For once Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his lines wrong. He was just one word short but it was an important one. ‘It’s this club,’ he said in Paris on Wednesday night. ‘This is what we do.’
But for five-and-a-half years, this is not what United did at all. Late goals, drama, racing pulses and thumping hearts.
No, that was not the United of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho. During half a decade of flatline football, United did not do that.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has got hearts thumping once more for Manchester United
And now they do. Now, under Solskjaer, they do. Again. And that was the missing word. That is what Solskjaer has brought back to his club.
The interim manager — a title no longer really applicable — has reintroduced United to what they used to be. So this is indeed what they do. Again.
Brought to Old Trafford last December to babysit a fretful dressing room after Storm Mourinho’s passing, Solskjaer has done much more. The 46-year-old has demonstrated man-management skills few suspected he possessed.
The impact of his methods on a squad torn apart by the recklessness of his predecessor has been profound and has served to remind us that, in an age of statistics, tactical psychobabble and analysis overload, the deftness of a coach’s touch remains the most important and unquantifiable variable of all.
Executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward (L), is yet to decide who will take the job permanently
This will now earn Solskjaer the job for the long term. Ed Woodward, the United executive vice-chairman, is not a romantic man but to fly in the face of player and public opinion — and indeed a run of results that has advanced the club in two cup competitions and placed it top of the Premier League form table — would be almost reckless.
The appointment comes with risk attached, though, and this is what makes it so intriguing. As strange as it may sound to United diehards, there is still a strong case for pursuing Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino.
Over his years in the game, the Argentine has ticked most boxes of the modern manager’s mandate. Solskjaer has not.
There is much more to Premier League management than picking up someone else’s team, getting it rolling and seeing how far the wind takes you. Solskjaer’s impact on his players has been deep but he has had a free hit.
There is still a strong case for pursuing Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino
It will not be that way once the team become his next season. So abandoning interest in Pochettino is a big call, even if the delirium of a spring night in Paris has made it feel less so.
In the wake of the stunning win over PSG, there has been some hyperbole. Many have suggested United’s 3-1 win represented one of the club’s greatest European away performances.
It was many things, but it was not that. It was one of the most memorable. One of the most dramatic and spirited. But in terms of United’s truly great European shows, they are filed away in a completely different box.
The best United teams dominated games and teams. This is not yet a United team equipped to do that. The win came on the back of hard work and fortune. PSG were the better team by a mile — and they lost. Thankfully, it happens.
This is not yet a United team equipped to dominate teams like the United sides of old
United’s victory was wonderful but let’s not paint it a different colour in our minds. PSG had chances to win by more than 2-0 at Old Trafford and fluffed them. Similarly, they fell over their own feet in Paris.
But would the United team of the first half of the season have taken advantage of the sliver of opportunity offered them? Of course not. This has been the magic of Solskjaer.
He has freed up United minds and rebuilt confidence. A United player no longer sees a forward pass or movement as a risk; now it is an opportunity, an historical obligation.
So that is where the beauty of the Norwegian’s methods are to be found. Under Mourinho, Marcus Rashford had started to wonder if his future maybe lay at another club. Now he does not think that. This is the Solskjaer effect.
As for the next part, who knows? United do not know. They cannot possibly know.
Solskjaer has given Marcus Rashford the confidence to start performing again in front of goal
Prior to this year, their manager-elect had nothing on his c.v to tell them he was ready to lead the club on the long road back to the levels of excellence and depth currently exhibited by Manchester City and Liverpool.
But that is one of the beauties of sport. Sometimes, you just have to go with that you see, follow what you feel.
Solskjaer’s joyride has already been unforgettable. His sales pitch has been flawless. The big job is now his and it is impossible to say it is the wrong call.