31. March 2021
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a crucial summer as he attempts to return Manchester United to the top of English football. Solskjaer has made enough progress in his two years as the club’s permanent manager to offer the Norwegian a new contract, but the time for him to truly succeed is fast approaching. In his own words, that means winning the Premier League title for the first time since 2013, or at least coming close to Manchester City, as they have done this season. Before that happens, there are key decisions Solskjaer needs to make this summer, including how he handles the transfer window and what he does with Pavel Pogba.
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Solution 1: Pogba’s contractual status
United’s biggest decision of the summer will revolve around Pogba, but it won’t just be down to Solskjaer. Pogba is facing the final year of his contract at Old Trafford and if his agent, Mino Raiola, is right, he will not sign a new deal. If that is the case, United can either sell in the summer or wait and risk losing the 28-year-old for 12 months for free.
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Glass owner and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has valued Pogba at over £150m in 2019. Although that amount is much lower now, you might wonder how Real Madrid or Juventus could afford a transfer fee and a salary of over £290,000 a week in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.
The third option is for United to make a strong offer to get a new contract for Pogba. Solskjaer has not given up hope that things could still work out, but there are concerns that Raiola’s terms – a hefty salary increase or even an exit clause – could be too big a stumbling block. Solskjaer has received praise for his leadership of Pogba, and the Frenchman’s form since January has shown that he would be a huge loss if he left.
Is the future of Paul Pogba and David de Gea at Manchester United in question? Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Solution 2: De Gea or Henderson?
Solskjaer did not have to hold on to Dean Henderson last summer, as many interested parties wanted to re-contract the defender, but he did so knowing that there would be a season of debate over who should be the No. 1. There is a feeling at the club that the uncertainty cannot last until next season.
Sources told ESPN that Henderson is considered the more complete goalkeeper because of his distribution and ability to catch and hit high balls, but he remains loyal to David De Gea because of what he has done over the past 10 years. Both have long contracts at Old Trafford and the consensus is that De Gea’s salary makes a transfer problematic.
Henderson is determined to play regular football and sources have told ESPN that several top European clubs have already shown interest. He was given the chance to prove himself last month when De Gea was unavailable, meaning the games in April will give a big indication of how Solskjaer feels with the Spaniard in his ranks.
Stuart Robson believes Manchester United have missed the opportunity to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a better manager.
Solution 3: Will Lingard stay or go?
Jesse Lingard barely made it into the team before he was loaned out to West Ham United in January, but over the past two months he has been one of the best players in the league. Five goals in seven games were enough for two Player of the Month nominations and a return to the England national team after a two-year absence.
The 28-year-old has just one year left on his contract this summer and Solskjaer will have to decide whether to offer him a new contract or let him be sold. Lingard thrived as a number 10 at West Ham, but is unlikely to replace Bruno Fernandes at United.
At his peak, he is desperate for regular football and will not settle for another role at Old Trafford. West Ham have already decided to sign Lingard permanently, but he will have plenty of offers to choose from if he moves.
Jesse Lingard is in good form at West Ham. Justin Tallis/PA Images via Getty Images
Solution 4: What should I spend my money on?
A pandemic of the coronavirus means there is little money in Europe and although the United States is not immune, there is enough money for everyone. The question for Solskjaer, director of football John Murtaugh, technical director Darren Fletcher and the recruitment department is where to place him. The bottom line is that United need a right-back, a central midfielder, a winger and a central striker, but it is unrealistic to expect all these problems to be solved before the start of next season.
Solskjaer will have to decide where his priorities lie, while the decisions will also depend on who leaves. The striker’s contract becomes even more important if Edinson Cavani does not renew his contract. Developing young players is a key part of Solskjaer’s philosophy at Old Trafford, but that has to be balanced with winning games in the short term, which means there are not always enough opportunities for young players. Expectations are high for Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri, but they may need to be loaned out to find the football they need to develop further.
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