May 27, 1999, Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored the most important goal of his career as Manchester United staged a miraculous come back in injury time to shock Bayern Munich and win the Champions League. It was one of those ‘Where were you?’ moments that you never forget. For me, I was in a GAA Club in Co. Dublin, Ireland, the only no United fan sitting at a table full of them. The gathered crowd consisted of those rooting for their team, Manchester United, and those who rooted for any team that they happened to be playing against. They even had their own name. A.B.U’s. Anyone But United. Again I was the odd one out. Having grown up a Luton Town fan in a house of United supporters I couldn’t bring myself to root against them, but also wouldn’t have been bothered if they’d lose either.
When Teddy Sheringham scored with just over 90 minutes on the clock to make it 1-1 half the room erupted and half the room appealed for offside. It wasn’t. I got unnecessary hugs from my brother and his United following friends. Chants of ‘Glory, Glory Man United’ rang out as the crowd headed towards the bar to stock up before the inevitable extra time started. Ole Gunnar Solskjær had other ideas.
A perennial super-sub for United, the baby faced assassin, as he was nicknamed, raced at the Bayern defense from the left-wing, ultimately winning a corner when Samuel Kuffour blocked his cross. David Beckham stepped up and floated one of his trademarks set pieces into the box to be knocked down towards goal by Teddy Sheringham. Solskjær got ahead of his man, Kuffour again, and stuck a boot to the dropping ball, lifting it in between the goalkeeper and defender standing on the line.
The small club erupted almost as loudly as the United fans in Barcelona’s Camp Nou. ‘How could you not be moved by such a Cinderella story’ I thought. Plus I always had a soft spot for Solskjær as a player. Then I looked beside me to see my brother’s friend, a guy I’d known my whole life and knew to never show any emotion, still sitting, head down, tears on his cheeks. This was much more than a fairytale ending. This was literally a dream come through for United fans everywhere and while some jumped and shouted for Joy, others gently wept with pure emotion. It had, after all, been 31 years since their last European Cup win.
That night in May 1999 is why United fans will always love their former player and current manager. It’s why you often hear that United fans will back their manager through hell and high water. It’s also why United may be on a free fall down the Premier League table.
After four managers in six years, United want stability. They want to give someone time to build. The problem is you need the right person to be building, otherwise, it’s never going to last. Solskjær isn’t the right person. It isn’t a diss on the man or the legacy he created as a player, he’s just not equipped to be a top-level manager, he proved this at Cardiff. Since then he has had success in Norway with Molde, but the level is much, much higher in the Premier League.
The sad part is, it’s not even all his fault. United are the dinosaur of English football, still looking to do things like they did 20 years ago without realizing the game has moved on. Instead of going out in the summer and finalizing the most important transfer needed, luring Edwin Van Der Saar away from Ajax as Director of Football, United left Ed Woodward calling the shots. A man who has zero knowledge of that side of the game.
Van Der Saar meanwhile has overseen a resurgence at Ajax, who reached the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, led by good scouting and an unbelievable youth setup, something United could do great to focus on. Without the right man to oversee it though it may be just a waste of time. And while I agree with a lot of what the English media are saying, in particular, former United player turned pundit Gary Neville, that time is needed to rebuild, that is only possible if the right people are laying the foundations. Currently, the builders laying the groundwork have no clue where to even start.
That’s why, while Solskjær may not be the next managerial casualty, a feat likely going to Marco Silva of Everton, the baby faced assassin may not be far behind as he slowly but surely becomes another victim of United’s broken structure.