Ole Gunnar Solskjær has finally been taken off hospice, and Manchester United fans’ burden of caring for their ailing family member through their final days has ended. After a valiant battle with the cancerous disease of poor managing, it was Watford that landed the decisive blow.
A 4-1 loss to a team fighting to avoid relegation — not the two to rivals vying for an EPL title — was enough to prompt an emergency meeting of the team board, which mercifully yanked the plug. I dragged my feet Saturday morning specifically because I thought the loss, which featured Man U dropping down to 10 men and getting outshot 20-9, might finally do it.
That and to avoid trying to figure out what was wrong with them. Gunnar was what was wrong with them, and he was wrong for them despite being one of them. As a Liverpool fan, the opportunity to dance on United’s misfortune is tempting. I’m not feeling particularly gleeful though. Yes, Liverpool are second in the table and in goal differential and beat Arsenal 4-0 on Saturday. And yes, I listed off those stats to rub it in a tiny bit, but my other team, the one I care about the most that also plays Saturdays and wears red, is undergoing a similarly trying time with one of its own.
The losing is the worst part of any underwhelming coach, but the part that’s fun about having a bad coach — making fun of them for confounding substitutions, clock management, roster management, and other doofus-y things — isn’t fun either. Solskjær, like Scott Frost during his playing days, was a pretty fucking legendary player, and regardless of how you felt about the hire, it’s hard not to be sentimental about the hiring of your own.
However, their coaching days are going to be thought of much less fondly to the extent that the mention of their name no longer carries the reverence of a former great but one of abject shame. The hope is recency bias will fade, and fans will again remember highlights on the field and not the low lights manning the sidelines.
My original pitch for this piece was “Gunnar is no longer trying to win, just seeing what he can get away with.” It was going to be jovial, good-natured ribbing. You know, “Gunnar already killed the first part of Paul Pogba’s career. Maybe management set the bar for his dismissal at literal murder.”
Even by Nebraska’s now-subterranean standards, Frost is a train wreck, and that same “What low does he have to sink to to get fired” idea could apply to Frost, as well. I’m not going to go loss by loss to see who has the more embarrassing resume because gauging incompetence isn’t what I’m trying to do.
I’m trying to get on the Nice List for the holidays, but I’m also trying to sympathize with a shitty situation. Your rivals are laughing at you, soccer/football Twitter is meme-ing you, national pundits are skewering you, and the only thing you want — what Man U fans finally got — was sweet release from this pain.
There are probably a number of reasons why United took so long to take Gunnar off life support, but the main one, the one Nebraska is struggling with right now, is no one with the team wants to give up on a member of the family.
As a fan, it’s easy to cut ties with a coach or a player or a former player turned coach because we don’t know these people on a personal level, we don’t know their families, we haven’t reminisced with them about the glory days or attended team reunions. I doubt there was/is a single person who called Memorial Stadium or Old Trafford home that wanted this outcome.
When that last beep of the heart monitor sounds and a beloved member of the family flatlines, some will be relieved and some will grieve but few will celebrate. Rarely do we get to go out the way we want to, and so a lot of times when death is nearing, the end is ugly and hard and traumatic. All of those adjectives aptly describe the final days of the coaches I’m eulogizing, but I hope fans will remember them at their best — on the field, in uniform.
Frost will be back next season, and I’ll return to my scheduled Saturday visitations, but United faithful finally get to move on with their fandom. A new manager will soon be named and hopefully, the Glazers will botch it to an even worse degree than they did with Gunnar (It’s OK, I’m pretty sure Santa is a Liverpool supporter), but I hope it’s some sacrificial turd whose grave we can all C Walk on when they fail because losing a family member is a lot worse than losing just a coach.