Tag Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Tag Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole takes first steps on long road to Old Trafford

October 31, 2011 Tags: Opinion 14 comments

It is, of course, a romantic notion that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could one day manage Manchester United. After all, the odds are firmly stacked against the 38-year-old former United striker who scored 126 in 366 games for the club. The ‘Assassin’, no longer so baby-faced, is one in a long line of Sir Alex Ferguson protégé’s to start out on the lonely management road. Yet, Solskjaer’s managerial career has begun in the most positive fashion of all after his Molde FK side claimed an inaugural Tippeligaen championship on Sunday.

This is a title more than 100 years in the making. Solskjaer returned ‘home’ last November and steered the club to almost immediate success. Tiny Molde, Norwegian champions in the club’s centenary year. Backed by a strong former-United coaching contingent, Solskjaer’s achievement is all the more remarkable for a club that finished 11th last season and was languishing in the second division just four years ago.

And where his contemporaries Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Paul Ince and Bryan Robson have largely failed to succeed in management, Solskjaer has achieved silverware at the first time of asking. It has his fans dreaming of a return to Old Trafford, where as a player Solskjaer enjoyed 11 trophy-laden seasons.

First, the celebrations after Molde secured a point for the title as nearest rivals Brann Bergen crumbled to a heavy defeat.

“The club has waited 100 years for this,” said the former United striker.

“We have been close several times so this was well deserved. When Brann went 4-1 I realised we had done it. It was a good atmosphere in the dressing room and we will enjoy ourselves tonight. The main reason for our success has been the players. They have shown quality during training and several players have performed better than expected on match days.”

“I want to thank my support team. My coaches, Mark [Dempsey], Rich [Hartis], Erling [Moe], Stig [Aambø]. They’ve made a great difference. And then I have the best players in Norway. It’s the players that deserve it, they’ve done it themselves, it’s them that have played the best football in Norway.”

This is false modesty perhaps from a true gentleman of the game but one, so word has it, who is ruthlessly demanding of excellence from his players. The Solskjaer analytical touch, it seems, has worked in double-quick time for the perennial bridesmaids of Norwegian football.

Indeed, Molde had previously finished second in Tippeligaen on seven occasions, the last in 2009 when Swede Kjell Jonevret’s side narrowly failed to top the table in a campaign where striker Mame Biram Diouf scored 17 in 30 games. The performance eventually earned Diouf a move to England but Molde’s wait for glory continued. Two seasons on and the club can celebrate after moving eight points clear with just two games remaining in the Norwegian season.

Small though the club is in English terms, with no more than 11,800 packing into the compact Aker Stadion on matchdays, Molde has benefited from Kjell Inge Røkke’s benevolence in recent years. Former Wimbledon director Røkke part-financed the €20 million stadium construction, while pumping in enough money to attract top coaches, including Solskjaer, and former Reds Mark Dempsey and Richard Hartis. Indeed, while Molde was undoubtedly home, Solskjaer had already developed a burgeoning reputation in charge of United’s second string under Ferguson’s leadership at Old Trafford.

The question now is where Solskjaer goes from here, with Portsmouth reportedly willing to take the inexperienced coach back to England. It is unlikely to be the only offer for a coach whose star is certainly in the ascendency. In the short term Solskjaer will surely relish a crack at the Champions League next season having narrowly failed to qualify for Europe in August. Molde lost 5-4 on aggregate to Stuttgart in the Europa League third qualifying round. Molde hasn’t qualified for the group stages of European football since 1999-2000, when the team lost five games out of six against Porto, Real Madrid and Olympiacos.

If Solskjaer’s career is on the rise that of messrs Keane, Bruce, Ince and Robson is certainly not. Keane finds himself out of work, turning his hand to punditry in recent months following sacking by Ipswich Town last season. Bruce, meanwhile, is under increasing pressure at Sunderland where Niall Quinn quit as chairman this season after heavy summer spending. Ince, the ‘big-time charlie’ whose ‘Guv’nor’ tag so infurated Ferguson has been sacked by Blackburn Rovers, Milton Keynes Dons and Notts County in successive seasons. It is a career in ruins, much like Robson’s, who resigned as coach of the Thai national team in June.

There is little evidence for it yet, but Solskjaer’s determined but measured approach seems built for the very top level. Certainly, former team-mate David Beckham believes so.

“Congratulations to him, he’s such a great guy,” said Beckham.

“He was a great player but an even better person. It couldn’t have happened to a better person. He’s a gentleman and was one of the best goalscorers in the world, so congratulations to Ole. Maybe he will be Man United manager one day, that would be nice. But for now, I think United are happy with Sir Alex Ferguson. But in the future, who knows? He’s a winner, he loves Manchester United, so you never know what might happen.”

Solskjaer would certainly be a popular appointment with United fans whenever Ferguson eventually calls it a day. Nobody knows when that will come, least of all it seems Ferguson himself. In the meantime Solskjaer can continue the business of building a career that already bears the hallmarks of greatness.

Ole prepares a final goodbye

November 8, 2010 Tags: Opinion 16 comments

Ole Gunnary Solskjaer is set to leave Manchester United to manage Molde Fotballklubb, the Norwegian team where he made his name. Solskjaer has twice previously turned down opportunities to return to Norway, recently declaring a plan to stay at United until Sir Alex Ferguson retires. In a change of heart, Solskjaer could accept the offer on Tuesday.

Solskjaer, United’s reserve team manager since 2008, has previously been offered jobs at both Molde and the Norwegian national team, with Rosenborg Ballklub in the Norwegian Tippeligaen also reportedly interested in taking the 37-year-old coach. Solsjkaer turned down each opportunity to remain at United where he has been player and coach for 14 years.

Molde is currently managed by caretaker boss Uwe Rösler, who received a standing ovation at the weekend for keeping the club in the Tippeligaen this season. However Rösler, the former Manchester City and Germany striker, wants a return to England where he maintains a family home.

Despite the club’s size – with average attendances under 10,000 – Molde has big ambitions. Investor Kjell Inge Røkke funded the development of a new stadium in the 1990s, which was dubbed locally the “Røkke Park.” He has also spent around NOK 400 million (£43 million) on new player acquisitions. Controversially, Røkke was central to Wimbledon’s move from South London to Milton Keynes in 2003.

“It’s no secret we have worked intensely to get Ole Gunnar but we have not signed a contract yet,” the club’s chairman, Erik Berg, said yesterday.

“I can’t guarantee a press conference next week but, to put it this way, I will be delighted to welcome you back.”

Although Solskjaer turned down Molde’s most recent approach this season his agent Jim Solbakken spent Sunday at the 11,000-capacity Aker Stadium in negotiations with director Tarje Nordstrand Jacobsen. Reports in Norway today suggest that Solskjaer will fly on Tuesday to accept the deal, with a January start likely.

Born in Kristiansund, less than an hour’s drive from Molde, Solskjaer has long maintained a plan to take his family ‘home’. Indeed, the 37-year-old former striker recently bought a new house in Kristiansund increasing speculation about a move back to Norway.

However, in October the coach, who scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United, promised he would stay at Old Trafford until Ferguson’s retirement.

“As long as the boss stays, I stay,” said Solskjaer in early October.

“My job at United is dependent on him. Had Ferguson not been manager at United I wouldn’t have been here.

“We have a really good relationship and I enjoy working under him.”

Many observers assume Ferguson is likely to retire in June 2012, with José Mourinho appointed his successor at Old Trafford. Indeed, Ferugson will have endorsed  Solskjaer’s early decision to leave and this could lead to speculation about the manager’s position.

Meanwhile, Solskjaer has already drawn up a list of potential transfer targets, according to the Norwegian media including United’s reserve midfielder Magnus Wolfe Eikrem and striker Joshua King. Bjorn Helge Riise, Tore Reginiussen and Tarik Elyounoussi are also on the apparent list, with the Tippeligaen not resuming until the spring.

According to reports, Solskjaer will also take former United player Mark Dempsey to Molde as his assistant. Dempsey made just two appearances for United in 1983 and has worked as a youth coach for Norwegian club Tromsø since 2008.

Speculation in the English media over the weekend suggests the Old Trafford hierarchy will offer 35-year-old defender Gary Neville a first coaching role as Solskjaer’s reserve team replacement. Neville is out of contract in June 2011 and unlikely to be offer a new playing deal.

However, with the player still part of the first team picture, Neville is likely to take the role on a part-time basis with coach Warren Joyce remaining in place for United’s second string.

Solskjaer is remembered at Old Trafford with affection, not only for his affable personality and goalscoring but most memorably the strike that won United the 1999 Champions League final.

Coming from the bench as an 81st minute substitute, Solskjaer poked Teddy Sherringham’s flick-on into the top corner of Oliver Kahn’s net for the dramatic winner.

The match defined Solskjaer’s time as a player for United. It was typically Ole – his 126 goals came in just 216 starts for the club and 150 appearances from the bench.

According to legend, it also proved the start of the player’s injury problems in the last three seasons with the club. Sliding towards the corner flag after the 93rd minute winning goal, Solskjaer later said the action had damaged ligaments in his left knee, although he would have four successful seasons at United before injury took its toll.

On retiring in September 2007, Solskjaer took time out to complete coaching badges before being offered the role of reserve team manager in summer 2008. He won the 2007/08 Lancashire Senior Cup by defeating the Liverpool reserves 3–2 in the final and the 2009/10 FA Premier Reserve league.

Somehow it seems unlikely it will be Solskjaer’s last success with United.

“I would like to become manager of Manchester United,” Solskjaer said in October.

Many United supporters will echo that sentiment.

Ole confirms offer but commits to United … for now

October 9, 2010 Tags: Shorts 7 comments

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has turned down an offer from former club Molde FK to become their next manager and committed his immediate future to Manchester United. The former Reds’ striker, now in charge of United’s reserve team, says that he will stay as long as Sir Alex Ferguson remains in charge at Old Trafford.

“Of course it was tempting,” said the 37-year-old coach of the Molde offer.

“I am a local, I have a sense of belonging at Molde. But I want to be a manager in England.

“I would like to become manager of Manchester United, too.”

Solskjaer is coveted by the Norwegian Tippeligaen outfit, whose manager Uwe Rösler is now out of contract.

Molde has big ambitions though, with investor Kjell Inge Røkke funding the development of a new stadium in the 1990s – dubbed the Røkke Park – and funding new player acquisitions to the tune of NOK 400 million (£43 million).

Controversially Røkke was central to Wimbledon’s move from South London to Milton Keynes.

However, Solskjaer says he will stay at Old Trafford while Ferguson remains in charge, despite recently buying a new house in Norway which intensified speculation.

“As long as the boss stays, I stay,” he added.

“My job at United is dependent on him. Had Ferguson not been manager at United I wouldn’t have been here.

“We have a really good relationship and I enjoy working under him.”

Future’s bright, future’s Red?

April 22, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 7 comments

Manchester United’s second string won the FA Premier Reserve North League without kicking a ball after Liverpool’s defeat this week. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, together with the under-18s’ six point lead in the FA Academy League, are providing hope amid the financial gloom but how many players will make it into the first team?

It’s an interesting point, with success in the reserves and academy side no guarantee of stardom in senior football. Indeed, in the past decade United’s academy has produced just four first team regulars: Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans. Of that quartet only Fletcher is a guaranteed starter in Ferguson’s first XI.

It has not always been the case with David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt graduating to United and international honours in the early to mid 1990s. The intervening years have demonstrated that the golden generation was very much a one-off.

The academy has changed though, with today’s youth team reflecting the globalised nature of the football market. It is now filled with the best local and overseas youth talent but the same rules still apply: if more than one of the current under-18 side becomes a first team regular then it’s an over-achievement against the benchmark of the past decade.

On the fringe of the first team include imports Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf, with their first team game time limited by frustrating injuries this season. While the Italian’s only Premier League start came in the disappointing scoreless draw with Blackburn, Diouf scored against Burnley on his full début for the club.

Danny Welbeck, who spent time on loan to Preston North End before also succumbing to injury, returns to the club next season. Striker Welbeck will join Diouf, Macheda and new 21-year-old recruit Javier Hernandez in providing competition for United’s senior strikers next season.

Meanwhile midfielder Tom Cleverley, who picked up Watford’s player of the season award this year, will figure in Ferguson plans when recovered from a serious knee ligament injury.

In reality none of these players contributed significantly to United’s reserve team league win this season.

However, Ferguson chose to praise both Oliver Norwood and defender Cory Evans this week. Evans, brother of Jonny, can also play in midfield and has already made the first team bench this season.

Meanwhile, central midfielder Norwood, who has represented both England and Northern Ireland at junior levels, is now the creative heartbeat of Solskjaer’s side. Norwood, along with midfielder Matt James, who has featured on loan at Preston this season, will both push for places in United’s Carling Cup side next season.

United supporters have seen both Fabio da Silva and Ritchie de Laet in the first team, although injuries have limited the Brazilian’s opportunities and he may head out on loan next season, with Sporting Lisbon a likely destination. Belgian defender de Laet has shown promise in his rare first team outings, although its hard to see where a regular spot is coming from.

Predicting success of first and second year academy scholars is far more difficult, although Paul McGuinness’ under-18s side has some potential top class talent.

Second year scholar Joshua King, a Norwegian under-19 international, has already made the first team for United’s Carling Cup victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in December. The 17-year-old striker has scored seven times at academy and reserve levels this season, although recently suffered a spell out through injury.

Meanwhile, Will Keane has recently broken into the reserve team picture after excelling in the academy and England youth sides. Keane has scored 11 times in the academy side from a deep-lying forward position this season.

There are similarly high hopes for controversial French midfielder Paul Pogba, who has excelled in his first season with the academy and scored on his reserve debut. Meanwhile striker Nicky Ajose has bagged a hat-full of goals in the academy side this campaign.

There are also very high hopes for Italian imports Michele Fornasier, Alberto Massacci and Davide Petrucci although none has seen a lot of academy football this season.

Although unfair to place additional pressure on the 17-year-old, perhaps the greatest expectations lie with Ravel Morrison whose touch and outstanding pace set the attacking midfielder aside as a great prospect.

Yet history tells us that perhaps one of the academy prospects and two of the reserve players will go on to become regular first team regulars. The future at reserve and academy level is bright but also far from certain.

Solskjaer could return home

November 4, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Manchester United legend and reserve team manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could return to Norway after being lined up as the new boss of Rosenborg Ballklub. Eric Hamrén, manager of the Norwegian Premier League outfit, is favourite to land the post of Sweden national team head coach, leaving the Trondheim club seeking alternatives.

“It is only natural that the Norwegian club would check out Ole Gunnar’s situation. He will not be reserve team coach at Manchester United for the rest of his life,” Solbakken told vo.no of the ’99 Champions League final goalscorer.

Solskjaer, installed as United’s reserve team manager last season, is highly regarded at United and Sir Alex Ferguson is loathe to lose the 36-year-old. But ambitious Solskjaer may see a first move into management as a stepping-stone to greater things.

Rosenborg chairman Terje Svendsen, who denied that Solskjaer has already been offered the post, added that the club hopes to keep Hamrén in place.