It’s ten years ago tomorrow since Federico Macheda’s famous (or infamous) winner against Aston Villa that proved decisive as Manchester United went on to clinch an 18th league title.
A lot of the lads who were in action that game are still playing their part today, albeit to varying levels of success. James Milner is six weeks away from a potential Premier League triumph with Liverpool, Ashley Young is doing his best to engineer a move away from United by going around trying to break people’s legs, referee Mike Riley is being called a prick by Neil Warnock and Cristiano Ronaldo is still ridiculously good at football.
Things haven’t changed all that much for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer either. Ten years on from overseeing Macheda’s progress as manager of United’s reserves, he’s now still in charge of a team at the club which personifies evil like no other.
It was ironic perhaps that a decade after United’s comeback against Villa, they should find themselves two-one down against another over-achieving mid-table side. This time though there was no comeback, nor was there the feeling of inevitability around Solskjaer’s team salvaging a point, or even all three.
It acts as a marker of how Man United have changed. Under Ferguson, seasons became like Bond movies minus the last fifteen minutes. His sides were the villains, they had the best weapons and everything 50-50 seemed to go their way. Then, just before the good guys had a chance to turn things around and make sure justice would reign supreme against all the odds, the season would end.
On Tuesday when United were 2-1 down, a comeback didn’t feel likely, yet alone guaranteed. United losing to teams they should be beating is no longer a freak event only seen once a season. Like Spurs, Chelsea and to a lesser extent Arsenal, a shock defeat never seems too far away.
Seeing United lose is reassuring as I gradually convince myself that they’re no longer capable of ruining all of our hopes and dreams at will. It’s more of a relief every time it happens though, as opposed to any sort of joy. To live a happy life through the pain of others is futile. Exhibit A, Everton.
In many ways, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer is everything United need and yet everything they don’t want.
Following the appointment of three outsiders post-Ferguson, getting a manager in who understood the culture and values of the club inside-out was surely necessary. I’ve also been told he plays football ‘The Man United Way’. Whatever the fuck that means.
Having someone who had worked with Manchester United as a player and a coach for 13 years also nicely counteracts the club’s modern image of a global company first, and a football club second.
But what United need just as much as an internal appointment is sustainability. On the surface, Solsjkaer provides just that. Not least seeing as he still looks young enough to be asked for I.D. when buying an 8 pack of Stella and so could hang around at Old Trafford for the next half-century if needed.
However, he’s appeared overly-enthusiastic at times, bordering on a clear lack of self-control. The speed at which he announced he wanted the job full-time, the excitement at which he turned up at his first few press-conferences, his geeing up of the away end at a few of United’s matches on the road, his celebrations to goals in the dugout and even him putting a figure on the number of points the team will need to finish in the top-four.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the top four race: "I said we needed 18 points from the last eight games following the international break. We got three against Watford and now we need 15 from the last six so we don't have much more room for losses." pic.twitter.com/PqCsER4cvV
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) April 3, 2019
We all have one friend a bit like Solskjaer. He’s that guy who lives quite a boring and innocent life and on the rare occasion a chance to partake in something even vaguely stimulating or fun arises, he becomes over-excited, starts talking loads and overall just starts annoying everyone around him out of his giddiness.
In fact, now that I think of it, I am that friend. But that’s for another day.
We’ve seen managers with a similar plan of action before in the Premier League. Conte, Sherwood, Mourinho, Holloway and Di Canio to name a few.
They are managers who have lived on the edge. They spoke their minds in press conferences and endeared themselves to supporters almost immediately, whether that was an unforgettable opening press conference or a knee slide down the touchline after a debut victory in a local derby.
Many of these erratic names brought thrilling, but ephemeral success to their clubs as well. They didn’t have a filter in much of what they said, to the point where Ian Holloway literally compared league football to making love to a mermaid.
They became quickly techy and short-tempered when questions started to become asked of them and tried to dig themselves out of the ever-deepening hole by doing the same thing that got them there in the first place. They overindulged in uncontrolled passion. They’d pace down to an away end and beat their chest furiously to those who still believed in them or turn the media against them and insist they were the problem.
Look at the greats of the Premier League era. Ferguson and Wenger would never say something out of seething anger or euphoric delight. They would rarely allow themselves to get too high after a win or even a trophy, and they would seldom be seen too low after a defeat. They were more controlled than any of their rivals.
Me if Solskjaer brings up Ferguson in the press conference after we lose 2-1 pic.twitter.com/lbeFDjKVzE
— MM (@ZIEGFREIDMM) April 2, 2019
Look at today’s league. Pochettino and Guardiola are almost permanently relaxed. They trust in their individual processes and don’t look like men who doubt themselves when one or two things go wrong. They are careful not to say anything they might regret at a later time and both control their celebrations when a goal goes in or the final whistle blows to confirm a victory. The way in which they present themselves and interact with others is sustainable.
Even Klopp who has been maligned and praised in equal measure for his exuberance is prudent in his words and actions. For a man seen as some sort of a maverick, he barely ever says anything that mad, nor has he wanted everybody to fall in love with him right away.
He has frequently refused to aim criticism at those who he clearly doesn’t agree with and those who have aimed criticisms at him.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not a madman, nor is he the managerial version of Mario Balotelli. He seems to struggle to contain himself though, and at times could do with being a bit more boring.
He has followed the trend of the erratics so far. He has come in, got the dressing room and the fans on side and has secured a dramatic improvement in results almost immediately.
But as the honeymoon period concludes over the coming months, the Norwegian may have to restrict himself more often and give those around him less to talk about.
That is, of course, if United want to return to the glory days of Federico Macheda.