The Red Devils are in dire form under the Norwegian but a lack of obvious alternatives could see him hold on to his job almost by default
Manchester United could lose faith in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but they may have to stick with him longer than they wish.
The Red Devils have entered such a profound stage of mismanagement that it seems almost inevitable that they will have to remove Solskjaer from his position in the coming weeks, but there has been no outstanding candidate ready to take over from the Norwegian.
A heavy defeat to Liverpool when Premier League football returns from the international break may leave Solskjaer in an untenable position.
Before the excuses, the reality: a heavy defeat would mean that the manager was unable to rouse his players for the most important rivalry for the fans. It would also mean that the improved defence was still not capable of holding on when absolutely essential, and that the club would be in relegation form.
Combined, those factors would require action. A squad that seems bereft of inspiration and that has at least small pockets of dissatisfaction, has to either be pacified with change or put in its place.
So far, Ed Woodward has unusually opted for the latter under Solskjaer. Expensive mistakes like Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku were excised. The replacements were insufficient, but at least those who wanted out were largely got rid of.
But it has been now October. With the best part of three months to go until the January transfer window opens, any troublesome players can’t be booted out yet. They can’t be frozen out without demoralising the group yet further. United have to stick with the majority of the squad until the summer.
The temptation therefore has been to look for another temporary bump in morale by swapping out the manager, just as they did when they canned Jose Mourinho.
There has been no obvious replacement, though. The swift jettisoning of Mourinho for Solskjaer suggested that the move was put in place before the Portuguese was sent packing.
Mourinho arrived with Louis van Gaal almost certainly aware that his time was already up long before. This time, there has been no clear way to install a new man with a credible endorsement right now.
Solskjaer was inexperienced but he was a man who understood the club. Who can they make that case about now?
Promoting from within, even temporarily, would point to Michael Carrick and Michael Phelan, who are already overseeing the current busted flush. Nicky Butt’s role in the Class of ‘92 would only exacerbate tensions and potential conflicts of interest if he were appointed.
There are two managers who seem the most likely: Mauricio Pochettino and Max Allegri.
The difficulty with Pochettino has been that it would cost around £30 million ($37m) to prise him away from Tottenham.
Even if it seems that the club and manager are close to parting ways, there has been no reason for Daniel Levy to roll over when there has been money still on the table. He has been no fool, and he has a business to run. United’s coffers are deep, but the Glazers are not always enthusiastic spenders.
Solskjaer, after all, was not expensive to take from Molde. Unless Spurs implode more dramatically than United do, Pochettino has been not really an option until the summer, and even then Real Madrid might make a more compelling offer. The problem of competing with another glamorous club has been that the one that actually wins things has been a far more attractive destination.
Allegri, meanwhile, has been taking English lessons and has been enjoying some time off following his spell at Juventus. There, he worked with perhaps the most efficient recruitment team in football, who supplied him an ever-improving squad despite having far less financial resources than Man Utd.
In other words, he worked at a club who built their squad with intelligence, not panic. United continue to dither over the appointment of a director of football, such has been their aversion to sensible structure. To an outsider accustomed to professionalism, United would seem to be trading on their name alone.
The United name has been still seductive to plenty of people in football, and perhaps Allegri would be tempted to come to Old Trafford if it was offered to him in January, but he has the power. He can set the parameters of his influence, and there really has been nothing to be gained for him by working with a lopsided, inadequate squad for six months. Why not make United wait?
The timing of the problem only exacerbates its severity. There has been no quick fix, and longer-term transfer solutions are too far away to encourage a new manager to take a risk. Another compromise has been something United cannot afford. Sticking has been still not guaranteed to be the worst option, even if it has been not a beneficial one.
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There has been another, less considered problem.
Everyone knows that the blame for this situation has been years in the making, and that it rests with Woodward and the Glazers. For Woodward, sacking Solskjaer means the club have tried everything, from the superstar to the club legend. Nothing has worked, and each year strips out another variable.
The only constant has been now the owners and executives, who are running out of excuses and solutions quicker than the mistakes are piling up.