SO the last boss, Jose Mourinho, was a master at parking the bus, but the new man won’t even park his car in the right space.
We all know that nostalgia for the Sir Alex Ferguson era will reach fever pitch tonight when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leads Manchester United into the Nou Camp, the scene of the great knight’s most famous triumph.
Alamy Live News4 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking for Man Utd to land a huge shock by beating Barca
4 The manager's parking space at Manchester United is vacant as boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still regards it as Alex Ferguson's spot
But win or lose — and the odds are stacked heavily in favour of an aggregate defeat against Barcelona — the time will have come for the Norwegian to stop doffing his cap to his old gaffer.
And for the former baby-faced assassin to start acting like the fully grown-up manager of one of the world’s great clubs.
The revelation that Solskjaer is refusing to leave his car in the manager’s parking spot at United’s Carrington base, out of deference to Fergie, was one of those intriguing nuggets we love to hear from the fortified walls at Premier League training grounds.
If Solskjaer was giving the impression of being the alpha male, and believing he truly belongs in the United hotseat, you’d think little of it.
A nice touch of respect, perhaps a little superstition.
But somehow this feels like an insight into Solskjaer’s mindset.
When Solskjaer arrived as caretaker manager following Mourinho’s pre-Christmas sacking, nobody believed he was worthy of the full-time role — in his heart of hearts, not even the man himself.
Solskjaer fully earned the job with an extraordinary run of 14 wins in 17 matches, culminating in that miraculous comeback victory, with a patched-up team, against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes.
He achieved all that by transforming the mood around Carrington, putting smiles on players’ faces, allowing them greater freedom on the pitch — in short, by being the anti-Mourinho.
And that night in Paris, even us cynics acknowledged that Solskjaer simply had to get the gig on a full-time basis.
Yet since then, United haven’t played well in six matches — losing four and scoring two unconvincing home wins.
In Saturday’s 2-1 defeat of West Ham, there was only one vivid flashback to Ferguson’s heyday — a visiting team at Old Trafford getting absolutely nothing from the match officials, being denied a perfectly good opening goal, then conceding a joke of a penalty.
Glory in Catalonia tonight is not a complete impossibility, despite the 1-0 deficit from last week’s home leg.
Even with Lionel Messi, this isn’t a truly vintage Barca side, and United have the pace and finishing ability to trouble La Liga’s leaders.
But should United fail to pull off another famous European victory at the scene of their 1999 final triumph, then they will wake up tomorrow to a stone-cold reality.
They will face Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea in successive matches, probably needing to win a couple of them to end up in fourth place.
Should they fail, United would face a major summer rebuild, without Champions League status, with an inexperienced manager, no director of football, a track record of epic recent failures in the market and a star player, Paul Pogba, whose long-term commitment is doubtful.
This is not to write off Solskjaer. United had no chance of a top-four finish until he arrived.
He will be judged on the summer and beyond, not this campaign.
Alamy Live News4 The future of men like Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, seen in training with Romelu Lukaku, will help define the summer rebuilding for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
But is he a starry-eyed United devotee feeling fortunate to have the job?
Or does he possess the courage, judgement and stomach to, first of all, make a major call on Pogba, the man who did for the unlamented bus- parking Mourinho?
You feel Solskjaer must stamp his authority on the Pogba issue.
Either battle the commercially- obsessed United hierarchy and allow Pogba to leave, starting afresh without him — or make the Frenchman club captain and build the team around a player who undoubtedly has sufficient talent.
Then there’s the recruitment, still under the auspices of over-promoted commercial man Ed Woodward, who’s largely messed up the previous six summers.
A proper director of football should have been appointed before the boss, to bring United in line with most major clubs.
That United still don’t have a modern structure is a relic of the Ferguson era — when one unique genius ran the entire shooting match.
But those days are gone. Ole’s at the wheel now and he needs to discover a sense of direction.
First of all, in the car park.
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Let's end Chris chase
WHISPERS started before Saturday’s 5-0 home spanking by Bournemouth — the idea Chris Hughton might have taken Brighton as far as he can.
And after Anthony Knockaert’s red card for a brain-dead tackle exacerbated that defeat, the fear is Hughton will be axed, even if Brighton survive.
Hughton has overachieved in his four managerial jobs — at Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich and especially Brighton, whom he rescued from a Championship relegation battle and led to the Premier League for the first time.
So he has earned the right to guide them through this crisis and out the other side.
SPEAKING at a rugby writers’ dinner, Nigel Owens once delivered the funniest opening line I’ve ever heard.
“Sorry I’m late,” said the world’s leading referee, in his strong Welsh accent, “I got stuck in Barry.”
Owens came out as gay in 2007 and while that process has not always been easy, he is not merely ‘accepted’ by the rugby community, but cherished.
His gag brought the house down. Humour can be an important weapon in the serious struggle to allow a significant section of society the right to live an authentic open life.
4 Respected ref Nigel Owens is a fine example of how far ahead of football rugby union is when it comes to LGBT awareness and acceptance- which leaves Billy Vunipola out on a limb
There was also a touching moment when Owens was refereeing at Twickenham in this year’s Six Nations and was overheard complimenting France’s Jefferson Poirot on his pro-LGBT rainbow bootlaces.
For all its apparent ‘laddishness’, rugby union has been miles ahead of football and other sports in battling homophobia.
All this is why Billy Vunipola was so wrong when he echoed homophobic Australia full-back Israel Folau’s views by claiming ‘hell awaits’ gay people.
Religious faith can be no excuse for this hatefulness, as the law states.
And there should be no place in England’s World Cup squad for Vunipola unless he apologises.