Sport

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shone an unforgiving light on the work of his predecessors

Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates after the final whistle during the UEFA Champions League match at the Parc des Princes

THERE are some abiding images that will never dim with time: PSG’s Angel Di Maria pretending to drink out of a bottle of beer at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago; the other, the gaunt, ghostly look on his face after Marcus Rashford crashed home the winning penalty - courtesy of a VAR decision – that gave Manchester United one of the most unlikely and dramatic victories in the entire history of the Champions League.

Another indelible image from a stunned Parc des Princes on Wednesday night was the disbelief etched on Neymar’s face, sidelined by injury for the fixture.

Here was the man who gave up on achieving greatness at Barcelona for the soulless environs of Paris Saint Germain; a footballer destined for the Hall of Fame at Camp Nou – but chose vanity over ambition.

Here was the man who gave up the privilege of playing alongside Lionel Messi - the greatest footballer to ever play the game – to be the undisputed star in a league that would put you to sleep.

Here was the man, with all his celebrity 'bling', whose legacy is that of a mercenary.

PSG has no soul.

They are perennial second-rounders, ropey quarter-finalists. The deeper they travel in the Champions League, they’ll always – always - be found out.

They should have killed off Manchester United 'reserves' in the opening 20 minutes of Wednesday night’s second leg.

To go down in the annals of the game as one of the greatest strikers, Kylian Mbappe still has some road to travel.

He lacks the dead eyes of the great assassins of the past and present - Romario, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Van Basten and Messi.

When Mbappe had United at his mercy, he trod on the ball and kept Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team alive.

VAR may have delivered the defining blow to their Champions League hopes, but when the history is written on the Paris club, it won’t be VAR that cost them.

It will be their own narcissism.

If United had trailed 2-0 after the first leg to Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich or Barcelona, they would never have won.

But PSG are a team that always give the opposition hope.

As Rashford was pursued by his United team-mates after thumping his penalty past Gigi Buffon, I remembered another image: the scowl on Jose Mourinho’s face during the club’s pre-season in the United States, when all was wrong with the world.

Mourinho was rarely happy at Old Trafford.

Always agitating for more money to spend and complaining about the lack of quality in the Manchester United squad. And sometimes the Special One’s analysis appeared to tally.

After watching the side limp from one week to the next during his stewardship, many Manchester United fans were inclined to buy Mourinho’s propaganda.

The squad, it was assumed, was short of real quality and could never launch a serious title bid.

And even when United did win the Europa League in 2017 – a 2-0 win over Ajax – it was one of the most joyless victories in the club’s illustrious history.

Before Mourinho, Louis van Gaal was just as vain and useless.

In an era where the merits of the high press were staring every top manager in the face, the Dutchman opted for a slow, morose style of football that didn’t make sense.

With van Gaal and Mourinho, everything was a drama.

The story had to be about them and their perceived greatness. Manchester United couldn’t survive without their alchemy. They had perfected the cult of the manager.

Somewhere along the line though Mourinho and van Gaal lost the run of themselves.

Their style of football, their excuses for mediocrity on a daily basis insulted every Manchester United supporter.

And once David Moyes signed Marouane Fellaini his time in charge at Old Trafford was effectively over.

It was never going to be easy following Alex Ferguson – but it didn’t have to be this painful.

Since his interim appointment - soon to be made permanent now - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has excelled in the role.

During their mid-season break to Dubai, he tweaked a few things.

The players were told to wear suits before games and, by all accounts, there was a lot of tactical work done during what Solskjaer termed a mini-pre-season.

He acted decisively by pushing Rashford into a central role ahead of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez was rightly pushed to the periphery of the first team, he got the best out of Paul Pogba, Fellaini was shown the door and there was more continuity in team selection, especially in defence.

It was suggested that Mourinho’s team selections were largely based on who he hadn’t fallen out with in the week leading up to games.

Solskjaer intimately knows Old Trafford’s DNA.

He has smiled at every press conference and says all the right things while some of his tactical gameplans – particularly the one that defeated Spurs at Wembley – have been hugely impressive.

The former striker deserves all the plaudits that come his way but his time in charge has also shone an unforgiving light on just how poor Mourinho and Van Gaal performed in the job.

There was more theatre in their press conferences than in their team’s performances.

If Solskjaer has an ego he keeps it well hidden.

You get the impression that it’s not about him; it’s about the club and sticking to its values and belief systems that moulded him into a great player at United.

It’s a pity it took the club’s hierarchy three managers to realise what was required in the Manchester United dug-out.

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