In a post-match interview after Manchester United’s remarkable Champions League comeback in Paris, pundit and former player Gary Neville had three “quick questions” for caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
“How long would you like on your contract? What would you like your salary to be? And where would you like the statue?”
Solskjaer laughed, and Neville added: “They’ve only got one decision to make now, haven’t they?”
As elated United players chanted their manager’s name, co-owner Avram Glazer, former manager Sir Alex Ferguson and fellow United legend Eric Cantona joined them in the dressing room.
Outside, the United fans still in the Parc des Princes sang their ‘Ole’s at the wheel’ anthem on repeat.
So is it just a matter of when, not if, Solskjaer is made United’s full-time manager?
Full-back Luke Shaw has made up his mind.
“It looks certain,” said the England defender. “We all love Ole and we love the job he’s done so far. Long may that continue.”
Striker Romelu Lukaku said there was “no doubt” Solskjaer will stay, adding: “What else does he have to do?”
And amid the warm glow of one of the most remarkable results in United’s European history, if anyone who matters can – in all seriousness – come up with a narrative that does not end with Solskjaer being confirmed as the permanent successor to Jose Mourinho, they would be subjected to such external ridicule and internal questioning, they would soon be persuaded to forget it.
The sight of Ferguson sitting next to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, in earnest conversation as the seismic events unfolded below was, perhaps, the most significant sign a club that has struggled so badly to find its identity over the past six years has reconnected with its glorious past.
It has long been felt there was a schism between Woodward and Ferguson, an uneasy trust between them severed following the ill-fated appointment of David Moyes, who was virtually anointed by Ferguson as Woodward was still finding his feet as successor to David Gill.
Wednesday provided confirmation that whatever issues there were between the pair have been set aside. Their respective strengths are now being used in a far more productive way.
On the pitch, amid the tumult that followed Marcus Rashford’s rasping injury-time penalty, the celebration was notable for its youth.
With Rashford were three young players – Scott McTominay, 22, Tahith Chong, 19, and Mason Greenwood, 17 – whose presence embody a history that dates back to Sir Matt Busby.
They are proof of a commitment to youth that Solskjaer, a former reserve-team manager as well as Champions League winner at Old Trafford, understands completely.
From 19 December, the day he was named as the man to put a smile back on the face of a fractured club following the departure of Mourinho, the repeated phrase from United fans across the globe has been “he just gets it”.
Without any pretence, he speaks the words they want to hear.
He has restored the team ethic and speaks positively about the club and its challenges, both immediate and long-term. In allowing Ferguson and Cantona into the dressing room, Solskjaer was reinforcing the pillars on which the club used to stand. In his own understated way, he is forcing them back into position.
His post-match interview with Neville might have been a bit uncomfortable to watch, but only because Solskjaer was having to respond to feelings shared by virtually every United fan.
When Solskjaer answered Woodward’s SOS, it was felt his responsibilities extended no further than putting smiles back on faces and addressing a toxic situation before the summer, when Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino could come in and be the next man to have a stab at returning United to the top.
Yes, if he somehow got United into the top four, or won something, or beat Paris St-Germain in the Champions League, he would become a contender. But those scenarios were so far-fetched they weren’t worth thinking about.
That is not even three months ago. Now, the only scenario to be considered is the timing.
There are plenty wondering why Solskjaer has not been confirmed as permanent manager yet, asking whether some doubt remains about him being the right man.
Yet Solskjaer will know that permanence would take away a very useful safety net.
When he is asked, as he is most weeks, about contracts, potential signings or the uncertain future of players like Alexis Sanchez, Solskjaer can deflect them away easily, saying they have nothing to do with him.
The truth is he knows what is going on. He must do – otherwise, he could not have told the media Scott McTominay was about to sign a new contract.
But stated ignorance, real or not, is difficult for journalists to counter. As a permanent boss, Solskjaer would not be able to maintain the pretence.
Beyond the things, we cannot know – what is he like at buying players? How ruthless is he at getting rid of established ones? How does he respond in the heat of a game from which there is no return? – Solskjaer has answered every single question asked of him. Pochettino could not have done any better. It is impossible.
But, far, far more than that, Solskjaer has made Manchester United feel good about themselves again – the players, the executives, the former manager, former players, the staff, the fans. Everyone.
United may prefer to wait until the end of the season. They may prefer not to rock the boat just now when there is still a top-four place to be earned, an FA Cup to win, a Champions League to contest.
But they could also do it immediately. The outcome will be the same.
Ole is at the wheel.
Source: BBC sport