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Will Manchester United go Double Dutch?

Whoever succeeds Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will inherit a hollow and lost group of players, writes ROB HUGHES.

Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar and coach Erik ten Hag fist bump before a match. Photo: Laurens Lindhout/ Soccrates/Getty Images

Towards the end, watching Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United was like witnessing a puppy being publicly flogged. Except that no pooch limps away with compensation from a three-year, multi-million-pound contract like Solskjaer’s, awarded just a few months ago.

England’s Premier League is the richest in the world, but it’s the poorest regulated. And with that wealth, emanating from foreign states and overseas owners who would struggle to pass the fit-andproper-person examination in most other industries, comes a breathtaking lack of faith.

Solskjaer was United to his boots. Everyone likes Ole. There’s not a nasty bone in his body, not an ounce of insincerity in his mind. That is his strength and it was his downfall. Too nice to command a dressingroom where egos rise higher than team ethos. Too deferential to tell the owners in Florida, or clueless accountant Ed Woodward in Manchester, that the team has to come before pounds or dollars or whatever currency lures modern football mercenaries to England.

Solskjaer was the fourth manager hired and fired since Sir Alex Ferguson finally retired eight years ago. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho, Solskjaer. Managers passing through and being paid off while the Americans in Miami trusted Woodward to take a billiondollar dip into the global pond of playing talents.

Would David Gill, the chief executive allowed to vacate his role at the same time that Ferguson ended his 27-year managerial reign, have thought twice about bringing the spent cartridge of Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford as Woodward did this autumn?

Cristiano is still the scorer of precious goals. But he is no team player, an athlete on the wane hanging around the goalmouth waiting to strike, and brooding like a spoilt child when the other ninetenths of the outfield players fail.

At the other end of the field, goalkeeper David de Gea, whose loss of form was hugely indulged by Solskjaer last season, possibly put the boot into his manager when he said last weekend that the team simply did not know what to do with the ball.

That and the captain, Harry Maguire, getting himself sent off for lumbering ineptitude in the field.

Overpowered by Liverpool, outclassed by Manchester City, and, finally, shockingly defeated by Watford, the buck always stops with the manager. But the players on the pitch were a spineless bunch, seemingly incapable of believing in one another, let alone playing for the badge or the manager.

Whoever succeeds Solskjaer will inherit that hollow group of players, who finished second in the league last summer but have descended to looking like lost orphans this season.

Five defeats in seven games cost the manager his job – you’d get that outcome anywhere in that world.

In Brazil, they call it the “Carousel of the Coaches”. In England, the managerial cull is usually a Christmas tradition but as the price of failure rises, and as club owners become ever more remote, there have now been managerial sackings at six of the 20 Premier League clubs even before a third of the season is run — at Watford, Spurs, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Norwich and now United.

Next into Old Trafford’s ejector seat could be Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint Germain), Erik ten Hag (Ajax) or Zinedine Zidane (formerly of Real Madrid).

All of them will swear in public that they are committed to their current employers, but United’s owners, the Glazer family, nevertheless tell themselves that theirs is the greatest club on Earth.

Woodward, who appointed the succession of managers in Ferguson’s wake and has made so many misjudgments in player purchases, was right in one way when he hired Solskjaer three years ago. The club needed an internal, as well as a public, detoxification after the soured way that José Mourinho upset the dressing room by projecting his own image first.

Ole did the opposite.

Woodward, who knows a lot about making money but next to nothing about players or team harmony, will doubtless be trusted by the Glazers to replace his own appointment for the fifth and final time – assuming Woodward carries through his declaration that he will vacate his role at the end of this season. By then, it is certain, United will not have won the Premier League or probably any other trophy.

There is one possible opportunity for the Glazers to rescue their milch cow: by making two appointments simultaneously. Ten Hag is the head coach at Ajax, a club which, like the United of old, nurtured the bulk of players in their academy and bought judiciously.

Ten Hag is exactly what it says on his job description: the coach. His boss is Edwin van der Sar. The former United goalkeeper is now the Ajax chief executive. He studied accountancy but has a real inner knowledge of dressing-room culture and how to build a football club.

Van der Sar, twice a winner of the Champions League, with Ajax in 1995 and United in 2008, knows the inner workings of Old Trafford from the Ferguson days. Anyone who listens to him knows he has a grasp of how football works, or should work, from the boardroom down.

Ten Hag played as a journeyman defender in the Netherlands, then cut his teeth as a coach in Munich between 2013 and 2015 when Bayern decided they needed to grow their own players – in the fashion of Ajax and the old United.

The Rinus Michels-Johan Cruyff school of coaching and managing could not fare worse than the postFerguson nightmare at Old Trafford.

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