Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had teetered on the brink many times before, but this time it was a step too far for Manchester United, and now he’s gone.
Time and again beforehand, a mixture of forces would rally to lift him out of the abyss, whether it was his own players, his former teammates turned experts, or the hierarchy of the club. This time, however, it was deserted.
Saturday’s 4-1 embarrassment at the hands of Watford hurt the Norwegian hopelessly, and after post-game crisis talks, and the night to sleep, the club’s hierarchy decided enough is enough.
Of course, it is not this isolated result that caused the Glazers, the owners of Manchester United, to speak with CEO Ed Woodward about the immediate future of the man in charge.
There has been criticism of Solskjaer’s United team since he took over temporarily in December 2018 following the end of José Mourinho’s ill-fated tenure in charge at Old Trafford.
The striking results and wave after wave of nostalgia regularly ignited a factor of well-being that had been extinguished with the presence of the Portuguese chief. But underneath, the foundations were shaky.
Here, Sportsmail looks at five areas where the 48-year-old’s tenure failed and the factors that ultimately led to his demise.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at United has come to an embarrassing end after three years
Constant tactical questioning
It was always going to be a notable difference to go from José Mourinho to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Mourinho is one of the great tacticians of his generation, with a clear identity and style of play. He likes that his side keep the ball, he likes that they dominate by being strong in the back … and he likes that they win.
That was not enough for United fans, who, when victories abandoned the team, were left with a type of football that they did not like, or actually liked.
That way, any type of football with a puff of offensive intent was going to win over fans in the short term, which is exactly what Solskjaer was able to do to turn his goalkeeping role into a permanent one.
His counterattack style caught opponents off guard and sparked some memorable nights, most notably in Paris in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
United have had to get used to being left behind with Solskjaer; They did it 17 times last season.
But results such as the aggregate victory over PSG only served to cover the lack of a cohesive style that could be implemented regularly.
Swashbuckling comebacks became the norm, rather than dominating matches. No club scored more points for losing positions in the Premier League last season, with United racking up 31 points after falling behind. They fell behind in 17 of their 38 games.
That has continued this season, seven times in just 12 league games to date. For comparison, Chelsea have fallen behind only once, Liverpool and Manchester City twice each.
Solskjaer’s stars used to pull the team out of those holes. That no longer seemed to be the case.
A real lack of leadership
Solskjaer knows very well the importance of leaders in a dressing room. He was surrounded by them as he lifted title after title at United as a player.
However, looking around the Old Trafford dressing room now is a different story.
There is no doubt that there are players in the current United team who are keen to win: Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane have shown it with their team that they have lifted the World Cup – and more recently the Nations League – with France.
But at United, the Norwegian has never found a cohesive group of reliable players he can trust to set an example on the field.
Saturday served as a microcosm for the problems Solskjaer has had with his older stars that disappointed him, making clear Bruno Fernandes gestures after the match, urging fans to blame the underperforming players as well as the coach. .
Paul Pogba’s red card last month served as evidence of United’s real lack of leadership.
Bruno Fernandes insisted on asking the fans to blame the players and the boss.
Wearing the captain’s armband, Harry Maguire was sadly guilty of the second goal against Liverpool, and his red card against Watford once again showed the bad side of his game.
Against Liverpool, Pogba was expected to come in from the bench to regain some composure for the team, but proceeded to miss on the fifth goal before being sent off for a savage two-footed lunge.
When the more experienced and influential players on your side put up these kinds of displays, the hot seat can feel like a very lonely place.
It’s also not something to be missed for Solskjaer’s former teammates. Roy Keane was a prominent leader in Sir Alex Ferguson’s locker room and his assessment has often been damning.
“I don’t see any leaders out there,” Keane told Sky Sports a year ago. In truth, that still rings true 12 months later.
No cohesive transfer policy
Solskjaer inherited a squad that needed improvement, which cannot be questioned. On an individual level, it is fair to say that it has done so for the past three years.
And yet everything has felt a bit messy with Solskjaer and United. The criticism leveled at outgoing CEO Ed Woodward is testament to a period when bargaining and recruiting have not been stronger.
United have missed the main goals, brought the wrong ones and had to wait an inordinate amount of time to get the right one.
Not recruiting the players he wanted has seriously undermined the Norwegian, and no saga demonstrates this more clearly than the inability to secure the services of Erling Haaland.
Donny van de Beek’s failure has highlighted United’s difficulty in transfers in recent years
Solskjaer did his best to get his compatriot, quickly emerging as the next great striking talent in the world game. United failed to do so and as a result headed to Germany.
That left Solskjaer and United looking for more firepower, and a series of short-term arrangements have been put in place, the latest snap decision to give in to the irresistible lure of a Cristiano Ronaldo reunion.
There have been other problems as well. Donny van de Beek hasn’t been the player United thought they were getting to shore up their midfield woes. The persecution of Jadon Sancho lasted more than 12 months longer than it should have.
It has left Solskjaer without the proper tools and is the clearest example of how the fate of a manager is never always in his own hands.
Undermined by the power of the player
When you manage a great club, you have to manage great characters. Solskjaer has taken care of them all his life, but it is easier as a player than as a coach.
He wasn’t the most vociferous in the United locker room as a player. Now it is not. Used to a small part and content with his role at United as someone who could impact a game from the start, he was never a main man.
So his ability to deal with those who consider themselves the center of the United universe has been fascinating.
While some have continued to defend their coach, Luke Shaw explained that players were to blame for the Liverpool debacle and Fernandes did the same at Watford, others have not been too quick to celebrate his advice.
After the recent loss to Leicester City, Paul Pogba took the opportunity during his interview with the BBC to publicly question his coach’s tactics.
The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo barking instructions was not a good look for Solskjaer
It was an awkward situation, but one that underscores the stark reality. Pogba felt he could, without significant repercussions.
While the player is in the last 12 months of his contract with United, it is not worth risking an extended period in the cold. Of course, the Frenchman was sure that this would not be the case.
Solskjaer is very nice, but that doesn’t get you to places in football. He lacks a ruthless streak and United’s hot seat has never felt like his.
At no point was that more evident than the Young Boys’ defeat in Switzerland, where they allowed themselves to share their technical area with Cristiano Ronaldo.
The scene was questioned by the former captain of the Rio Ferdinand club, and with good reason. It was clear who had the authority in that situation. It is clear who has the authority now.
That first elusive trophy
There is a feeling that all the pressure on the Manchester United manager’s shoulders would have been relieved by the presence of any additions to the trophy cabinet.
Instead, the absence of silverware became another weight, another club with which to beat Solskjaer.
His description as almost a man was a hard pill to swallow, a series of semi-final appearances that produced the same result every time: defeat and despair.
Four came and went, two in the Carabao Cup, one in the FA Cup and one in the Europa League. United watched as Manchester City, Chelsea and Sevilla claimed their place in the final.
United lost on penalties in the Europa League final, to a team they should have beaten
However, it seemed like a different story last April. United rose to the occasion against Roma in the Europa League, producing an impressive 6-2 victory in the first leg that almost guaranteed a place in the final.
There they met Villarreal, a team that posed little to fear. However, United relented and fell in a penalty shootout loss.
United needs a winner. There is a very credible argument that other managers would have won the game with the same resources and this belief now fuels the desire to reach for a new broom.