The countdown is on until caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United future is confirmed.
Three weeks on from suffering his first defeat at the helm to Paris St Germain, the Norwegian secured a historic 3-1 win at the Parc des Princes to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals.
The latest win surely makes it a matter of when rather than if Solskjaer succeeds Jose Mourinho on a full-time basis and, here, Press Association Sport’s Simon Peach looks at his situation.
How have we got to this point?
If the timing of Mourinho’s sacking shocked the footballing world, it is fair to say the decision to bring in a manager that oversaw relegation at Cardiff in-between spells at Molde raised eyebrows.
Solskjaer is of course a United great but few imagined just how much his star would grow during this interim reign.
The 46-year-old has won 14 of his 17 matches in charge, with records aplenty falling in the process. Resurgent United have clawed back an 11-point gap to the top four thanks to their fine form and on Wednesday became the first team in Champions League history to overcome a two-goal home defeat to progress in a knockout tie.
It does not look like there is a decision to make then…
You would think not. Luke Shaw said that Solskjaer is “certain” to get the job after winning at PSG, where the left-back was among a number of United players talking up his job prospects. The group clearly love the manager as much as the fans, with his work in charge leading to a shift in the succession planning. United have a long-standing interest in Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, who it is believed would have considered moving to Old Trafford at the end of the season.
But initial desire from the boardroom, stands and a number of players to appoint the Argentinian has diminished thanks to Solskjaer’s work. The Norwegian has brought spirit, togetherness and drive back to a club that lost its way after Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. As Romelu Lukaku said in Paris, “what else does he have to do?”
So when will Solskjaer be announced as full-time manager?
The initial plan was to go through a thorough managerial search – while also looking for a director of football – before naming Mourinho’s permanent successor in the summer. But things change and the clamour for Solskjaer to get the job is clear. United great Gary Neville believes the appointment could be announced during the upcoming international break and that would make sense given the circumstances. United remain coy and say when there is something to announce or communicate about, they will.
What would be the hold-up to Solskjaer’s announcement?
United have key matches at Arsenal and then Wolves in the FA Cup before the international break, plus they have to deal with the fact Solskjaer is still due to return to his job at Molde in May.
The 46-year-old recently revealed that he is no longer contracted to the Norwegian side, but that appears to be down to the fact loan deals are not standard contractual situations in management.
As such, United’s apparent gentleman’s agreement with Molde will need to be formalised before an announcement can be made. Any issues appear minor, though, as the key is that Solskjaer wants to stay as much as the players want him to.
In the short term, what challenges does Solskjaer face?
Any remaining doubters will surely have been won over by the way he has managed manfully without a string of first-team players. There were 10 unavailable for the last-16 second leg in Paris and absentees are set to bite against Arsenal and Wolves. Such issues should ease by the time the Champions League quarter-finals – United’s first since 2014 – come around, while the top-four tilt continues at an impressive pace.
After heading to Arsenal on Sunday, only the arrival of Manchester City and Chelsea at the end of April look serious tests to a side yet to lose a domestic match under Solskjaer. But even if some of those matches do not go to plan, he is almost certain to be steering the wheel for a while to come.