It’s in Part II that the lights darken around Michael and his complexion darkens in the midst of a devilish transformation. “I don’t think I should eliminate everyone, Tom,” he said to his foster brother. “Just my enemies, that’s all. Most managers would be empathetic.
“Enemies” is a stretch for Solskjaer, a breezy personality even when he seemed to descend into his own dark pit in the fall and New Years. He can be too enthusiastic at press conferences when a more frank tone is more appropriate, but this facade masks a ruthlessness that is not yet fully appreciated. Now is the best time.
Solskjaer dumped nine senior players – on loan or permanently – and almost all of them were more aligned with Jose Mourinho’s methods. Antonio Valencia failed Mourinho as captain, but had a year of rebirth that should have led to Sir Matt Busby player of the year in 2017.
It’s no coincidence that the average age of players at the time of their departure is 30 and all Romelu Lukaku bars were in their 30s and 30s and turned 30 at the start of the current season.
So far, Solskjaer has had a 100% success rate with its four permanent signatures and the addition of the Odion Ighalo loan, and its expenses have also been justified.
Marouane Fellaini, Shandong Luneng (£ 10m)
Fellaini, 32, had only played 31 minutes for Solskjaer when he sought assurances of playing time in mid-January and received a short stop. Fellaini quickly suffered calf tension, missing four games, and suddenly agreed to join Shandong Luneng late in the window.
Mourinho, Louis van Gaal, Ryan Giggs and David Moyes all saw merit in Fellaini and Solskjaer said the Belgian had an “X factor” weeks before he sanctioned his sale. It was a clear act of focusing.
United may have had to cancel Mourinho and let Fellaini leave at the end of 2017-18, but he got a new two-year, six-month contract and the club cashed in at £ 10 million.
Good or bad to let go?
Right to sell.
Ander Herrera, Paris Saint-Germain (free)
United missed Herrera for most of the season, and his absence was sorely felt in the first half of the campaign as United did not recruit a replacement. It was particularly surprising on this disastrous day at Huddersfield last May that Herrera showed more leadership than any of his teammates, although he had pre-contracted with Paris Saint- Germain a month earlier.
Herrera, 30, was six months on his contract with United at the time of Solskjaer’s arrival and was an integral part of the beginning of the Norwegian goalkeeper’s reign. Herrera felt that United lacked human contact, and was taken aback to find that he had his contract extended the previous season via a letter in the mail. When United took seriously negotiations with Herrera’s entourage (he was offered more than £ 200,000 a week), he joined PSG.
Even though Herrera got a final payday, he became prone to injury in Paris and was reduced to a cheerleader role. Scott McTominay and Fred have successfully established themselves as United class midfielders and Nemanja Matic’s new life lease has earned him an additional year.
Right but wrongly not to have replaced it.
Antonio Valencia, released
Now that the dust settles, the 11-year-old appreciation for Valencia with United is increasing. However, it was a burst flush long before Solskjaer replaced Mourinho. The only departure from Valencia in the Premier League under Solskjaer at Newcastle reminded the outgoing manager of United why his predecessor had started to eliminate the 34-year-old.
United had a one-year option on the Valencia contract but let the 5-hour deadline on March 1 pass. United negotiated a deal for Aaron Wan-Bissaka before the preseason, and he’s already the club’s most accomplished right-back since Gary Neville.
Romelu Lukaku, Inter Milan, £ 73m
Both Belgian departures from United were injured before they left. Or maybe it should be “hurt”. Lukaku had decided in March that he wanted to leave United and was reluctantly included in the trip to Perth, where he died of an “injury” on the eve of the first friendly match. Lukaku remained “injured” throughout United’s preseason calendar, posted training data on Twitter and went AWOL before finally joining Inter Milan for £ 73 million sterling.
Lukaku, 26, was absent for Solskjaer’s first two games as goalkeeper and that’s all it took for Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard to gel and marginalize Lukaku. His face never matched Solskjaer’s attack and, as with Herrera, United was right to sell Lukaku but was wrong not to have had a replacement. This contributed to a lean period of seven goals in 10 games at the start of the campaign.
Good – but bad not to have replaced it.
Alexis Sanchez, Inter Milan (loan)
“Alexis will come back this summer and prove that everything is fine,” Solskjaer promised in January. Hell will surely freeze before Sanchez plays for United again.
The 31-year-old has had another disastrous season in Milan and will not go from rental to purchase. He still poses a problem for United as he has more than two years left on his contract and the club is looking for potential buyers.
Chris Smalling, Roma (ready)
There was no purchase option under the loan conditions of Smalling or Sanchez, although the former is eminently more salable. Smalling started 21 times for the Roma, is open to join permanently and the general manager and manager of the club have expressed the wish to keep the central defender.
England coach Gareth Southgate planned to end Smalling’s two and a half international exile before the March friendlies were canceled and he could still be part of the team for next year’s European Championship.
United had to wait six months for Eric Bailly to recover from a knee injury, Axel Tuanzebe ran into injury issues, Victor Lindelof’s form fell, Phil Jones was Phil Jones and Harry Maguire was great mundane game, but they have the fourth best defensive record at the top. Provided United receives an acceptable honorarium for Smalling, 30, his loan will have worked for all parties.
Matteo Darmian, Parma, £ 1.5m
Surrealistically, half of Darmian’s six starts in his last season with United were against the top six clubs. United told the Italian that he was free to leave in the summer of 2018, but an appropriate offer never arrived, and Darmian ended up starting twice under Solskjaer.
The 30-year-old was sold late to Parma, another Italian club to take advantage of the early closing of the Premier League summer windows, and would never fail.
Marcos Rojo, Estudiantes (loan)
Speaking of must-see players, Rojo was also reportedly injured in January. “Marcos was injured and worked to get back and get back in shape,” said Solskjaer. “At the moment it doesn’t look like [he will leave], no. “That’s when you knew Rojo would be leaving.
United have tried to sell Rojo, 30, in four of the five summers he has spent at the club, and the next window is their last opportunity. Rojo’s contract expires in 2021 and, although he has the option of an additional year, United can ignore it.
Ashley Young, Inter Milan, £ 1.3m
Another who, coincidentally, was injured just before joining a new club, Young wanted to savor the experience of Italian football and had nearly joined Antonio Conte’s Chelsea on the deadline in 2017.
The 34-year-old was the captain of the United club at the time, still playing regularly and a great personality in the locker room. Young served United well, but his exit opened new opportunities for Brandon Williams and Luke Shaw, who reached new heights.