If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was involved in a game of bingo that centred purely on managerial sackings, Manchester United’s 4-1 defeat at Watford contained enough cliches for him to land the jackpot.
A humiliating loss at the hands of a mid-table side? Check.
The club captain sent off in the most irresponsible fashion? Check.
Most popular player on the team becoming embroiled in a row with supporters in the away end? Check and check.
The only square that remained unchecked on Solskjaer’s bingo card was the sacking itself. But after holding emergency talks on Saturday night, the Manchester United board decided to wield the axe.
The Norwegian made his plea to stay in the job and fight for another day after apologising to the supporters for their display, insisting he could turn things around.
But the damage had been done. His 35-month reign had been brought to an end and disappointingly for him, without yielding a trophy.
Man United were taken apart by Claudio Ranieri’s Watford, a team languishing in the bottom half of the Premier League table who hadn’t won at home since the opening day of the season.
They were also thrashed 5-0 by Liverpool in their own home in Ranieri’s first game — and that is a feeling Solskjaer can relate to after being beaten by the same scoreline.
The difference between the two bosses is that Ranieri’s side have made gradual progress over that time, picking up some decent results since the Italian’s arrival.
Few could argue Solskjaer’s United have done the same since their Old Trafford mauling; their tally of four points since September 25 is the lowest of any club in the Premier League.
The 48-year-old had been afforded the patience and loyalty his predecessors — and other managers at big clubs — haven’t. After this disastrous display, Man United had to make the ruthless but right decision.
It must be said that under Solskjaer, United have made some progress, going from fifth to second in the space of two seasons. But the lack of silverware in their trophy cabinet is damning and for a club of United’s size simply intolerable.
Of course, there may be a lack of general managerial options available after Antonio Conte was snapped up by Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino, linked with the Old Trafford post for a long time, is now at Paris Saint-Germain.
Man United are serious about bringing success back to the club, highlighted by their £120m investment over the summer. Now they have ejected Solskjaer from the managerial hot seat, they could do a lot worse than turning to the unattached Zinedine Zidane.
The Frenchman has been out of work since stepping down from his post at Real Madrid, where he won the Champions League in three consecutive seasons between 2016 and 2018 and La Liga twice across two spells.
Unlike Solskjaer, Zidane has pedigree in managing clubs at the high level and his track record suggests he could be the man to turn United’s underachieving squad into title contenders.
According to The Times, the club’s owners, the Glazers, have made contact with officials telling them to increase their offer in order to land former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
Reports have suggested the Frenchman is reluctant to take over midway through the season, but there is understood to be optimism that the two parties can agree terms.
If Zidane were to walk into Old Trafford and replace Solskjaer, he would not need to perform a dramatic overhaul of the playing squad.
The feeling is that for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, the players are good enough to mount a challenge for the Premier League title.
Even at 36, Cristiano Ronaldo has shown he still has a skillset of the highest quality when it comes to finishing and the Portuguese may relish the opportunity to link up with his former coach.
Then there is a pool of exciting talent waiting to be unleashed with Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho and Scott McTominay.
And the central defensive partnership of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane would supposed to turn United’s leaky backline into an impenetrable wall.
His arrival could also have a positive effect on Paul Pogba’s contract negotiations, with the 28-year-old still yet to renew his deal which has only seven months left before it expires.
It is widely accepted that United are in desperate need for a new defensive midfielder such are the struggles of Fred and Nemanja Matic in recent months.
Zidane has worked in difficult circumstances before, handling a dressing room with superstars such as Ronaldo, Isco, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos, so controlling the Red Devils’ squad should not be too difficult a task.
The French head coach is certainly not afraid to cast aside those who do not fall in line with his methods and that could be what United need in order to fire them up.
But more importantly, Zidane’s tactics and coaching methods get results, while the biggest criticism of Solskjaer is that United have had no discernible identity under his management.
There are doubts as to whether Zidane is willing to take over at Old Trafford — one factor being his wife’s apparent reluctance to move to England. If he can be convinced to take the role, United’s decision to act decisively may well have paid off.
It indicates that after nearly three years of building towards the future, the board have reverted to United’s old tactic of putting results and success above all else.
It is what prompted them to move for Louis van Gaal in 2014 and Jose Mourinho two years later. They were proven winners.
Now, with Zidane, it appears they are primed to take on the challenge once again.