Why Man United’s hiring of Solskjaer is a warning to all other clubs

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When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job as Manchester United manager was made permanent in March, almost everyone involved with the club was pleased. The Norwegian, a United legend as a player, had won his first six league games in charge and then remained unbeaten for six more. I won’t embarrass certain pundits by name, but they explained that this brief run showed that Solskjaer had imbibed the club’s spirit as a player at Alex Ferguson’s knee, and that he was a worker and fighter who “understood” — in a way that his predecessor Jose Mourinho apparently couldn’t — United’s tradition of attacking football.
United’s players also liked Solskjaer’s relaxation of Mourinho’s tight controls while Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman, was delighted to make the popular appointment, which got the phalanx of Solskjaer’s former teammates-turned-pundits off his back. Yet United have faltered almost since the day the appointment was made. Nine games into the season, they stand just two points above the Premier League’s relegation zone. But in fact, the appointment was wrongheaded even when Woodward made it.
It’s a statistical truth that having been a good footballer does not make you a good manager. When Woodward gets around to choosing Solskjaer’s successor, he’ll need a different method. In fact, he should learn from last season’s sensations in the Champions League, Ajax Amsterdam.
The classic managerial appointment in football is a white, male, former high-level player with a conservative haircut aged between 35 and 60. Clubs know that if they choose someone with that profile, they won’t be blamed too much even if the appointment turns out to be terrible because at least they will have failed in the traditional way. Yet there never has been any evidence to support the appointment of former high-level players.
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Way back in 1995, Stefan Szymanski, my co-author on Soccernomics, carried out a study of 209 managers in English football from 1974 to 1994, looking at which ones consistently finished higher in the league than their teams’ wage bills predicted. “I l

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