A year ago on Monday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw his Manchester United side beat Leeds United in Perth in the opening game of their pre season tour.
It’s fair to say that although the Norwegian’s neck might not have been in the noose – he was on the gallows steps after a truly shocking end to last season.
Not up to the job, out of his depth and lacking the gravitas to take United back to the days where they were regularly challenging for – and winning – the Premier League was the general consensus.
Solskjaer was, the critics mused, just keeping the chair warm for Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham boss identified as his most likely successor.
Fast forward a year and Solskjaer is now on the brink of turning around United’s fortunes – and this season – in a quite spectacular way.
And he’s done it the way legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson would have approved by being his own man, sticking to his beliefs – and staying true to United’s coveted traditions.
David Moyes was never given the time to do it. Louis van Gaal never found the spark of excitement that is captivating all at Old Trafford right now.
And Jose Mourinho could never escape the inevitable feeling that it would all turn sour – and it did.
The coronavirus pandemic has kept Ferguson away from Old Trafford as he wisely shields himself from harm after a brush with death two years ago when he suffered a near-fatal brain haemorrhage at his Cheshire home.
But he is itching to watch United in the flesh again – recognising that Solskjaer has restored pride, belief and hope back into a team that were drowning in mediocrity.
A source who worked closely with Ferguson during his final years at Old Trafford said: “Alex has been enjoying the recent weeks of football’s return and the way United have emerged from lockdown.
“For someone still full of energy, he’s not at his best cooped up and is looking forward to returning to Old Trafford when it’s safe to do so.
“But he’s been delighted the way Solskjaer is managing the team and I believe they have spoken a couple of times in the last few weeks.
“He’s especially heartened by the emergence of the younger players like Scott McTominay and Mason Greenwood.
“He managed United for an awful long time during good times and bad so he knows it’s not an easy job, particularly when things aren’t going well.
“That’s why he’s pleased at Solskjaer’s progress. He knows Ole is showing the grit and determination needed but also the bravery to make hard decisions.”
Solskjaer is proving he’s no soft touch – despite jibes from former star Robin van Persie that he’s not ‘mean’ enough.
Twice earlier this season the ex-Arsenal and United striker called out Solskjaer after United suffered defeats at Newcastle and down at The Emirates.
The outspoken Dutchman called Solskjaer to task after he smiled during a TV interview following the 2-0 defeat on New Years Day.
“I look at Ole and he seems like a really nice guy” said van Persie. “But I would like to see him a bit more edgy, a bit more mean at times, He’s smiling after a game like that?
“This is not the moment to smile.”
But his decision to move Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez out of the club was a bold move – and has enabled younger talents like Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford to blossom while making a reconnection to United’s traditions at the same time.
Solskjaer was also a driving force behind United’s fresh transfer strategy of buying and promoting younger stars rather than always spending huge sums on ready made players.
And it’s no coincidence that young stars like Greenwood are blossoming as United hunt down a Champions League place that will boost their income by around £75 million next season.