Ex-Manchester United star Owen Hargreaves believes that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not get the credit he deserves for the job that he has done and continues to do at Old Trafford, citing both his record against other top managers and the culture he has created at the club.
Solskjaer - having led the club to improved Premier League finishes year on year, securing second place this season, as well as multiple semi-finals - now has the chance to win his first trophy as United boss in the upcoming Europa League final against Villarreal.
The Norwegian himself recently sparked a debate about whether cup trophies or long-term development are more important, but he has also previously spoken about his personal desire to win trophies because he buys into that winning mindset that has driven United for decades.
“It’s not one or the other,” Hargreaves tells 90min.
“You’re accustomed to winning. Fans are, players are, the history dictates that. Ole knows that. He’s won as a player and now he wants to win as a manager.
“The only reason you play for United is that you are a great player and you have certain talent. But the goal isn’t just to be a good team, it’s to be the best team. They can be the best team in the Europa League and that’s something. But the goal is to win this one and then go on and be the best team in the Premier League. They’ve improved this year in a lot of ways and even if you just look at it visually, they’re better on the eye and score more. Maybe they’re not as good defensively.”
Although still a cult legend from his playing career, Solskjaer was an unexpected appointment when he was hired, initially as an interim coach, to replace Jose Mourinho in December 2018. He had enjoyed managerial success in Norway and later endured a difficult spell at Cardiff but has had more than his fair share of criticism since he has been at the helm at Old Trafford.
Hargreaves sees that as unfair because of the positive impact he has had on United and his record against managers like Pep Guardiola or the aforementioned Mourinho. That will only serve Solskjaer and his team well against Unai Emery’s Villarreal in Gdansk.
“Ole has beaten some of the biggest managers in the game. I don’t think he gets enough credit, tactically. I don’t know why,” Hargreaves explains.
“Maybe it’s because he’s an ex-player or because he managed Cardiff and that didn’t go the way he wanted. But he’s shown he can put a game plan together and obviously against Emery with his experience in this competition and these finals, one-offs, it’s a big game for him. For Ole and United, they’ll be confident that if they play to their best, they are the favourites.”
One of the main tasks Solskjaer has had at United is building the kind cohesive winning culture that had arguably been lost over the course of the last few short-lived managerial regimes.
“I think maybe one thing that a lot of people haven’t noticed is that he’s surrounded himself with a lot of great guys, like him,” Hargreaves says.
“Michael Carrick (first-team coach), Darren Fletcher (technical director), super sound guys, football people that know the club. The recruitment that he’s trying to bring in players that are ‘team’ guys, because Ole is a ‘team’ guy. It’s nice to that and I think his man management has been really good because it feels like this United is closer than the ones in the past.
“It’s important to Ole. I don’t know because he didn’t tell me this, but looking at it, surrounding yourself with those guys is not a coincidence and I think he wanted to get that culture right.
"[Edinson] Cavani is another example of that. Forget the goals, just the presence the guy has, the way he plays, every time he plays he works hard. He presses from the front, he makes runs. You never watch Cavani and go, ‘Oh, he should do more’.
"Ole sees that. If you work hard, you’ll play. That culture is important."
BT Sport will show Manchester United vs Villarreal in the UEFA Europa League final live from 6:30pm on Wednesday 26th May. Whoever you watch the final with, watch it together with BT. For more info go to btsport.com/final