Gary Neville says Ole Gunnar Solskjær has “rebuilt the soul” of Manchester United but admits the time had come for the club to replace his former teammate and believes Mauricio Pochettino is the ideal long-term candidate.
United parted company with their 1999 treble hero in the wake of their 4-1 defeat at Watford and have put Michael Carrick in temporary charge while the club look to appoint an interim manager to the end of the season. The decision comes at the end of a torrid run of results for United under Solskjær, the club great who himself took over on an interim basis in December 2018 after the sacking of José Mourinho.
Neville told Sky Sports: “Ole will reflect with sadness, but he can be proud of the work he did in the first two years. He rebuilt the soul of the club, the club was in a dark place at the end of the José Mourinho era.
“Ole can’t complain, he’s been given three years, he’s been backed in the transfer market. David Moyes was given eight months and kicked out, so I don’t think Ole can complain about the time he’s been given and the money he’s been afforded.”
The former United full-back believes Solskjær’s departure had become inevitable. “It’s been coming for the past few weeks, performance terrible and results shocking. Yesterday was wimpish at Watford,” Neville added. “You’re always hoping the players would respond, that the two-week international break would bring some freshness but it looked like they had the world on their shoulders, their performance levels over the last few weeks have dipped.
“When a manager can’t get a performance out of his players and results are getting as bad as they are, in this game you’re going to lose your job. The worst thing is the performances, the team have looked all over the place. Yesterday, the highlights, some of the goals, the defending is absolutely woeful, the goalkeeper and defenders and that’s a back four, five that have played together a number of times.
“They’ve looked rudderless on and off the pitch and it’s caught everyone by surprise. When [Cristiano] Ronaldo signed no one thought this was going to happen. A couple of weeks ago I thought getting to the end of the season was the right thing to do if they could, they obviously haven’t been able to do that.”
Neville does not believe there is an obvious candidate available to replace Solskjær and is not surprised the club are looking for an interim manager. He also feels the club might hope Paris Saint-Germain manager Pochettino comes on to the market.
“They are waiting on Mauricio Pochettino not being successful at another club. If he was to win the Champions League, then PSG wouldn’t let him go,” Neville added. “He’s always been a stand-out candidate and the only name I’ve mentioned as someone I thought really suited Manchester United in terms of core principles and values and how they play, how he acts and behaves.
“If there was a world-class manager sat on the shelf ready to go two or three weeks ago, I think Ole would have been gone by now. People will say ‘Antonio Conte has gone to Tottenham’. He was never coming to Manchester United. This board were never going to appoint him. I don’t think he’d have been a fit for Manchester United and I don’t think there is one at this moment in time, so they have to get someone in temporarily until someone becomes available.”
The former United defender Rio Ferdinand told BT Sport: “This has been inevitable, the way the team has kind of gone backwards since the start of the season after a very excitable transfer window with some big names coming in. [I’m] disappointed obviously in the way the team has performed. It is unfortunate for someone like Ole but it is the way football goes, it is a cut-throat industry and if things aren’t going according to plan, big decisions are made.”
Peter Schmeichel, who won the treble alongside Solskjær in 1999, said the Norwegian did a “great” job in difficult circumstances but says United have to get their next appointment right. “It is a very sad day,” the Danish goalkeeper told Sky Sports News. “It’s the fourth time we have to sack a manager [since Alex Ferguson retired] so clearly something is not going right at the club. Hopefully, the fifth time we get the right person in to get the club organised in the right way.”