Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is facing a crucial summer as he tries to lift Manchester United back to the top of English football. The club’s board has seen enough progress during Solskjaer’s two years as permanent manager to consider offering the Norwegian a new contract but the time is fast approaching for him to deliver real success. In his own words, that means winning the Premier League title for the first time since 2013, or at least getting much closer to Manchester City than they have this season. Before doing that, there are key decisions for Solskjaer to make over the summer, including how to handle the transfer window and what to do about Paul Pogba.
Decision 1: Pogba’s contract situation
United’s biggest decision of the summer will centre around Pogba, but it won’t just fall on Solskjaer. Pogba is set to enter the final year of his contract at Old Trafford, and if his agent, Mino Raiola, is right, he won’t sign a new one. If so, United can either sell in the summer or hold out and risk losing the 28-year-old for free in 12 months.
Owners the Glazers and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward valued Pogba at more than £150 million in 2019. While that figure is significantly lower now, there are doubts about how Real Madrid or Juventus could afford a transfer fee and wages of more than £290,000-a-week in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The third option is for United to push hard for Pogba to sign a new contract. Solskjaer hasn’t given up hope that that could still happen, but there are fears that Raiola’s terms — a large wage increase or even a release clause — could be too big a stumbling block. Solskjaer deserves credit for his man-management of Pogba and the Frenchman’s form since January has shown that he would be a big miss if he leaves.
Decision 2: De Gea or Henderson?
Solskjaer didn’t need to keep Dean Henderson last summer, as there were plenty of suitors to sign the goalkeeper on loan again, but he did so knowing there would be a season of debate about who should be No. 1. There is a feeling within the club that the uncertainty cannot be allowed to carry on into next season.
Sources have told ESPN that Henderson is considered the more complete goalkeeper because of his distribution and ability to catch and punch high balls but there remains a loyalty to David De Gea because of what he’s done over the last 10 years. Both have long contracts at Old Trafford and there is an acceptance De Gea’s wages make a move away problematic.
Henderson is determined to play regular football and sources have told ESPN that a number of top European clubs have already expressed an interest. He was been given a chance to make his case in the last month while De Gea was unavailable, which means the April fixtures give a big hint as to the way Solskjaer is leaning with the Spaniard back in his ranks.
Stewart Robson says Manchester United missed a window to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a better manager.
Decision 3: Does Lingard stay or go?
Jesse Lingard could barely make the squad before moving to West Ham United on loan in January, but in the past two months he’s been one of the best players in the league. Five goals in seven games has been enough to earn two player of the month nominations and a recall to the England squad after a two-year absence.
The 28-year-old will have one year left on his contract in the summer and Solskjaer will have to decide whether to offer a new deal or sanction a sale. Lingard has flourished as a No. 10 at West Ham, but he is unlikely to dislodge Bruno Fernandes at United.
In the peak years of his career, he is desperate to play regular football and will not accept another bit-part role at Old Trafford. West Ham have already decided they want to sign Lingard permanently, but he will have a lot of offers to choose from if he moves.
Decision 4: Where to spend the money?
The coronavirus pandemic means money is tight across Europe, and while United are not immune, there will be money to spend. The issue for Solskjaer, football director John Murtough, technical director Darren Fletcher and the recruitment department is where to use it. You can make a case that United need a right-back, centre-back, central midfielder, winger and a centre forward but it’s unrealistic to expect that all those problems can be solved before next season.
Solskjaer will have to decide where his priorities lie while decisions will also be impacted by who leaves. Signing a striker will become more important if Edinson Cavani doesn’t extend his deal. Promoting young players is a large part of Solskjaer’s philosophy at Old Trafford, but it has to be balanced against winning games in the short term and it means there aren’t always enough opportunities for youngsters. There are high hopes for Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri, but they may have to go out on loan to find the football they need to continue their development.