If there was any doubt left that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man for the job, a magical night in Paris seems to have burnished his claims further.
Football bloody hell. Sir Alex Ferguson’s immortal utterance, after Manchester United made the most remarkable of comebacks in 1999 to lift the Treble, resonated through Paris on a windy night where a rag-tag group of youngsters somehow stopped the PSG juggernaut, in the most ridiculous but remarkable fashion. There was an old-fashioned comeback.
Of course, the outsider argument is a little silly considering Manchester United is one of the richest clubs in the world, albeit one which seems to have lost its magic touch since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
But Ole Gunnar Solksjaer seems hell-bent on bringing the glory days back, and that too with an alacrity that is bordering on the absurd.
Make Pogba play like a World Cup winner again? Check.
Get the best out of talented Marcus Rashford? Check.
Get Anthony Martial to smile again? Check.
Get Romelu Lukaku firing on all cylinders? Check
Beat PSG eight academy graduates in the squad and a midfield of Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Fred? Check.
At this point, it looks he can walk on water and turn into wine as well.
Gary Neville summed it up the mood of the Man Utd faithful across the globe in the post-match interview when he asked the interim manager: “Ole Gunnar, I've got three very questions for you: How long you would you like on your contract? What would your salary be, and where would you like the statue?"
Bigger night than Turin
It was reminiscent of the remarkable comeback in Turin in 1999 when after going 2-0 down, Roy Keane dragged Manchester United back from the brink against Juventus. But this was different. That was a full-strength United squad with Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Jaap Stam and Peter Schmeichel, one of the greatest squads assembled in Europe.
On the other hand, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer beat PSG’s highly-paid superstars with a team missing Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Alexis Sanchez, Matteo Darmian and Anthony Valencia.
180 (missed calls) can’t understand the fuss? Some of us have been here before pic.twitter.com/xsbH1y5S2u— Mike Phelan (@Mike_Phelan_1) March 6, 2019
If the spirit of Turin was one of indomitable will, then the spirit of Paris was one of a vast cosmic comedy of errors and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United’s absolute inability to understand the concept of a lost cause.
This was less football match more Shakespeare meets Inspector Jacques Clouseau.
Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s magic seemed to have waned with the 2-0 dismantling at Old Trafford, a reality check that United had some way to go before they could dare to compete with Europe’s elite. But no one seemed to have told the interim manager.
Giving youth a chance
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad included 8 academy graduates- Tahith Chong, James Garner, Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood, Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Marcus Rashford and Brandon Williams. Manchester United finished the match with four of them on the field and some of them like Greenwood are actually due back in school on Friday.
The winner was scored by another academy graduate Marcus Rashford, who seemed to have ice in his veins as he stepped up and put the ball past Buffon, who made his debut long before Marcus Rashford was even conceived.
And for most moments a United win seemed highly unlikely. Never in the history of the Champions League (in 106 attempts), had an away team managed to overturn a 2-0 home deficit and win.
When the match started, Lukaku pounced on a mistake by Thilo Kehrer to open the scoring early on. Bernat equalised soon after, and for the next 30 minutes it looked like United were going to get a pasting.
For the first thirty minutes, United’s defence looked like it couldn’t make up its mind whether they were playing a 5-3-2 or 4-4-2 and PSG will consider themselves unlucky not to have scored more in that stage.
An injury to Eric Bailly (playing in the unfamiliar right-back role) meant that Diago Dalot (another youngster who is only 19), meant they could move to a proper 4-4-2 formation which at least looked less fragile.
Of course, history will forget that PSG were by far the better team over the two legs, but they have a way of contriving to lose the plot much like they did two years ago against Barcelona letting a 4-0 lead slip to lose 6-1 at the Nou Camp. Buffon, who seems to pick the Champions League for his biggest goof-ups was quite atrocious, particularly in dealing with that Rashford shot that allowed Lukaku his second.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s record so far is remarkable – played 17, won 14, lost 1, draw 2.
He is also the first Manchester United manager to win 9 away games in a row.
Till now, it appeared that he had simply drummed up the passion amongst a highly-talented group of players like Pogba, Herrera and Matic. But yesterday, he showed he was a miracle worker. Under Solskjaer, United has beat Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, drawn with Liverpool and now beaten PSG.
Unlike Mourinho, who a year earlier tried to sell the idea that United going out to Sevilla was the new normal, Solskajer talked up United before the match and refused to blame injuries and even talked up United’s chances of winning the Champions League: “Of course, we fancy ourselves that we can go all the way but we just have to wait for the draw and take the game as it comes now. We’ve had loads of injuries and suspensions but maybe that was a good thing today. It was a fresh team with loads of energy, and we knew we had to defend, be humble enough to work hard and we did that.”
At this moment, it doesn’t matter if United are knocked out in the next round or fail to make the top 4, because if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that he’s the man for the job. There can no longer be any debate about that. Ole’s at the wheel, Ed just give him the deal.