Through a fixed stare and with an upper lip that could cut glass, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted that Manchester United were getting “close to what he wants” after the Liverpool humiliation.
The reality is that he is closer to his final curtain call than he’s ever been before.
Solskjaer will be in charge for Saturday’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur, but that could well be the start of his final week as United boss.
The beginning of the end perhaps came long ago, as his team have floundered and confused their way through a series of matches – even during last season’s run to a second-place Premier League finish in a behind-closed-doors campaign that often threw up the unexpected.
This season has brought expensive new additions but with that an increased expectation on the manager.
United were probably never going to win the league up against Manchester City’s millions, Liverpool’s return to what they knew and Chelsea’s coming force, but they could have done with at least looking like they could, instead of whatever it is that Solskjaer has served up, particularly in the last two league matches.
Now his side face Spurs, Atalanta and then City in the seven days from Saturday, each opponent representing the potential to be the toughened glass which allows one more step along the elevated bridge, or the flimsy surface that will lead to doom.
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Yes, welcome to the Solskjaer Squid Game.
It is now widely expected that the axe will fall on the United boss if he presides over defeats in all three matches, but it could come even sooner than that.
If Atalanta have learned how to hold onto a lead then it could be the Italians who administer the final blow, or if Harry Kane has got his shooting boots on then maybe it comes via a disorganised defeat at Spurs?
Most worryingly for the United boss is the fact that his team could win both of those matches, but then they’ll face a City side who could easily do what Liverpool did to them, and this time show no mercy.
That will place them back at square one, a location that Solskjaer can surely lay claim to residency in such is the frequency of his visits.
And with the international break looming, there would be serious questions for the club’s board.
For now there remains the backing of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, managing director Richard Arnold and crucially Sir Alex Ferguson, however non-plussed he looked with events against Liverpool .
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It will be Joel Glazer who makes the final call, but as long as those three named above are all on the same page then there is unlikely to be any movement unless something dramatic happens in these next three games.
It is said that Solskjaer also retains the goodwill and the backing of the vast majority of the playing squad, even if they have misgivings about some of his tactical approaches – or the lack of them.
Those are the issues that are now being openly dissected by the manager’s friends in the media too, with the likes of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes all suddenly less shy to come forward and pick apart the setup and structure of their former club.
Even despite all that there has been a desire to point out that this is not akin the poisonous final days of the Jose Mourinho reign, when players were alienated and the club’s Carrington training ground became a hostile place, and you can imagine that to be true.
No-one inside of United will be taking any pleasure from the situation if we are about to head into Solskjaer’s final week, and the same goes for the vast majority of the United supporters who might now be coming to the collective realisation that the club legend just doesn’t have what it takes – but won’t be too hostile in their criticism.
That is an admirable approach, as is Solskjaer’s continuing defiance in the face of unfolding failures.
You only get so many of those though, and the United manager might have reached his limit very soon.
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