeaten to end in the Premier League campaign last season, as proof that Solskjaer is the right man.
Woodward and Solskjaer are still in regular contact and have a good working relationship despite a tense summer. Importantly, Solskjaer also retained the support of senior players; Sources told ESPN that the reaction to the victory at Goodison Park on Saturday was more provocative than festive after a week of intense criticism. Some staunch Solskjaer supporters on the team feared that another demoralizing loss had forced Woodward to make a decision.
Solskjaer feels he would not be at all vulnerable if the summer transfer window had been more productive. The signing of the signing – Ajax's £ 40million midfielder Donny van de Beek – strengthened a position he did not believe was a priority. The right winger and central defender he wanted did not arrive; instead, United brought a 33-year-old striker to Edinson Cavani on a free transfer and two teenage wingers, Penarol's Facundo Pellistri and Atalanta's Amad Diallo Traore – Pellistri has yet to play and Diallo is not not arrived before January, despite a cost of 21 million euros and more. 20 M € of additional modules.
Solskjaer and his coaching staff share the feeling that while United's senior squad has been strengthened, the overall quality of the first team has remained the same, making it difficult to close the gap with Liverpool and Manchester City. Solskjaer expressed his frustration to Woodward, but his mood around Carrington has remained positive and staff do not walk the halls with fear like in the last pangs of the Mourinho era.
When the time came for United to fire Mourinho and Van Gaal, the writing was on the wall long before the news broke. Solskjaer is starting to feel some of the same pressures, but Woodward isn't aiming yet.