Within hours of Manchester United announcing the sacking of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the hashtag ‘ThankYouOle’ started trending.
It was yet another reminder that, despite disappointing results, the club as a global brand seems to be as strong as ever, continuing to boast a social media following that is the envy of many sports entities worldwide.
No club in the Premier League, for instance, can come close to matching United’s Twitter following of 28.5 million people – league leader Chelsea comes closest with almost 10 million less.
But winning the social media race will offer fans little consolation, with Solskjaer’s departure coming at a time when the club is falling further behind its rivals on the pitch.
Last year’s runner-up is currently languishing in eighth after four losses in its last five league games and the team, particularly the defense, looks short of organization and structure.
Following a humiliating 4-1 defeat against Watford in Solskjaer’s last game on Sunday, United goalkeeper David de Gea summed it up by saying: “We don’t know what to do with the ball, we are conceding a lot of goals. It’s a horrible moment.”
Solskjaer was hired to bring the good times back to Old Trafford and, at times, he did so.
Performances this season have also looked particularly poor, with recent defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool demonstrating the growing gap in quality between United and those realistically challenging for the title.
In his first two seasons in charge, the manager could explain poor results away as the club being in a rebuilding process, but this season was different.
The board had backed Solskjaer in the transfer market with the signings of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo, and there was simply no room for excuses when you had a squad bubbling over with elite talent.
No one within the club has publicly questioned Solskjaer’s sincerity – Ronaldo himself called his former manager an “outstanding human being” in a post on social media Monday – but many have questioned his ability to coach at the highest level.
The job for the next boss is getting a tune out of a team of world class individuals.
“I think there is potential in this club. We all love the club, and we all want to see it continue,” Solskjaer said in his goodbye interview with the club, a video which attracted over 3.9 million views on Twitter.
As has been the case for United’s hierarchy since the departure of Alex Ferguson in 2013, there seems to be little planned for life after the last manager.
The club announced that Michael Carrick, Solskjaer’s right-hand man who has never taken charge of a Premier League game in his life, will fill in until an interim manager takes over until the end of the season.
No one can deny Carrick was a brilliant player for the club, but questions remain on whether he can bring anything different to the table given his heavy involvement in Solskjaer’s term.
The timing of this decision has hardly been great either, with many of the game’s top coaches already in jobs.
United decided to sack Solskjaer almost three weeks after Antonio Conte, a potential replacement, was signed by Tottenham Hotspur.
Ex-Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and current PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino are being rumored as full-time replacements but United still has to navigate a tricky season with qualification to next year’s Champions League looking like an uphill struggle – failure to do so will be a huge blow both on and off the pitch.
‘They’ve been caught out again’
From the club’s board down to the coaching staff, organization of the team has been far below expectations and those at the very top don’t appear to have learned a lesson from previous failings.
The Glazer owners and departing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward have been accused of not caring enough about performances on the pitch, and they have once again been criticized for not having a plan in place.
“I don’t really want to stick the knife in today to the club’s owners and the club’s hierarchy but you have to ask serious questions. I’ve had enough of it,” former United player Gary Neville told Sky Sports.
“I think the club is run, on a business side, okay but I think culturally and from the point of view of football decision-making, it leaves a lot to be desired.
“They’ve been caught out again, they’ve been caught out in the last few weeks, they’ve not known what to do.”
According to the Financial Times, the club aims to return to pre-pandemic annual revenues of more than $800m and, no doubt, its social media following will continue to grow.
But until United is back challenging for trophies again, fans will continue to put pressure on the club’s hierarchy who will hope to avoid yet another embarrassing episode in what has been a turbulent period in the club’s history.