How Solskjær is shaking up Manchester United’s staff in push for success

As Ole Gunnar Solskjær grapples with the formidable challenge of overhauling his Manchester United squad, the manager is being granted unequivocal backing regarding his backroom staff.

Paul Pogba is this summer’s transfer market soap opera, Solskjær having to manage the midfielder’s wish to depart while balancing the desire to gain an optimum price for the Frenchman and his own need to maintain dressing-room cohesion.

There is some succour, then, in the slew of appointments Solskjær has overseen, as he fills his support team with trusted colleagues in what the club calls a “new-look staff”.

Significant changes have been made at under-23 level and Solskjær has shown how he values the pathway from there into the first team by taking the 18-year-old midfielders James Garner and Angel Gomes and the forwards Mason Greenwood (17) and Tahith Chong (19) on the pre-season tour of Australia, Singapore and China.

They will continue their development in an under-23 set-up to which Neil Wood was appointed in July as the lead coach, assisted by Quinton Fortune and with the head of academy, Nicky Butt, having greater involvement as part of a restructure.

Wood, who was a clubmate of Solskjær’s at United from 1999 to 2006 but never played for the first team and had several loan spells, has also coached the club’s under-16s and 18s. Fortune won the 2003 Premier League title with Solskjær, and Butt, and worked with the Norwegian during an ill-fated Cardiff tenure that ended in May 2014 with relegation to the Championship.

Butt said: “Myself, Neil and Quinton have long-standing connections with Manchester United and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to our roles that we will pass on to the young players. It is such an exciting time for the academy with Ole as first-team manager, who truly believes in the development of homegrown talent.

“It was a great source of pride that three academy graduates made their first-team debuts last season. As a group we will now look to build on this success.”

The trio are Garner, Greenwood and Chong – Gomes’s first-team bow was in May 2017 – and, given the scale of rebuild facing Solskjær, there will be some surprise if they are not given a chance to establish themselves should they continue to impress.

As Wood said: “The academy has a fantastic record of developing players ready to play for Manchester United and the opportunity to have a role in continuing that tradition is extremely exciting.”

Quinton Fortune, pictured after scoring for Manchester United against Porto in 2004, is part of the Under-23 staff.

Quinton Fortune, pictured after scoring for Manchester United against Porto in 2004, is part of the Under-23 staff. Photograph: Ian Hodgson/Reuters

Towards the close of last month Richard Hartis became the senior goalkeeper coach, the 51-year-old leaving the Football Association after three years at development level, which included being a member of England’s 2017 Under-20 World Cup-winning staff.

Hartis worked with Solskjær at Molde, Cardiff and United, where he was the academy’s head goalkeeping coach for a decade until 2010, a period in which Solskjær moved from player to reserve-team coach.

Hartis also brings Premier League and European Cup-winning experience, having coached Sir Alex Ferguson’s 2008 United side. “I have a great relationship with Ole and fully understand his philosophy,” Hartis said. “The chance to work with him again is really exciting.”

In Solskjær’s Molde squad that won Norway’s Eliteserien in 2011 and 2012, Hartis coached Espen Bugge Pettersen, the first-choice keeper.

Solskjær said: “Richard is a fantastic coach and has a proven track record of developing goalkeepers for winning teams. The depth in goalkeeping talent at Manchester United is exceptional, and I know that Richard can help to take them to the next level.”

A couple of days after the arrival of Wood and Fortune came two more recruits: Michael Clegg, a former United defender who was there when Solskjær joined in 1996 and spent seven years alongside him, and Ed Leng. Clegg is the first-team strength and power coach, Leng the lead sports scientist.

“We’ve got some ex-Manchester United people, even ex-players,” Solskjær said. “We’ve got Mike Clegg, who I played with and I worked under his dad [Mick] when he was a coach in the gym here.” Of Leng he added: “He’s not a Man United guy but he has worked with Warren Joyce, who is of course a United guy, and I worked with him. They all know what the club is about and what I’m about. They are great people for me to bring in.”

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Leng, formerly Sunderland’s strength and conditioning coach, was head of sports science at Melbourne City when Joyce was the manager. Joyce worked alongside Solskjær when they co-managed United’s reserves and is now development coach at Salford City.

What Solskjær has to do is deliver first-team success. After buying Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka he remains hopeful of adding Leicester’s Harry Maguire. But even if he – or another centre-back – is recruited, and Pogba somehow remains, United proving serious challengers in 2019-20 would be a surprise.

The club are, though, at least laying the foundations for the manager to prosper.


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