Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted recently that he wanted to “give the best job interview I could ever do” during his supposedly temporary spell as Manchester United manager. The Norwegian had now done after his team stunned Paris Saint-Germain to qualify for the Champions League quarterfinals.
The Miracle in Paris that was watched by club owner Avram Glazer, former manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Old Trafford icon Eric Cantona, felt like a coronation.
Never before had United lost a home tie in European competition and gone on to qualify for the next round. Never before, in 106 attempts, had a team fought back from a 2-0 home defeat to progress.
But Solskjaer’s United, missing 10 senior players through injury, and an 11th, Paul Pogba, due to suspension, rewrote the history books in Paris to book a place in the last eight.
When asked after the game whether he had been told that the job was his, Solskjaer insisted he was still waiting to hear.
“No, no. I will keep doing this job as best as I can and see where it takes us,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic time with the players and staff I’ve got working with me.
“I’m gonna enjoy this job as long as I’ve got it. I’m gonna enjoy it, I’m gonna smile.”
When Ole arrived at Old Trafford last December, United were 11 points adrift of the top four, with senior players, most notably Pogba, at odds with the Portuguese boss and so badly out of form that a January clearout could not be ruled out.
But Ole has turned the feeling around, both on and off the field, during an incredible run of 14 wins in 17 games.
But nobody outside of the United dressing room really believed they had a chance of overcoming PSG in the Parc des Princes. Inspired by Kylian Mbappe, the French champions destroyed United at Old Trafford in a 2-0 victory last month.
If the 2-0 deficit was not enough, with so many players missing, Solskjaer had to name a makeshift team, with centre-half Eric Bailly deployed out of position at right-back against Angel Di Maria. Bailly was so uncomfortable in that role that it must have been a relief when an injury forced him to be substituted before half-time.
Solskjaer also had limited options in midfield, with both Pogba and Nemanja Matic ruled out, but Scott McTominay, Fred and Andreas Pereira gave the performances of their lives to give United a foothold in the centre of the pitch.
And with Bailly off, Solskjaer moved Ashley Young to right-back, told substitute Diogo Dalot to push down the right flank and stuck to the 4-4-2 system that many believe is outdated in the modern game. But it worked.
United unquestionably rode their luck, with PSG missing a hatful of chances to add to Juan Bernat’s early equaliser following Romelu Lukaku’s second-minute opener. But United rolled with the punches and struck again, when Lukaku pounced on a Gianluigi Buffon fumble form Marcus Rashford’s 30th-minute shot.
Solskjaer had insisted that it was not “mission impossible” for United, but it was mission improbable.
He also claimed that the first goal had to be United’s and that the tension would begin to gnaw away at PSG if his team were still in with a chance in the closing stages.
And so it proved, but with options scarce Solskjaer still had to be bold, so he threw on youngsters Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood — again nodding to United’s traditions of blooding youth — in the closing stages.
But when the winner came, from the penalty spot after VAR had highlighted a handball by Presnel Kimpembe, 22-year-old Rashford had to display nerves of steel to beat Buffon and win the game for United.
Rashford, like Pogba, a player who has been infused with belief by Solskjaer, stood up to the challenge and sent United into the quarterfinals. But more than likely, he also earned Solskjaer the keys to the manager’s office.
It is now a matter of when, rather than if, he is appointed. Are United really going to risk jeopardising all of the progress they’ve made under Solskjaer by telling him they have found somebody else?
The answer to that question — if it wasn’t before — is now fairly obvious.