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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in-tray: Solving the Paul Pogba issue is key
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the new interim manager at Old Trafford
Last Updated: 19/12/18 7:28pm
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been confirmed as the new caretaker manager of Manchester United until the season but what is the job that faces him?
United are sixth in the Premier League table, worryingly adrift of the top four, but they are still in this season's Champions League and there is an FA Cup to contest too.
If Solskjaer is to succeed in any competition, he must first address the problems that his predecessor faced - and created - at Old Trafford. Here, we look at the new man's in-tray…
Change the culture
Palpable discord was the term that Chelsea used upon Mourinho's exit there but it could equally apply to the strained relationship that he endured with many of his players at United where public and private criticism became the norm. Regardless of the intentions behind social media posts it would be no shock if his departure was welcomed by some.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been officially announced as Manchester United's interim manager until the end of the season.
Perhaps there will be a feeling of relief that Mourinho is gone. A few may even be changing their January plans. So if there is a lightening of the mood at Carrington, it is an opportunity for the next manager to exploit. A happier environment would be a start but Solskjaer will need to set the tone for a change of culture - one more conducive to success.
Entertain the crowd
On the pitch there is a need for more expression too and the crowd would surely respond well to the attacking football that United were once synonymous with. There has been little sign of that since Sir Alex Ferguson left - their last five-goal haul in the Premier League came in the Scot's final game in charge. It would be symbolic if Solskjaer could change that.
Turgid offerings, particularly in big games where containment has seemed the only ambition, have failed to entertain. With United having little to lose now in the Premier League, it is a free hit for Solskjaer. The chance to give the talented attack-minded players on the club's books the licence to attack, attack, attack should not be missed.
Get more from Pogba
One player likely to respond to being liberated is Paul Pogba. While there are supporters whose loyalties were divided when it came to the apparent spat between midfielder and manager, now is the chance for Pogba to show United fans what he is really capable of. Getting the club's record signing on side and on the pitch must be a priority for Solskjaer.
It will have been noted by the United hierarchy that their biggest asset was an unused substitute for the defeat at Liverpool and the responsibility of the new coach will be to get the best from the best players. For all his faults, the World Cup winner most definitely falls under that category. Finding a role for him and building a relationship with him will be key.
The good news is that Solskjaer knows Pogba well having coached him in the reserves during the player's first spell with the club. As recently as August, Solskjaer was emphatic when asked if he would build the team around him. "I would, absolutely no doubt," he said. "Paul is a fantastic kid so hopefully we can build the team around him and keep him."
Sort out the defence
Of course, it is not the attack so much as the defence that undermined Mourinho. Once seen as the greatest defensive coach in the game, the Portuguese's team have already conceded more goals this season than they did in the entirety of last season and addressing those deficiencies has to be a major priority if United are to start getting results.
Solskjaer is unlikely to be given the chance to do that by signing the centre-back that Mourinho craved, but good old-fashioned coaching will surely be enough to improve a defence that has contrived to concede more than Huddersfield this season. The Terriers are the next visitors to Old Trafford. Surely that's a chance for a much-needed clean sheet?
Prepare for the future
If Solskjaer is able to do all of that then United will be in a much healthier position when the club appoints a full-time manager in the summer. Additions to the playing staff will be needed then - perhaps even an overhaul - but six months of a happier dressing room not burdened by angst should allow for a clearer assessment of this United squad.
It is a club in dire need of a new direction if potential is to be fulfilled, but that change has been delayed until the end of season. For now, the job is about cleansing an increasingly toxic environment and lifting the gloom that had descended. If Solskjaer can help to facilitate the transition to a new Manchester United then he will have succeeded.