The first thing to say is that this column really would have outlined the same argument even if Manchester United had cantered to a 4-0 win at Molineux on Saturday. For just as the avalanche of ‘give it to him now’ arguments were flawed in the immediate aftermath of the thrilling but still fortuitous victory over Paris St Germain earlier this month, it would be ludicrous to now base any judgments on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s suitability to become Manchester United manager permanently on a first sequence of back-to-back defeats.
But the bottom line persists. Short perhaps of winning the Champions League - and even then there should be a long debate - there is little that Solskjaer can realistically do between now and the end of the season that would make him a superior overall candidate than Mauricio Pochettino.
Yes, Solskjaer has brilliantly injected a feelgood factor that has lifted United from the miserable shadow that Jose Mourinho had come to cast. And yes, he seems to connect well with already wealthy and established young footballers. Paul Ince’s suggestion that other past club legends could have done the same job is patently flawed. Solskjaer has also made a compelling case to be seriously considered if Pochettino does not want to leave Tottenham or his chairman Daniel Levy simply made negotiations impossible. But none of this makes him better equipped for the longer-term challenge that awaits at United and the desperate need for the club to find an identity that is wedded to rather more than the board’s latest impulse.
The big job is to start recruiting and developing young talent we have currently never heard of. It is to mould what are now little more than prospects into world-class talent. It is to instil standards, levels of fitness and a style of play that endures. It is to renew and, where necessary, ruthlessly discard. Put simply, it is to reestablish the sort of deep-rooted culture that will underpin not just an initial surge of momentum but the foundation for Manchester United to get back to where they belong in consistently presenting the main domestic challenge to Manchester City and a serial Champions League contender.
This is what both their history and vast resources demand. Would Solskjaer deliver any of this over a sustained period? Maybe, but we don’t really know because the job he has been doing so well for the last three months has been something very different.
There are of course no guarantees with Pochettino but every shred of available evidence since he arrived in the Premier League six years ago provides more certainty. He collectively made both Southampton and Tottenham so much more than the sum of their individual parts and, while a small asterisk may persist over the lack of a trophy, it is a minor point in the wider context of their progress.
The cost of potentially getting Pochettino out of Tottenham where he has a contract until 2023 is of course significant but an estimated £42 million compensation bill would surely still represents value in the context of some of United’s on-field spending.
In any case, as Chelsea and Southampton respectively discovered when they formalised the appointments of Roberto di Matteo and Mark Hughes on the basis of a short-term bounce, the easy decision can also come with significant financial pain.
And, with Tottenham also in the Champions League quarter-final and three points ahead of Manchester United in the Premier League on a fraction of the budget, the wider context is surely clear. Pochettino was the best choice when United mistakenly opted for Mourinho back in 2016 and nothing much has changed.
Moment of the weekend
OK, three goals in the last 21 minutes was impressive by Manchester City but what made the FA Cup tie was Swansea’s wonderful first-half performance and 2-0 lead. And the breathtaking moment that summed all that up was Bersant Celina’s memorable finish to a brilliant team goal.
THIS. IS. INCREDIBLE! ��— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 16, 2019
Swansea are two goals up on Man City and they've just passed them off the pitch!
Bersant Celina with a beautiful finish against his old club �� pic.twitter.com/yh0SSswx2H
Good weekend for...
Wayne Rooney. Made headlines in December when he was arrested for “public intoxication” - something that was later blamed on mixing sleeping pills with alcohol on a flight - but was back to doing what he still does best on Saturday night: a hat-trick in DC Washington’s 5-0 win against Real Salt Lake.
Bad weekend for...
The premise for VAR is simple. Perfect decision-making will never exist but replays do improve the possibility of justice. That some lower league grounds cannot facilitate VAR explains why there was nothing wrong with its inconsistent use during this season’s FA Cup. The really daft decision was to then not use it in those grounds, like Swansea's, who have the facilities to use it.