From the moment he took the reins at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s remit was a clear one: restore the trophy-laden glory days of the not-so-distant past.
A trophy of any kind would have sufficed in the Norwegian’s first two seasons in charge but, after arguably United’s most successful transfer window of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, have expectation levels increased to include only the biggest prizes on offer?
United’s business this summer – as, to his credit, has been the case throughout Solskjaer’s reign – has been shrewd. The signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane addressed and improved key deficiencies in the first-team squad, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s sensational return to Old Trafford from Juventus was the icing on the cake.
Man Utd: Ins
Man Utd: Outs
Manchester United have just embarked on what will be their fifth season since they last got their hands on a trophy. For a club of such stature, going through a single season without a trophy constitutes failure. It would be a crisis if it were to continue after this summer’s recruitment drive.
If you look elsewhere in the Premier League, the unanimous response to Romelu Lukaku’s return to Stamford Bridge has elevated Chelsea into title contention; many even think Thomas Tuchel’s Champions League winners could be the team to beat this term.
If that is the case, then what does United’s acquisition of Ronaldo do for their title chances? After all, the Portuguese netted 29 goals in Serie A last season, five more than Lukaku as he pipped the Belgian to the Golden Boot in Italy’s top-flight.
A similar argument can be posited when it comes to United’s capture of Varane. The World Cup and four-time Champions League-winning centre-back arrives with proven pedigree and, crucially, the know-how in dealing with a level of expectation at Real Madrid that is on a par with those he’s now tasked with in Manchester.
‘It’s time United fought for the title’
For Sky Sports’ pundit Jamie Carragher, United are overdue a title challenge with eight years passing since they were last crowned champions – and Ronaldo et al could be the difference.
“Forget Ronaldo’s age and name, we are talking about the guy who was top goalscorer in Serie A last season, so that is who United are signing, so it should make a big difference to them,” he said.
“And they’ve added other players in other areas as well, so it is about time United were fighting towards bringing that title back to Old Trafford.”
It’s clear there’s consensus that time has come for United to reacquaint themselves with silverware. The question is, with Ronaldo, Sancho and Varane at Solskjaer’s disposal: will that drought end this season?
And, perhaps more importantly, would an FA Cup or League Cup triumph be enough to quench the insatiable appetite for success swirling around Old Trafford?
‘Man Utd have to win the league’
Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson believes the arrival of Ronaldo means the Premier League is the only piece of silverware that will suffice for Solskjaer and Manchester United.
“Will Manchester United win the league? That is the fairy tale,” he told Sky Sports News. “There is no point Ronaldo coming back to Old Trafford and winning the Golden Boot, it’s all about winning the league.
“Solskjaer is managing the biggest club in the world of football, the pressure is on all the time. They have to win the league. Bringing Ronaldo, one of the best two players in world football for a considerable amount of time, has to be to win the league. Please don’t tell me they are bringing him in to sell shirts.
“Who wins you the league: Ronaldo or Harry Kane? For me, Kane does. If I’m the manager of a football club, I need players who are going to win me the title, and I’m not sure Ronaldo is.”
‘Sleepless nights for Solskjaer who must win something’
Getting the deals for Ronaldo, Varane and Sancho over the line was just the easy bit for Manchester United.
The challenge of settling on a formula that utilises the wealth of talent at Solskjaer’s disposal whilst maintaining United’s challenge for trophies is the task which has already got under way and will ultimately determine the success of the campaign.
Whether it be the Premier League, the Champions League, or a domestic cup, Jamie Redknapp says Solskjaer needs to get his hands on a trophy of any kind, and his ability to keep his star-studded squad involved and engaged could prove crucial in that ambition being realised.
“How is Ole going to fit Ronaldo in?” the Sky Sports pundit said. “United now have five players who can play in that frontline. Ronaldo, at his age, can only play as a central striker.
“So, where does Edinson Cavani fit in? Where does Marcus Rashford fit in? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has got such a big job to keep everyone happy and that brings tremendous pressure.
“Now, not having won anything at Manchester United as manager, he has to win something. For Ole, as excited as he is, trying to keep everyone happy will bring a lot of sleepless nights.”
While the debate as to what constitutes success for Manchester United this season rumbles on, what is undeniable is that the clear, calculated shift in the club’s transfer policy has delivered Solskjaer all the tools he needs to succeed.
Be it the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, or League Cup, the stage is Solskjaer. Now it’s over to him to show what he can do with it.