Why it’s impossible for Solskjaer to recapture the ‘United Way’

Date published: Saturday 11th January 2020 2:31

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United

Let’s have your emails: theeditor@football365.com…


Why it’s impossible for Ole to recapture the ‘United Way’
Firstly because the “United Way” is a myth as has been pointed out before in the mailbox.  What Ole Gunnar Solskjaer observed as a player was the “Alex Ferguson Way” in a unique set of external circumstances.

I would characterise the Alex Ferguson Way by –

– A bias for attacking football
– Emphasis on attacking at pace from wide areas (Sharpe, Kanchelskis, Giggs, Ronaldo)
– Willing to accept a loss in pursuit of victory
– Playing to the final whistle
– Using his cult of personality to pressure referees to tilt the odds in his favour
– Imploring his players to do the same

The unique set of external circumstances –

– For many years Manchester United were largely the only game in town (except when Arsenal had their great teams and when the oil money cane along)
– United could buy up all the best young English players in the league (Rooney, Ferdinand, Carrick)
– And from their direct rivals (Cole, Van Persie)
– Once in a lifetime crop of world class home grown players (well, three I guess, but the others weren’t bad)

While Ole should be applauded for trying to play attacking football it was really only a small part of what made that specific United era under Alex Ferguson successful.  The other elements of Ferguson’s style were particular to him and the favourable set if circumstances no longer exist for United.
Mark, LFC, Hong Kong


He truly is a shambles…
Everything is down to perspective, In the end if  Ole get’s binned this week,  here is what his record overall would look like:

Premiership 6th and 5th:( At worst 8th) , 6th last year was as high as he could get starting about 10 points behind the top 4. Anyone who thinks This Utd team is better, than any of the current top 4 is having a laugh. 4th is  still in the realm of possibility as Utd have lost the same amount of games as the team in 4th place.

FA cup – Has already reached the quarters  (included back to back away wins against Chelsea and Arsenal), once in his managerial career and has a home time in the 3rd round. Is he really reducing Utd’s recent standards in a competition they have won once since 2004 .

League Cup- Is in the semi’s in a tournament no one really cares that much about, were we have recently launched the careers of Lampard (managerial ) and  Dele Alli,

Whole world is up in arms, because Utd is losing to an angry  City team ,who trample people 4 nil,  literally every week. Our Last two semis we contrived to lose one to Sunderland and barely get past Hull..

Champions league Quarter final haven’t won old big ears since 2008 two quarter finals since Fergie left , Our highlights have included getting past olympiakos and losing to sevilla.

Europa -We are still, in it and only have that bizarre run in 2016/17 as pedigree.

Most of this has been achieved with a dire midfield this year and a  horrible defense  last year,Have I missed something here what exactly is the manager to do,  achieve the quadruple every year ?
Timi, MUFC


There was a quote made by Ole in August that I haven’t been able to shrug off.  “And the one thing you cannot control in football is results and outcomes. You can control the effort, attitude, what we’re doing in training.”  The whole bloody point of preparing for, and playing, a football match is to *try* and control the result and outcomes (albeit for some decisions you cannot control). It’s been 5 months since that quote is made and it seems to be the mantra for how the team play; running about with some huff and puff but unable to control any part of the game. Clearly not the man for us.
G (Poch if you’re reading this. Please wait a little longer)


Renaming the Kop
In response to Al’s suggestion to rename the Kop, however temporarily.

Klopp himself wouldn’t want it. It goes against his entire management philosophy. He has always made it all about the players, the rest of his staff. He stopped doing the whole fist-pump thing when the cameramen started paying too much attention to it.

Why give the man an honour he wouldn’t want?
Ben, Singapore


Best in the flesh
Great question Mark!

I can go for the easy one. Cristiano Ronaldo was amazing and so was Rooney. I also was at the “Zlatan” Final where he was top class.

But if I had to say the best I have ever seen at a ground I would honestly say Dimitri Payet at West ham. I know he hasn’t exactly been up there consistently over the years but he was an absolute joke that year at West ham. I saw him play about 4 or 5 times and he was out of this world. I remember watching Sky Sports news in pre season when they signed him and they played southend in a friendly. Phil Brown was the manager and he said he asked Billic to take Payet off as it was an unfair contest. I thought blimey this bloke must be good and he didn’t disappoint!

Random one I know.
Chaz (Essex) (Oh and a young Joe Cole)


Being an Everton fan, the best I’ve seen since 1988 is Mikel Arteta (and I still do love him). Best goal James McFadden vs Charlton

Or obviously Tony Hibbert……

In general though, the best I’ve seen in the flesh are Dennis Bergkamp and Didier Drogba – masters of the football
Fat Man


Best player I’ve ever seen play in the flesh? For me, it has to be the man from Amsterdam, the non-flying Dutchman, hands for feet, Dennis ‘the Iceman’ Bergkamp.

His late goal against Spurs in November 1996 was scored right in front of me and I remember falling over due to it pissing down. I celebrated that goal with my head resting on the floor of the North Bank and my feet in the air, while my two mates punched the air with glee and were wondering where I was.

I wasn’t there for the game but that goal Dennis scored against Newcastle remains the greatest goal I have ever seen scored in that only Dennis could have scored it because Dennis is the only player, who would have the temerity to even try it. His response to an interviewer that the way he turned Dabizas was the easiest way to get to the ball still astounds me every time I hear it.

And perhaps the greatest tribute I can give to Dennis is while my first game was back in 1987 when birthday boy and captain Kenny Sansom scored the winner against West Ham, 18 years later I vowed never to return to the stadium after seeing Dennis score a late winner against FC Thun in the Champions League as I wanted that winner to be final memory of Highbury.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London


Dear Ed

Just had to reply to Mark Jones LFC, Liverpool – ‘the best you’ve ever seen ?’

Dennis Bergkamp. Watching that guy every home match during the late 90’s/early 00’s was an absolute pleasure.

The touch, the passes, the goals. Just sublime.

We may be all sorts of guff now, but I had the joy of watching him, Pires, Henry et al accomplish all sorts.

I’ve had a good run 😊

Jay, St Albans (ish)


Interesting question from Mark Jones LFC. I’m old enough to have seen Johan Cruyff play. I also met him after the game because this was in the days when you could just stroll into the players’ car park and hang around by the team bus. Nice fellow, signed my programme and ruffled my hair . . . However, it was a very long time ago and I’d be fibbing if I said I could actually remember the Dutch maestro doing anything of note during the game. What always strikes me when I go to a live game is the quality of players you’d never really much rated before. When they’re before your eyes, you suddenly understand what it is they do. In this respect, I remember once being very impressed by Stephen Ireland. I was also bowled over by Virgil van Dijk during his Southampton days when he absolutely bossed a league cup game against Arsenal. Being at the game – you can’t beat it. Not sure I’ve answered the question, but hoping the Cruyff anecdote’s enough to sneak me into the mailbox.
Matt Pitt


I remember seeing Berbatov come to the Hawthorns with Fulham and he was just a different class to everybody else on the pitch, just drifting and floating around and always ended up in space. I remember him scoring his first as I was desperate for the loo and was heading down the steps to go as nothing of note was happening. Berba picked up the ball in half a yard of space with a perfect first touch and I just knew. I stopped in my tracks and watched as he controlled, stepped inside and curled the ball into the far corner with what was effectively the first thing he’d done all half. I knew he was going to score the second he took that first touch, I can’t really explain it.

As an aside, in the glorious Hodgson years, Yusuf Mulumbu was an absolute joy to watch in midfield with Claudio Yacob. Yacob was a horrible terrier of a midfielder to play against, just loved a tackle, but Mulumbu was always there next to him to pick up the loose ball, calmly carry the ball out of a packed midfield unscathed and tidily move it forward.
JB (West Brom fan in London – that Pogba lad is phenomenal on the ball when you watch him live as well btw)


Carrick, Lampard and Gerrard
Ryan, Ireland, misses a important point when questioning why England never used Carrick to complement Stevie G and Super Frank, a 3-man midfield would leave no space for Emile Heskey.

I think the right decision was made.
Nick (Scholes on the left obviously) J


Responses to all…
If you will indulge me a reply

Firstly thank you to ‘the regulars’ (and non regulars) much appreciated. Balanced and sensible. We arent all lunatics and crazies it seems….

Mike – Yes I understand and yes I agree a permanent re naming would be a MASSIVE deal and very unlikely indeed and I will agree ill advised (hence me suggestion a temporary 1 yr deal) and would, after 4 yrs and ‘only 2 major trophies’ as you put it, be a little disrespectful.. (despite it being 30yrs since and it being the one we all want…)

Sparky – Nice, loving the history and mental images you provide, and get the ‘if anyone, then Shanks’ point.. But its just such a perfect (karma) fit.. with Klopp / Kop that its just seems almost like fate – god I hate that word but cant think of another more appropriate..

Ferg – Top man, Excited, loving every minute and prepared to give Jurgen a knighthood after half a season lol, thats the spirit mate. Totally behind you!

Mark – Im 48, I watched Kenny play as a kid and was in awe really.. Tho I was always Zico ( I have a 10 Flamengo shirt as the only Non liverpool shirt I own..) in the playground in truth…

To you all, maybe if he stays til 2024 and wins a league (or 2 – back to back anyone?…. sorry I was asleep and dreaming for a minute there…) and a CL .. or 2.. (back to ba.. err.. damn this apnea…its a curse)  then it will be hard to argue that he doesnt deserve something massive.. for bringing those times back to Anfield that we have all longed for, for so long.
Al – LFC (Fingers crossed to lift any curse I have placed with my email…!)


Nodding like a bobblehead
Dear Editor –  Please can you award  ‘Chris (who is this Alan Sugar?) Tanner’ from this mornings mailbox a Football365 mug, pencil case or something?!  Reading his mail had me nodding at me desk like a bobblehead.

I too couldn’t give a flying pufty todd about the CEO’s, the bottom lines or the stock control systems of Premier League teams stationery cupboards.

I’ve no interest in the pig shat that is the transfer window, nor Jim Whites dehydrated pissy yellow tie, or breaking bullshit from sky sources.

I care not for agent fees, sulking players or Directors of football.

Just feed me 100% pure, uncut football into my fat eyes all day…is that too much to ask?
Ratt Mitchie NUFC (players fall into 2 categories ‘best I’ve ever seen’ or ‘shite’)


Chris (who is this Alan Sugar?) Tanner laments the perceived focus of club ownership “over the past few years”. With the details he mentions is his mail, I’m assuming he’s maybe a little younger than I am, probably early-to-mid-30s. And this brings up two reasons behind his gripe.

He says he doesn’t really remember Levy’s take-over that much, but that was almost 19 years ago! He’d have probably been a 11-16 years old. During that period I was mostly pre-occupied with trying to figure out where all these new hairs were coming from, then trying in vain to get a girl to like me (plus ca change….). I loved watching football, never missed Match of The Day, read Shoot and Match every week, and like all teens I idolised my teams top strikers. I really like midfielders with some flair and only really noticed the more bruising defenders. It was all about the aesthetics. Tactics knowledge and managerial effectiveness were akin to the little known 1993 classic “Kevin Keegan’s Player Manager” on the SNES where the only tactics were “attacking” and “defensive” and the coaching options were “train” and “rest”. Of course, for teenagers now things are different with the popularity of Football Manager. But in the mid-90s, we depended on Hansen & co on BBC to teach us. And we are all too aware how rubbish that was. (For some reason Channel 4 was ropey in our area, so my Italian football exposure was limited).

But my second point is that this isn’t a new phenomenon. Chris mentions the “recent” complaints of Liverpool fans about Gillet and Hicks. Something I know all too well after enduring two years sitting beside a Liverpool supporter who can only be described as the most exaggerated caricature of the negative Liverpool fan stereotype. It seems like only yesterday he was fearing administration, but I left that job in the Autumn of 2010. And if I remember correctly, it was also in or around this time that Man United fans started their green and gold scarf protest. It’s really not that recent.

The fact is after a match when we were younger, we’d run straight outside to try recreate the big moments and the excuses for bad results/league positions were as simple as X player is useless, Y manager is crap, Z club has no money. There wasn’t any interest in nuance when you could be outside getting up to no good. but we can’t do that any more. I’ve spent close to 30 years supporting my team and there was a time I live the picture Chris has painted, but right now, if something like what went on with Liverpool before NESV came in or the Glazers’ takeover of United was happening to my club I’d be far more up in arms about that and wanting to discuss it than debating whether our striker was worth 30 million quid, or trying to figure out exactly how xG works. Chris, I hate to break it to you, but you’re just getting old.
Big D, Luxembourg


Regarding Chris Tanner’s mail about more football, less business, I can clearly remember when we started talking about the business side of football clubs. It was right after Abramovich’s takeover resulting in the ridiculous amount of money that poured into Chelsea and the way money changed the game. Before that, I didn’t have any clue regarding who owned what club. I vaguely remember reading about Inter Milan and its owner when they bought Original Ronaldo followed by Vieri, but I don’t remember anyone talking about the business side of it.
Sudeep, LFC


I have so much love for Chris Tanner’s email this morning. I felt like he effortlessly gathered my own frustrations at football’s modern obsession with business and brand and big corporate bollocks, and converted them into witty words. For me and I suspect a fair few others, football isn’t like that. Well, it is like that. But I wish it wasn’t.

I’m reading a book at the minute called Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland (yes like the Smiths) in which Karen falls into a coma for 17 years. She awakes to find the world in a rather different state to how it is was when she was a teenager. There aren’t many parallels I can force here, but it just had me thinking, what would happen if a football fan 30 years ago (or sometime before the genesis of the Premier League) fell into a coma and awoke in 2020, to see the game as it is now? What would they think? To older readers: how different was the experience of being a football fan back, say, in the 80s or early 90s? I was born in 1994 so I don’t really have any concept of what it used to be like. I often hear the pre-Premier League time of football being lionised, but was it really all that great, or are we just hard-wired to be nostalgic about most things? What’s the objective view or is it even possible to have one.

Pretend you’re Karen and tell me what you see.
Jack, 25, London (if you did wake up from a coma I’m sure “what’s football like?” would be the first question you ask)


Bruno Fernandes
Should United sign Fernandes, you ask.

A forward looking playmaker with 12 goals and 10 assists this season.

Who is only just 25.

And available.

For less than a noodle sponsorship.

Well it’s a bit out of left field and no-one here has been going on and on about how he solves so many of their problems in every over written mail they have sent in for 2 years, but I’m leaning towards YES OF FUCKING COURSE THEY SHOULD WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU, FUCK.

Don’t make me write more mails about my appalling dating history.  I swear, I’ll do it.
Tim Sutton


Strange season for QPR
With all the focus on the dominance of Liverpool and ongoing hilarity at Old Trafford, I wanted to shed some light on the typically daft season going on at QPR. It’s our first full term under Mark Warburton and it’s been nothing if not completely unfathomable.

We started the season well and could even have found ourselves joint top at the end of September. Then though the Sky live cameras of doom condemned us to a 2-0 defeat to West Brom (who were excellent). As it turned out though, this was one small moment of normality after which things have just gone bonkers.

Scorelines have included 3-3, 3-2, 4-2, 2-2, 0-4, 2-3, 1-3, 3-1 and several 2-2s either from the clutches of defeat or while seemingly cruising to victory. We failed to keep a clean sheet until the 7th December in a 2-0 home win against high-flying Preston and incredibly followed this up with another in an away win at Birmingham. Clearly concerned, normality was restored in the very next game on the end of an absolute thumping 5-3 to bottom of the table Barnsley. Not to be outdone, after 3 successive defeats we then proceeded to score 11 goals in 2 games against Cardiff and Swansea, making sure we still conceded in both of course.

Our front three share over thirty goals and we have finally got some genuinely talented young players. Eberechi Eze will go onto good things while Ilias Chair and Bright Osayi-Samuel are excellent to watch. However they share centre stage with defenders like Toni Leistner who displays the characteristics of a shipping container and a goalkeeper in Joe Lumley who often appears to play without the use of limbs.

We currently sit 15th, six points off the playoffs and 12 points off the bottom three. We are the second top scorers in the league, yet have the third leakiest defence.

Low and behold our next live match on TV is the 18th January at home to high flying Leeds. If this season is anything to go by, expect a 0-0…
Ric Duncombe (Sometimes in Kampala, Uganda)


Bespoke Liverpool
I’ve enjoyed writing these this week. I’m on holiday, it uses up an hour, everyone’s a winner…

But there is one thing I have really wanted to talk about, Liverpool, and their bespoke tactics. Now this was really inspired by a conversation with a Man U friend who was strangely advocating Alexander-Arnold at RB for England while I was talking up playing Wan-Bissaka there and playing Trent as a Def Mid.

“How can you play the best RB in the world not at RB?” Was his exceptionally solid argument, which got a solid round of nodding heads from other friends present. My riposte was this: England have a dearth of quality def mid but a host of great RB’s. We have the best attacking trident in the world, but they require more defensive fullbacks behind allowing them to stay high up the pitch (at least against best 10 international teams in the world, who are the predominantly the teams we struggle to beat). TAA’s range of passing would open up a whole new avenue for England, whilst the drop off from him to Wan-Bissaka/Walker/Trippier is small. But most of my argument was that Trent is played at RB for Liverpool in exceptionally bespoke tactics designed to afford him maximum space to hurt the opposition, he wouldn’t/doesn’t get that with England currently.

All said, I feel like I lost the argument. Which is fine. I didn’t take it personally. I mean they aren’t my friends anymore…

Ultimately, they didn’t accept the difference between England’s tactical setup and Liverpool’s, or at least they didn’t think it couldn’t be broadly adopted with a few tweaks. But Liverpool’s tactics are exceptionally bespoke, not just TAA but many of the positions, so lets review:

Note; this is not a comparison against England’s tactics, just an analysis of Liverpool’s. International teams have far greater fluctuation of playing personnel combined with heavily reduced time together to train complicated tactical roles. You need square pegs in square holes and a decent formational base providing solid defence whilst allowing your team opportunity to attack in the way that suits your players talents. That or comfortably the best XI in the world will also work.

For the sake of ease I am picking Klopp’s likely preferred XI.

Lets start with Allisson. Because Liverpool play a higher line than any other Premiership team we need a GK with exceptional decision making and confidence. He needs to be a true sweeper-keeper and because of Klopp’s increasing insistence on controlling possession (particularly against weaker opposition) he needs great feet. Tick tick.

Centre Backs – That high line again. They need to be quick for obvious reasons. You can get away with just one being very quick as long as the other isn’t a complete barge, but ideally you have two. See Gomez and VVD. Why the high line? you might ask, although you probably know, it’s to squeeze the pitch. Liverpool want to press. You can only press effectively if there aren’t large gaps creating space for players to run into/pass through. Possession based means you need ball players, which both are. Playing against a deep block on a regular basis requires CB to bring the ball out to break midfield lines, both can also do that (though Matip is the exceptional one in this regard, check out relevant stats to see). It also requires them to be able to pass intelligently, aggressively and accurately. Which, thankfully, they can.

Full backs – Here we start to get very specialist. To understand why you have understand the dynamics of the two players. Firstly, Robertson. He is your classic all-round modern fullback. Firstly, and most importantly, he has a sensational engine. He can sprint, run, sprint, run, sprint all day. This is not fitness, all modern pro’s are fit, this is a natural genetic predisposition. He has great feet, great speed, great end product, good in one v one’s, great positional sense, and as said, the pace and stamina to sprint up the pitch when we have the ball and sprint back when we don’t. He could play in any team in the world and show his qualities. He really doesn’t have any significant deficiencies. More attacking or more defensive, his role can be adjusted like a slider bar on Football Manager because of such strength across the board, a perfect foil for the guy on the opposite flank.

Trent. So, defensively he is pretty good, he has improved steadily. He knows where to show attackers and his positional sense is much improved, despite getting a bad press for sometimes being caught out of position. In fact, this stems from his greatest weakness, in contrast to Andy, TAA isn’t blessed with the same horsepower. Klopp has spoken about initially having concerns Trent wouldn’t have the physicality to make it as a pro, which I interpret as physical stamina. Liverpool’s style is all-action and high intensity, no other position on the pitch requires more running than a modern fullback. Subsequently, Trent gets tired. It sometimes stops him from sprinting back in to position when we lose possession. It sometimes means he can get too easily stepped inside of. It is a significant concern. It has improved with age and will continue to do so. Still, this would usually be unacceptable for Klopp, he isn’t going to change his style, so why persevere with Trent? Because Klopp saw the potential of what he would become, the best attacking fullback in the world and a player blessed with the technical gifts to accurately hit long passes, ground passes, crosses and through balls. He can dictate play, switch the play, control the speed of the game, and most importantly, have the vision and creativity to see passes pretty much no one else can see, and then play them. He is a once in a generation attacking talent. He is Liverpool’s playmaker. The midfield 3 recycle. They are an attacking press and a defensive shield. Trent is the one dictating Liverpool’s play. But to do so effectively, he needs the space to have time and get his head up. Our patterns of play are so obviously engineered to afford him that space. Opposition can counter that function, Utd having been the most successful this season, but ideally Klopp’s tactics are focused around giving Trent the space to be our playmaker.

Midfield – We play Fabinho deep, though as apposed to many def mid, he still often plays pretty high due to us squeezing the pitch so much. He is looking to close down the opposition playmaker and make tactical fouls. A major part of his job is second balls, not so much from our defence, although that too, but when we attack. Liverpool’s dominance and frequency of playing against a low block means that lots of balls are played in to the opposition box, most are cleared out again, his key skill is recovering those balls and as quickly as possible playing the ball to an attacking player in space to keep the opposition penned in. This is incredibly important to our style and has been very effective this season. He is a fantastic tackler. Has great vision and is very calm, all very necessary for his role.

Gini and Henderson play the other two positions predominantly. Here we really do have some variation depending on which players play. This is where variation from game to game happens. Ox and Keita are more attacking and direct, Lallana is a ball player whilst Jimmy is more defensive. Klopp will use a combination often to counter the oppositions strengths. I could go on all day about the variations but essentially these players are required to recycle and hold their shape. They organise the press and form a near impenetrable shield of 5 across the midfield. For reference Liverpool effectively play a 2-5-3 formation. The 5 (midfield 3 and FB’s) form a wall designed to stop opposing team being able to play through. The front 3 press the defence to stop them having time to pick out a long ball over our midfield 5 and straight to their attackers who would attack our 2 CB’s. The tactically intelligent, incredibly fit, extremely reliable preferred 3 personify the teams requirements here. There are better midfielders in world football but few better suited to what Klopp requires.

Front 3 (you know who they are) play narrow ideally, or drift wide when they are facing a low block. Everyone knows the style, Firmino drops deep to try and drag a CB out. Mane and Salah make runs in behind where the defence is disorganised. It requires them to have lots of pace and Firmino to have great technical skills. When playing low block Firmino drifts into midfield far more while Salah and Mane play wider and look to get to the byline to cut balls back for someone in the box. They can all score splitting the defence’s attention, they work hard and offer variation, it must get extremely waring for the other team.

This tactical setup allows Liverpool enormous variation. They can go long from the CB’s or deep midfielders, and regularly do, using Mane/Salah’s speed in behind. They can play it through midfield with slow build up and intricate passing, they can go wide and whip crosses in from FB’s, they can counter with terrifying speed, they can attack the byline and cut it back and they can play it in to front 3’s feet and wait for some magic. The options are all there. The system seems simple but actually requires specific players to fit the very specific roles. There is exceptional balance. This took years, by the way, and Liverpool have improved at it. The evidence is there in no new signings in the summer but instead improving as a team and within their tactical structure, leading to improved results, even from the exceptionally high standards of last season.

That took more than an hour.

I promise that’s the last, I’m back to work next week…
Ed Ern

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