Solskjaer vs Lampard: Why the media’s perception is wrong
Back in 2010 who would have thought by the time another decade had passed, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be manager of Manchester United, and Frank Lampard (who was still playing) would be sat in the dugout at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea boss. However, fast forward ten years and here we are. At the time of writing, Ole’s United are sitting in 5th, three points behind Frank Lampard’s Chelsea in 4th. Despite both teams not being too far away in terms of league positions, one manager is under intense pressure, being scrutinised week after week by mainstream media and pundits. Meanwhile the other is lauded by the media and seemingly void of any criticism. The latter, not being Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There seems to be a feeling among the media that Solskjaer and Lampard cannot be put into the same conversation. However, the same arguments are used over and over again to back up their reasoning. Lampard didn’t have a transfer window in the summer, he lost his best player in Eden Hazard in the transfer window and he’s been resorted to playing youngsters. Which is something that has been greatly exaggerated throughout the season. Under Ole, United have been intensely criticised for being largely inconsistent over the duration of the season, which is completely justified. But the question needs to be asked as to why Lampard’s Chelsea have not been given the same treatment? Let’s not forget at the time of writing, Lampard’s Chelsea have lost more games in the Premier League than Manchester United.
Many have said that Solskjaer doesn’t have the credentials to manage a team like Man United. His managerial CV is always a point of discussion. He got his first managerial job back home in Norway at Molde in 2010 and he guided the club to back to back titles in 2011 and 2012. As well as two league titles, he won a domestic cup competition in 2013. From Norway to Wales. Ole was appointed manager of a relegation doomed Cardiff in January 2014. Up against it from the start, Cardiff inevitably went back down to the Championship. Solskjaer oversaw just 30 games in the Welsh capital before he was sacked in September. The 1999 treble winner returned to his former club Molde just over a year later where he’d go on to manage 118 matches, and have a win percentage of 55.9%. He’d stay at Molde until United came calling in 2018. As has been well documented, things started brilliantly, so brilliantly in fact that Solskjaer was given the job on a permanent basis in March 2019. From there, United have struggled. With inconsistent performances week after week being a constant theme.
Frank Lampard was given his first managerial job at Championship side Derby in the 2018/19 season. Some would have said the appointment was a big gamble from a Derby side whose target was to gain promotion to the Premier League for the first time since the mid 2000’s. Lampard was able to bring in a number of new players, the likes of Liverpool academy star Harry Wilson (loan), Jack Marriot, George Evans, Florian Jozefzoon and Mason Mount (loan), to name a few. Ultimately Lampard guided Derby to a 6th place finish in the Championship, narrowly scraping into the playoffs by a mere, one point. Derby would go onto to beat Leeds over two legs, but would fall at the final hurdle against Aston Villa.
He failed to achieve Derby’s main goal of promotion and didn’t put together an impressive run in any cup competition, despite being able to bring in a number of players in the summer transfer window. Lampard took the Chelsea job soon after the sacking of Maurizio Sarri.
Both managers embarked on the start of their first full seasons in charge of their clubs. Ole had inherited a squad low on numbers, midfielders, creativity, goals, and overall quality. Lampard took over a squad that had just finished 3rd in the Premier League, and won the Europa League. A squad that had N’golo Kante. A World Cup winning midfielder, that has been spoken about as the best centre defensive midfielder not just in the league, but in the World. A full German international in centre back Antonio Rudiger. Premier League winners in Willian, Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso. Champions League winners in Pedro and Mateo Kovacic. But suddenly all of that experience and pedigree goes out the window once Eden Hazard left the club? Well, so the media would have you believe.
In short, Lampard inherited a far better and more completed squad than Solskjaer had at United, and there can be zero debate over that whatsoever. Ole has beaten Lampard three times this season, and when you look at the two squads on paper. It shouldn’t be a contest. Realistically, how many United players would get in Chelsea’s first 11? De Gea without question. Maguire would go in alongside Rudiger in central defence. None of United’s midfield would come in for Jorginho, Kante or Kovacic. Possibly Pogba, but he’s barely featured for United this season. Rashford would come in on the left. There’s nobody else that’d come in besides those four. Not eight or nine players. Four out of eleven.
As well as a complete disregard for the squads both managers have at their disposal. There seems to be a myth that Lampard has been forced to play kids. The term ‘kids’ would normally be associated with players between the ages of 17-19 who have zero first team experience. However the kids that Lampard has been playing are the likes of Fikayo Tomori who at 22 years of age, has had loan spells at Brighton, Hull, and Derby County. Yes, while not at the same standard of the Premier League, he’s a player who has had vast amounts of first team experience at other clubs. Reece James, who is only 20, but lets not forget he’s a player who was named in the Championship team of the year in 2018. Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham have had plenty of first team experience at the likes of Aston Villa and Derby. Kurt Zuoma has played Premier League football since 2014.
You could go as far to say that the young players that Lampard has been playing and the likes that Ole has been giving chances to aren’t comparable. The likes of 18 year old Mason Greenwood who has been massive for United at times this season. Brandon Williams who had never played a singular second of first team football until this season, and now has that left back spot nailed down after great performances week in, week out. Even the likes of Taith Chong and Angel Gomes. While those players have been involved with the first team for a couple years, they rarely feature and haven’t had loan spells away from United to gain consistent first team experience.
For two clubs in transition there also seems to be a complete indifference in terms of expectation. The media are of the opinion that if Chelsea can finish 4th in the Premier League, Lampard will have done a fantastic job. Whereas if Solskjaer fails to secure Champions League football for United next season, he should lose his job. When really, it should be the other way round. As already pointed out Chelsea finished 3rd in last season's Premier League, whereas United finished 6th. It's perfectly valid to suggest that Chelsea should not finish 4th then Lampard has taken them backwards. Again, the media would use the argument that Chelsea lost Eden Hazard and failed to replace him with another World class player, which is true. However, the fact that United have been without their best player all season in Paul Pogba, always fails to be mentioned.
The perception between the jobs that both Solskjaer and Lampard are doing might simply come down to the media just being biased against United. You look at the people who work at the top end of football media. Jamie Carragher, Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Danny Murphy, Graham Souness. These are all former players, with the exception of Souness, that played during a time were United dominated under Sir Alex Ferguson. Maybe they’re just enjoying seeing United struggling because they cost them success during their playing days. Maybe it boils down to the fact that some of Lampard’s family work within the media so presenters and other pundits feel like they can’t criticise Lampard due to not wanting to upset or cause tension between those whom they work with.
There is a lot of Solskjaer needs to improve on. United concede far too easily from set pieces. They are far too inconsistent to be successful at this moment in time. As a manager there’s a feeling as though Solskjaer doesn’t have a nasty side. There’s a question to be asked about the timing of his substitutions. But there are things that Ole has done brilliantly. He’s getting an identity back into United. He’s improving players, look at the likes of Scott McTomiany, Fred and Marcus Rashford. He’s seen United beat Manchester City away twice this season, beat Chelsea three times, beat Spurs and be the only team to take points from runaway league leaders Liverpool. He knows how to win big games. You look at Chelsea’s record against the top teams this season. There can be no comparison.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing a better job at Man United with what he has at his disposal than Frank Lampard is doing at Chelsea with the squad he has. Unfortunately for Ole and United, the media’s stance on this will not change, no matter what happens this season.