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Solskjaer, Phelan & Man Utd: Why can't this be a long-term thing?

COMMENT: So why can't he? That's what they're asking in Norway today. As are many of his former teammates at Manchester United. And, no doubt, so is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Just why can't the new caretaker manager turn this chance into a long-term thing?

Many do say a manager is only as good as the resources available. And if that's true, then why can't Solskjaer take what he has learned and achieved in Norwegian football and apply it to United? And do it with the panache and style of the United managers of the past? Not just Fergie. But also Big Ron and The Doc?

Okay, okay, the Eliteserien isn't exactly the Premier League. But it's all relative. And what Solskjaer has achieved with Molde deserves some genuine recognition. It wasn't the stuff of Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City, but in relative terms it's pretty close.

Molde have achieved three top-flight titles in their 107 year-old history. And two of the three were won under Solskjaer. The former United striker ending the domination of Rosenborg in the process - and with a far smaller budget.

Now 45 and with seven years of top-flight management experience behind him - including that spell at Cardiff City - Solskjaer has kicked things off at United on the right foot.

The decision to add Mike Phelan to the backroom staff cannot be underplayed. Like Solskjaer, Phelan knows the club inside-out. He knows the majority of the staff. And most importantly, he knows what is required from not only an assistant manager - but an assistant manager at Manchester United. Such experience should never be underestimated.

Indeed, while to this day David Moyes believes he would've turned things around at United if given the time, he does admit one regret: dumping Sir Alex Ferguson's long time No2.

"Looking back, Mike Phelan would have been a really strong person to have kept at the club," Moyes now says, "I think it is something I would have looked at differently.

"It was tough to dispense with him because I understood how important he had been and the good work he had done."

Today, five years on, Phelan is back - thanks to the foresight of Solskjaer. The first significant decision of his tenure a major, major positive step.

But it's another decision that looms ahead of Saturday's restart which offers Solskjaer the opportunity to really make us all stand up and take notice: Does he start Paul Pogba against Cardiff?

The good money is on the affirmative. The No6 will be on the starting XI team sheet. A "clean slate", was what Solskjaer mentioned in his first interview as United manager on Thursday. But there was a rider with that.

"Of course you look at a couple of performances," said Solskjaer, "I've seen the last few games, but you look at the merits, you look at the team, you pick a team now and you move on; they'll all get chances."

So does that merit include the players' behaviour this week? Both inside Carrington and in cyberspace? For the moment, the word is no. Pogba will start at Old Trafford on Saturday.

But for what it's worth, this column would argue Solskjaer would be making a better statement by starting Pogba from the bench. The ridiculous social media post in the aftermath of Jose Mourinho's dismissal was bad enough. To then force coach and former teammate Michael Carrick to pull him up inside Carrington as he boasted about his role in his former manager's demise was even worse.

By benching him, Solskjaer would be reinforcing Carrick's words to Pogba. No-one is bigger than the club and his behaviour this week was unbecoming of a United player. This would be the new manager putting Manchester United and it's reputation first. Unlike with Mourinho, none of the ex-players nor Pogba apologists in the media could accuse Solskjaer of making things personal. There's a way to behave. To lead. And Pogba failed miserably on both counts this week.

As did Adidas - again - in their work with Pogba. Arguing that it was a "scheduled post" just doesn't cut it. It could've been deleted before making it's way to the public. Adidas and Pogba did the same thing earlier this season when reacting to criticism from Paul Scholes. These ad execs no doubt believe they're clever weaving real life events into their campaigns. But this is coming at the expense of the club and it's relationship with fans and identities. Ed Woodward, United's vice-chairman exec, should've called out Adidas over the Scholes controversy. Now it's happened a second time. And again the club's reputation suffers.

Such things are out of Solskjaer's hands. But they'll become an issue for him unless Woodward recognises the problem and acts.

For now, it's that first team selection which he'll be working through today. A first Manchester United team sheet which will carry his signature. For how many more, is anyone's guess. But if he can keep making the right decisions, then why can't Solskjaer make this a long-term thing?

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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