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Why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is Still the "Baby-Faced Assassin"

  • The manager version of the "Baby-Faced Assasin" sees Solksjaer getting rid of deadwood, raging at players, and playing mind games.
Tay Liang
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Modified 13 Mar 2020, 08:48 IST

Manchester United v AZ Alkmaar: Group L - UEFA Europa League
Manchester United v AZ Alkmaar: Group L - UEFA Europa League

Back in the late 90s, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was bestowed with the nickname - "Baby-Faced Assassin" because of of his killer instinct for goals despite his youthful face.

The Norwegian forward scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for Manchester United, not really killer figures but Solskjaer was also dubbed the super sub. Factor in that he made 150 of his 366 appearances as a substitute, and his 126 goals become more impressive.

There were some monumental goals too, including a Premier League record for most number of goals as a substitute. In the 1998/1999 season, Solskjaer came on in the 72nd minute against Nottingham Forest and scored 4 goals.

There was also the iconic 1999 Champions League final in Camp Nou. Solskjaer came on in the 81st minute against Bayern Munich and scored the dramatic winner that secured Manchester United's first European title in 30 years.

The Manchester United legend eventually became the caretaker manager in December 2018 and won his first eight games in charge. He went on to win 14 of his 19 games as caretaker manager before being appointed permanent manager.

A highlight of his stint as caretaker was the Champions League last 16 victory over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Manchester United were 0-2 down against PSG after the first leg in Old Trafford but went on to beat the french side 1-3 in Paris.

After masterminding that comeback victory, there were many calls for Solskjaer to be appointed permanent manager, and he was three weeks later.

Now 47-years-old, grey-haired, and almost a year in as the permanent manager of Manchester United, Solskjaer is still the "Baby-Faced Assassin". He may not score goals anymore but Solskjaer has shown that behind the mellow facade is a shrewd manager with a merciless side.

Selling the deadwood

Unlike his predecessor Jose Mourinho, Solskjaer rarely throws his players under the bus during press conferences. But this does not mean he does not expect standards.

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Since taking over as manager, he has not been afraid to ship out players he deemed a bad fit for the squad, including some big names and long-serving players.

Ashley Young was one of the longest-serving players in the squad and the captain of Manchester United before Solskjaer sold him in January.
Ashley Young was one of the longest-serving players in the squad and the captain of Manchester United before Solskjaer sold him in January.

Out

  1. Anders Herrera
  2. Marouane Fellaini
  3. Antonio Valencia
  4. Romelu Lukaku
  5. Matteo Darmian
  6. Ashley Young
  7. Alexis Sanchez (loan)
  8. Chris Smalling (loan)
  9. Marcos Rojo (loan)

Earlier last month, Solskjaer reaffirmed his rebuild project, and culture he is trying to set in the club.

“As I've said last week, three weeks ago, four weeks ago, five weeks ago - it's a rebuild. You had to tear the house down and you had to get players out that weren't here in their minds.

“We've got players here now who will go that extra yard, that culture I want to set, that's the Man United culture.

“I know we're not in the Sir Alex Ferguson era, but the players that we have, they have the right mentality and they're good personalities.

“That, for me, is the first tick. You don't stay here if you don't give everything to this team.” (via Standard)

On the other end, Solskjaer has brought in 5 players.

In

  1. Daniel James
  2. Aaron Wan-Bissaka
  3. Harry Maguire
  4. Bruno Fernandes
  5. Odion Ighalo
Bruno Fernandes has made an instant impact for Manchester United.
Bruno Fernandes has made an instant impact for Manchester United.

All 3 summer signings, James, Wan-Bissaka, and Harry Maguire have impressed this season.

Despite making the leap from the Championship, James has managed 3 goals and 7 assists this season.

Wan-Bissaka and Maguire have tightened the defence, and are key to Manchester United being second among European teams for cleans sheets kept this season.

January signing Bruno Fernandes has revitalised the Manchester United squad, seamlessly fitting into the team and becoming the heart of Manchester United's attacks. He already has 3 goals and 4 assists to his name. Odion Ighalo was a strange January deadline-day signing but the boyhood Manchester United fan has repaid Solskjaer's faith, netting 4 goals in 8 appearances, of which 5 he featured as a substitute.

As he continues this rebuild, Solskjaer has started to phase out players whom he once leaned on. The likes of Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira are seeing their gametime reduced.

At the end of January, Pereira had made the most appearances (33) of any Manchester United player. However, after the January window, he has only featured in 4 of Manchester United's 7 games, of which he either came on as a substitute or was substituted.

Lingard, on the other hand, was not even in the squad for the recent Manchester United derby, with Solskjaer preferring to have Ighalo, Juan Mata, and Mason Greenwood as attacking options on the bench.

There is a Devil inside

Former Manchester United player Robin Van Persie in January said that Solskjaer "needs to be more angry". That actually worked because in a rebut back, Solskjaer was as "angry" as we ever witnessed.

Here's how he responded.

Though Solskjaer may seem mellow in the media and often defends underperforming players, there are also moments the camera captured Solskjaer's ruthless side.

Here is Solskjaer when he laid the smackdown on Andreas Pereira when Manchester United faced Norwich City back in January.

Lingard was also at the end of Solskjaer's rage when he misplaced a pass in the Manchester derby League cup clash at the end of January.

You don't need to be a lip reader to know what Solskjaer is saying here.

More recently in the Manchester Derby, Solskjaer was visibly enraged by Daniel James. This was after the winger opted for a shot instead of squaring the ball for Bruno Fernandes who was in a better position. It was the second time James was through on goal and decided to opted for the shot.

As Solskjaer's term as manager goes on, there will surely be more of these moments.

You don't know what he is plotting

But perhaps the most unlikely trait of Solskjaer as a manager is his recent trickery when it comes to squad selection.

Solskjaer
Solskjaer

Against Manchester City last week, the squad that checked in to The Lowry Hotel, where the team stay before matches, was notably missing Maguire and Daniel James. In the previous game against Derby, Maguire had reportedly picked up a knock,

However, both Maguire and James went on to start against Manchester City. Both impacted the game with Maguire helping secure a clean sheet while James' tireless running saw him get behind Manchester City's defence several times.

This was not the first time that such an incident has happened. In the Premier League match against Everton earlier this month, Anthony Martial was similarly not with the squad that checked in to The Lowry Hotel. The forward had failed a scan in the previous game against Club Brugge. However, Martial eventually went on to start the match.

These surprise squad inclusions undoubtedly catch opponents off guard. This is increasingly becoming a feature of Solskjaer's version of managerial mind games.

While Solskjaer may seem mellow and positive in the media, what goes on behind the scenes is a different story. It is very likely Solskjaer is still the "Baby-faced Assassin".

Published 13 Mar 2020, 08:48 IST
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