The first 100 days of any leadership period are vital.
It is now a well-written and well-studied theory that in order for any manager in any industry to be successful, they must lay the groundwork within the first 100 days of their tenure. Fail then and you are doomed for good.
Coincidentally or not, 100 days was also the exact time between Manchester United approaching Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be their interim manager and the Norwegian getting the full-time job.
Now, exactly two years after that seismic announcement on March 28, 2019, some of the secrets of a critical period at Old Trafford can now be revealed. Solskjaer was interviewed by author Phil Denton and football manager Micky Mellon for their book “ The First 100 Days ” – which translates the famous theory of leadership in football – and which is now aimed exclusively at MEN Sport. .
Solskjaer may have progressed steadily in two years at United, but the first 100 days have been truly transformative.
Travel back in time to December 2018 and United fans will remember a club that hardly looked alike.
The rifts between the team and manager Jose Mourinho had reached boiling point and the results on the pitch had plunged significantly. A Champions League loss at Valencia and a pounding Liverpool at Anfield were the straws that broke the back of the camel. Mourinho’s first Christmas present was an Ed Woodward P45; he was sacked a week before Christmas.
Former United striker and Molde manager, Solskjaer was not at the top of many lists of candidates to take over, given his relative lack of experience.
But as ex-Tranmere and current Dundee United boss Micky Mellon explains, after his long conversation with Solskjaer for the book, United were not initially concerned with the Norwegian’s CV. First and foremost, it was about changing the mood around United’s training ground at Carrington.
“What’s interesting about Ole to us is why he was chosen,” says Mellon.
“It was the skill of the coach. They picked a guy for a role that they felt had to be filled by that type of manager, that type of relationship that they believed they had with the players to make it successful.
“He only believed at first that he was only going to be there on loan.”
Snippets from Solskjaer reinforce this and reveal the United manager’s thought process when it came to walking the stage in Manchester upon his arrival.
But despite coming “on loan” provisionally until the end of the season, Solskjaer knew it was important to start on a positive note. He made instant behind-the-scenes changes at Carrington to boost morale.
“The director [Sir Alex] and David Gill had approved the arrival of my personality, “Solskjaer says in the book.” It was never like ‘we want you to put us in the Champions League’.
“On the first day, I signed contracts at 8:45 am. We only found out the day before because Mourinho had been sacked. I entered the building and there were smiles everywhere. People were really happy to see us. I really felt I came home and it was like coming home. Then around 11 am, I called the players together. We told them about the honor it was to be at Manchester United. I said I watched them on TV and it was a privilege to work with players like this.
“We talked about high expectations, having fun and even surprising a few people.” Let’s enjoy it one day at a time and start winning again. ”
“Later that day I remember going out and hearing people say, ‘Well, we’re talking about being Manchester United again.’
Solskjaer’s subtle changes have been to physically bring the training ground closer to the first-team youth squad, ditch the canteen’s ‘top management table’ and make sure everyone eats together. He made players wear suits for matches, as they did under Sir Alex Ferguson.
He leaned heavily on his former manager as a mentor, making sure everything he did was in United’s best interests.
Mellon and Denton describe the style of the United boss as a ‘servant leader’.
“Ole has as much time for Cath at the reception as he has for his star player,” said manager Denton.
“One thing I noticed was that he didn’t let any of us pass a door after him. He opened the doors, made us coffee, and gave us three hours of his time. She is a genuine person and I describe her leadership as a “servant leader” – someone who is an assistant, a teacher and who sets expectations.
“And he puts them as part of United because he’s spent so many years with Sir Alex [Ferguson]. And if the players don’t, they know it because they’re not on the squad. He doesn’t have to yell or yell at them. It is 100% genuine. It is the same with everyone.
“This type of leadership can maintain success at United for many years to come. This humble, genuine and servant leadership is so powerful, but maybe something that people don’t usually put alongside a Premier League manager. They might think they have to be a bossy character, but you don’t, there are a multitude of ways to do it. “
Perhaps it is Solskjaer’s soft-spoken style and United-centric attitude that sets him apart from other career Premier League managers, who have enjoyed brighter careers in Europe. It also makes him a lightning rod for critics when things have gone wrong, as they initially did after his permanent appointment.
But before that, he dominated a 14-game winning streak in 17 games, including a glorious Champions League night away from Paris Saint-Germain. His changes paid off instantly.
However, it wasn’t just the results that convinced Woodward, the Glazer family and United’s board of directors to hand Solskjaer the permanent reins of Old Trafford, or even the way he revolutionized things behind the scenes. . His management style has also proven popular, despite his failure (relegation) to Cardiff City in his only stint in the Premier League.
United saw their bet pay off.
Mellon adds: “Even though we say Ole is a genuine leader and a ‘servant’ leader, he’s not soft. He’s very tough in terms of ‘this is the way Manchester United should do things’. He can have this baby … in front of people, but he’s a clear leader and will direct things, and he’s got a good balance.
“Much of the credit goes to those who thought of bringing him. For what Manchester United needed at the time, to be able to sit down and say ‘the guy from Molde who was playing for us … that’ is the A lot of teams and companies just pick and choose who they think is doing well, and what is wrong.
“But United picked a character in Solskjaer who fit in perfectly with that environment and knew what was needed, with a good squad around him as well. You could just say that was a very good fit.”
Woodward’s statement in the official communication confirming Solskjaer’s permanent appointment was revealing in itself.
He wrote: “Ole brings a wealth of experience, both as a player and as a coach, coupled with a desire to give young players a chance and a deep understanding of the club’s culture. ‘he’s the right person to take Manchester United forward.
“I want to thank Ole and the coaching staff for everything they have done so far and congratulate him on this richly deserved nomination. The fans and everyone at the club are behind him as he seeks to get us where we need to be and to build the next stage in our history. “
As Mellon and Denton pointedly point out, this last part was crucial.
Solskjaer, in the span of 100 days, proved he was a manager for the long haul, not just to boost morale in an initial period. Above all, he’s proven he’s perfect for United.
Mellon adds, “They all loved Ole, he was definitely going out there to make everyone smile and get everyone moving. Players need to be recovered when they lose their place, and they knew Ole would be the kind of guy to do that.
“Obviously as the work went on, the managers liked what Ole was doing, they did what they thought he was going to do – and the team around him, like Mike Phelan. “
Manchester United crashed out of the FA Cup after a 3-1 loss to Leicester in the quarter-finals.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had a disappointing performance, despite Mason Greenwood’s goal, and were deservedly beaten at King Power. That only leaves them second in the Premier League and Europa League to fight for this season.
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Solskjaer admitted that the confidence of getting a three-year deal – Carte Blanche to make the even more needed changes – was the extra boost of confidence he and the players needed to continue improving the culture at United. They thought they could make it work for the long haul.
“Now we could change things,” he said of getting the full-time job.
“Now we knew we were here all the time, we could start making these plans which you know will help create the new Manchester United adventure that we all want to be a part of.”
His assistant Mike Phelan summed it up: “I thought it was about bringing the Manchester United people back to the club. In Ole’s case he was talking more about Man United, not who was sitting there here at the top. club and it wasn’t really about us. Back to Sir Matt Busby and even beyond. We understood the tradition here, which is industrial and roll up your sleeves. Those who succeed have embraced the tradition and the culture here. “
It only took 100 days in Solskjaer. The rest was a little trickier, but he’s getting there.
The First 100 Days: Lessons In Leadership From The Football Bosses by Micky Mellon and Phil Denton, published by Reach Sport, goes on sale March 25. Order here and save 25% at reachsportshop.com.