Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look for Manchester United to respond to the first domestic defeat of his reign when they face Wolves in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday as the Norwegian moves closer to landing the job on a permanent basis.
United’s shock Champions League victory at Paris Saint-Germain last week carried it through to the last-eight and all but confirmed Solskjaer will soon be named Jose Mourinho’s successor on a long-term basis.
Since that famous evening in France, United has tasted defeat for the first time in England on the interim manager’s watch , beaten 2-0 in last weekend’s league visit to Arsenal.
But although that setback dented United’s bid for a top-four finish, it did little damage to Solskjaer’s standing, especially given the nightmare injury list he has endured recently.
Some reports have suggested Solskjaer could be confirmed as manager during the forthcoming international break, which follows the Wolves Cup tie.
United officials have offered no guidance on whether the appointment is imminent, but it emerged last week that Solskjaer does not, as was commonly thought, have a contract with his former club Molde.
He revealed that, with regulations forbidding a manager from having concurrent contracts with more than one club, he tore up his deal with the Norwegian side to join United in December.
It is understood United and Molde have put in place a compensation package should Solskjaer win the post permanently, with a figure of around GBP 500,000 (USD 665,000) mooted.
However, the United hierarchy, led by executive vice chairman Ed Woodward, has another burning personnel issue to resolve as the club seeks to appoint a director of football.
- Pivotal period -
The time-table is for that role to be filled before the end of the season, allowing the newcomer the opportunity to oversee a close-season of transfer activity about which Solskjaer has already been consulted.
The former United striker has talked openly about having been asked by the board for his thoughts on future player sales and acquisitions, although he claims that has no bearing on whether he will eventually land the manager’s job.
It was always believed that March would be a pivotal period in the process of appointing a director of football as plans for the pre-season tour to Australia become finalised and increased attention starts being placed on signings.
Former Tottenham and Southampton head of recruitment Paul Mitchell has been consistently linked with the post.
Part of the logic behind his potential appointment seemed to focus on the possibility that his friend and Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino might be in line to become the United manager.
Mitchell, now at German side RB Leipzig, has seen his name mentioned alongside the likes of Borussia Dortmund’s director of football Michael Zorc, former Arsenal sporting director Sven Mislintat and former United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, currently CEO at Ajax.
While that appointment will be made with an eye on the summer, United must also assess what possible impact Solskjaer’s permanent promotion to the post might have on the remainder of the season.
The feel-good impact of his December arrival still shows no sign of being diluted and, conceivably, an announcement could have public relations value for the club over the closing stages of the campaign.
In the shorter term, United’s long injury list is slowly improving ahead of the trip to Wolves, with Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard all in contention to rejoin the squad.
Wolves could prove a significant obstacle to United’s hopes of reaching the semifinals however, having already beaten Chelsea and Liverpool and drawn with Manchester City at Molineux this season.
“It’s an important game for us to get the semi-final at Wembley. We play at home. We’re going to prepare for this game all week now and try to do something great on Saturday,” Wolves midfielder Romain Saiss said.
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