Sir Alex Ferguson questioned the wisdom of Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s decision to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench against Everton on Saturday
Sir Alex Ferguson’s criticism of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer underlined just how hard it is managing in the shadow of Manchester United’s greatest boss.
Ferguson may have been caught off guard, questioning the wisdom of Solskajer’s decision to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench against Everton, but his words show just how much pressure Solskjaer is under.
When Ferguson, Solskajer’s former boss and mentor, whom the current United manager still refers to as “the gaffer”, starts to doubt your judgment, you know you are sliding towards trouble.
David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all trodden the same path as Solskjaer and know what he is experiencing, with all three ultimately finding the United job impossible to conquer.
Ferguson and his formidable achievements have, in many ways, made the Old Trafford job a poisoned chalice, rather than a privilege, because it has become a thankless task trying to live up to his peerless success.
The international break will have come as a welcome relief for Solskjaer, who headed into it with one win in four games, that dismal return emboldening those who believe the 48-year-old is not up to managing United.
After the break, Solskjaer faces 10 games in 46 days that will surely determine his future, despite the lucrative new three-year contract he was awarded in the summer suggesting his position is free from danger.
United face their three immediate Premier League title rivals in Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as tricky encounters against Leicester, Tottenham, Watford and a resurgent Arsenal.
They also face a double-header against Atalanta and a tough trip to Villarreal, who beat them in last season’s Europa League final and against whom they needed a 95th-minute winner in the Champions League last week.
Ferguson’s criticism of Solskjaer, exposed in conversation caught on film in the Old Trafford directors’ lounge, was as bad as it gets, but other high-profile figures have lambasted Solskjaer for leaving Ronaldo out of his side against Everton.
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand, in his role as a pundit for BT Sport, said: “Cristiano has five goals in five, he’s in a rich vein of form. Would you see other people take out their top scorer out of a game?”
Ian Wright, speaking on Match of the Day, echoed Ferdinand and said he was unsurprised Ronaldo headed straight down the tunnel, muttering his displeasure for all to see, after the 1-1 draw with Everton.
“When you’ve got Ronaldo, you have to build and structure the team around him, so it can work for him,” said Wright.
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“If you’ve git him in your team, a match-winner, and you can’t set it up for him to be playing in there to do what he does, it’s ever likely he’s going to walk off the pitch like he has.”
Despite the season-on-season progress he has enjoyed in his first two full campaigns in charge, finishing third and second, Solskjaer acknowledged last week that he is in “a results business” and it is on that basis he will ultimately be judged.
While the United hierarchy’s public stance is that they continue to have complete faith in Solskjaer, Ferguson’s comments suggest that is not a view shared by the entire football board, of which he is an influential member.
Ferguson, 79, may have retired eight years ago, but he still wields great influence behind the scenes at United, as his central role in the re-signing of Ronaldo proved.
Against that backdrop, Solskjaer must hope he does not give his former boss cause for any more verbal slip-ups in the weeks ahead, or it could spell the end of his time in charge of United.