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Manchester United and Chelsea are gambling on legends but risk being left behind

Manchester United and Chelsea are gambling on legends but risk being left behind
It wasn’t long ago that Manchester United and Chelsea were the most powerful clubs in English football. But, after falling behind Manchester City and Liverpool, they have turned to former playing legends to revive their fortunes.

In the footballing world, it’s perhaps no surprise to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard at the helm of their former clubs, but are they in their posts for the right reasons?

Solskaer’s contribution to Manchester United’s club history is already cast in stone. His stoppage-time-in-extra-time finish against Bayern Munich in the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final in Barcelona gave United their first European Cup win since the halcyon days of George Best and Bobby Charlton back in 1968.

And, of course, Lampard has been arguably Chelsea’s greatest-ever midfielder, representing the club with distinction throughout the most successful years in the Stamford Bridge side’s history.

But great players don’t necessarily become great managers, and both Solskjaer and Lampard are still very young in their respective managerial careers.

There’s no chance you’d see these two men offered jobs at the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus at this stage in their careers, which begs the question why are they now in charge of such huge English clubs like United and Chelsea?

It’s because the two clubs are desperate. Desperate for a change. Desperate for some goodwill from the stands. Desperate for some positive PR after some disappointing seasons. And desperate to buy themselves some time while they attempt to turn their clubs’ fortunes around once again.

That’s not a knock on the two men themselves. They’re both decent men and, watching from a distance, they seem to have the right sort of mentality to become successful managers in the years ahead. But for such huge clubs to gamble on largely unproven managers hints at possible problems higher up in their respective organizations.

After some bad appointments in the past, the people making the hiring decisions have gone down the easy-win route and hired men who may not bring experience to the table, but what they do bring is priceless for those in the boardroom, time.

Solskjaer and Lampard are rightly revered in the stands, and as a result, will get more leeway from the fans if things aren’t going well. Both clubs are in transition and look somewhat rudderless, and the hope is the return of a club legend in the managerial hot seat can somehow galvanize their club.

Solskjaer did a fine job in a caretaker stint, then got the job full-time and hasn’t been able to sustain the level of performances he enjoyed in his stand-in role. It begs the question: Was he really the best man for the job at Old Trafford?

The same question could be asked of Lampard, who showed promising signs as Derby County manager last season, but remains totally unproven in a top European league, let alone at a top European club. He might be a perfect fit, but right now, it’s all guesswork, because he has virtually no managerial track record to call upon as evidence of future success.

Both men have shown promise as managers but, as things stand, neither man has achieved enough in the game as managers to seriously warrant getting such huge jobs at two of the biggest clubs in Europe.

And with both clubs running the risk of being left behind, with United and Chelsea finishing a huge 32 and 26 points behind champions Manchester City respectively, both managers have been handed the gargantuan tasks of trying to close the gap between themselves and the Premier League’s new power couple, City and Liverpool.

If they could even start to close that gap a little, it would be considered a huge achievement for two managers who may one day become legends of the dugout, just as they were on the pitch.

But before any thoughts can turn to whether either man can deliver silverware for their respective clubs, Solskjaer and Lampard face one of the toughest tasks for a manager. They’ve been thrown in at the deep end of the biggest shark tank in football, the English Premier League. It’s sink or swim time.

By Simon Head