A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Ole was at the wheel and Manchester United were well and truly back on their way to the top, with the squad chasing down Manchester City and in pursuit of the 2021 Europa League crown.
Solskajer’s side were polarising and seemingly continued to defy expectations week upon week, giving fans and pundits alike plenty to joust about in a time where football stadiums were deafeningly empty.
They were by no means perfect, and they were doing it in what will forever remain the weirdest season of football ever, but they were doing it.
United looked somewhat complete and on the right trajectory for the first time since 2013, knocking on the door of Manchester City as a two (one and a half, truthfully) horse race developed in the Premier League, while also picking off those who stood before them in the Europa League, round by round.
It was all perfect, until it wasn’t.
We all know how it ended with Solskjaer. Falling away pretty quickly in the 2020-21 Premier League title race turned into a devastating Europa League final defeat to Villarreal on penalties, and the summer that followed simply left him under too much pressure to succeed in a pot that had come to the boil.
In and amongst all that chaos, though, young Shola Shoretire burst onto the scene, became United’s youngest-ever debutant in European competition, won the illustrious Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award – and vanished. Completely.
An extremely talented forward who Solskjaer was determined to integrate after failing to do so with Angel Gomes, Shoretire felt destined to progress into United’s first-team no matter what happened due to his immense technical ability and vision at such a young age.
Somewhere along the way, however, as is often the case with anyone associated with United these days, he was lost in the shuffle, chewed up, spat out and left in the cold.
The United curse had struck again and this time claimed its very own generational talent.
You’d be forgiven for completely forgetting about Shoretire and instead thinking he was merely a figment of our lockdown football imaginations.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, though, and his recent performances for United’s under-21s point to a pretty thrilling redemption arc – one that could put Robbie Williams’ Take That return to shame.
Kobbie Mainoo this, Dan Gore that, Erik ten Hag out this, the roof is leaking that – Shoretire has been completely overlooked for the best part of two years and he put in an all-action performance in the EFL Trophy to remind us exactly why Solskjaer gave him such an important debut in the first place.
United’s youngsters lost 4-3 on the night with Mainoo again looking head and shoulder above the rest, but it was Shoretire’s mature brace which made his midfield colleague’s performance a memorable one.
His second goal in particular was a demonstration of what he’s learnt during his time in the cold, lost in the shuffle in the reserves and then shipped out on loan to Bolton.
Shola Shoretire’s second goal
Nice finish with his weak foot. pic.twitter.com/co5TRn5Q7o
— academyarena Utd (@academyarenaUTD) October 31, 2023
With a somewhat vicious mean streak centralised in his weaker left foot, a bullish and bulked-up Shoretire – now 19 – was able to get in front of a helpless Salford defender and sniff out a half chance in the penalty area.
Having already bagged one in front of a boisterous crowd, he smelled blood. And when Gore was shoved off the ball for it to deflect his way, he rifled it home with all the gusto and ‘f*ck you’ he could possibly muster.
The strike of a man determined to put a breakthrough season behind closed doors behind him and restart his career on his own terms.
With Ten Hag’s men floundering, seemingly bereft of all creative output and drained of confidence, all the eyes are on Mainoo to save them.
But look a little deeper and there exists Shoretire, bulked up, older, wiser and still just as creative as he was two years ago, but now with the bit between his teeth to silence the doubters.
The Dutchman’s answer is youth – and the teenager might just be the p*ssed off catalyst for change he’s desperately looking for.
By Mitch Wilks