An Ode to Ole
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, also known as the baby-faced assassin, is one of the ultimate legends in Manchester United folklore. He was snapped up from Molde in 1996, the club he now manages, for a bargain basement purchase of just £1.5 million. This signing, alongside those of Eric Cantona, Nicholas Anelka and Patrick Vieira in the 1990’s for the top two in Manchester United and Arsenal showed a rejuvenation of the bargain buy in the football game.
The Norwegian striker was made available at a snip for £1.2 million but with Ferguson willing to pay an extra £300,000 allowed him discovery of one of the best European frontmen in the 1990’s. It was his form for Norwegian side Molde, 31 goals in 38 matches, which warranted the lightweight sum for the transfer fee and ultimate praise for the legendary Manchester United manager.
Being the only acquisition up front with the failure to sign Alan Shearer who signed for Newcastle United for a world record fee, he wasn’t expected to make as much starts as the preferred choices in Eric Cantona and Andy Cole.
However, anything but second rate could be used to label the Norwegian hitman as he scored just a few minutes into his debut when he came off the bench against Blackburn. The super-sub label would grow on him as his eleven year Manchester United career progressed.
Solskjaer was integral to United’s second successive English Premier League title in 1997 with eighteen league goals in his opening season. United wouldn’t win the league title the following season and with Ferguson wanting bigger and better things from his side, he opted to sign Patrick Kluivert as he accepted a bid from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 1998 for Ole.
Looking back, Sir Alex will be relieved that the Norwegian talisman rejected the contract offer from Spurs as Kluivert failed to sign for United. At first, this wouldn’t look to be a great regret as United managed to sign former Villa striker, Dwight Yorke.
This meant that Solskjaer would keep his ‘super-sub’ moniker as Yorke struck up an unimaginable partnership with Cole in October 1998, the two went some way to clinching the three trophies they netted in the historic season.
Two of his greatest feats were achieved in the opening half of 1999 as United stormed to a historic Treble winning season, in turn knighting Alex Ferguson and steeping Solskjaer in his legendary status in the Red Devils’ hearts.
The most memorable moment that will keep in Manchester United supporter’s minds the longest will be his stretched close range finish in the dying embers in the Nou Camp. Of course, this goal clinched Manchester United their second Champions League as they turned over the 1-0 deficit in a matter of moments in second half stoppage time, Solskjaer getting the winner.
Munich, who led the match through a free kick in the opening 10 minutes threatened a hammering of United by hitting the woodwork several times. With United missing Paul Scholes and captain Roy Keane through suspension and previous heroes Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were exchanged for Teddy Sheringham and Ole who were brought on.
Many wondered what Ferguson was racking through his mind and following a German barrage for nearly 90 minutes. Ryan Giggs’ attempted shot was converted by Sheringham, shortly followed by the latter’s glanced header which found Ole in the box. The Norwegian never misses from there as he toe prodded the ball into the top corner – elation in Manchester.
The most sensational turn-a-round and on the biggest stage of all, the UEFA Champions League final. No author could’ve pulled together the components in his mind to create that 1999 final, it was the mentality that United lived off for the season and ensured the Treble could come true.
Solskjaer got one of those crucial late winners in the FA Cup fourth round tie at home to Liverpool. The home side battered their Scouse counterparts in the second half as Solskjaer’s strike aided United into the fifth round and the rest, they say, is well and truly history.
His other big achievement was at the City Ground on a cold February afternoon in the Premier League. Leading 4-1 and approaching the final ten minutes against relegation doomed Nottingham Forest, Ole didn’t even look as though he was coming off the bench. However, when the full time whistle went a mere ten minutes after the Norwegian came off the bench he had miraculously netted four times in ten minutes as United humiliated Forest 8-1, getting the hat-trick that both Yorke and Cole were searching for.
With his opening couple of seasons being his true opportunity to strike, he forced Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole out of the squad with Ruud van Nistelrooy’s signing in 2001. He was omitted from the squad once the 1999 legends in Yorke and Cole had departed Old Trafford before he succumb to a career threatening knee injury which saw his return in January 2006 to the first team after over a year-long absense.
The legendary Norwegian striker’s injury rather hampered the remainder of his career although he rekindled some of his old form early on in the 2006/07 season with goals against Celtic, Newcastle, Wigan and Reading. The end to the striker’s career was finally announced in September 2007 when he retired from the troubled knee injury. He completed 366 games and scoring 126 times for the Red Devils.
Even at international level, Solskjaer netted an incredible 23 times in 67 appearances for Norway before he coached the Manchester United reserves and striking set-up before moving onto Norwegian club, Molde in late 2010 after his retirement. Due to his brilliant career, he was even offered the Norway international role before turning it down to join Molde.
He then, of course, went onto coach Molde, turning their mediocrity of last season to a title winning campaign in the top flight of Norwegian football as they pipped Tromso and Rosenborg to the league title with a 2-2 draw against Stromsgodset a couple of weeks ago, clinching their first league title in 100 years.
Solskjaer’s new path in his career sees more promise than ever as he has been touted for the Leicester City role despite his former United boss, Ferguson advising him not to rush into English management. A piece of advice I am certain that Solskjaer will appreciate and listen to.
Read more from Jake Doyle at his personal blog, The Twelfth Man.