Iconic Reds: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became a red nearly 22 years ago but returned to the club to guide it back to glory

On the 29 July 1996, Manchester United made one of the best signings the club had ever made. In a summer where they were linked to Alan Shearer, for a second time. Blackburn Rovers were not keen to let him leave for Old Trafford, choosing Newcastle United in a world record £15 million instead, United Premier League title rivals at the time – how the times have changed.

Having missed out on the prolific goalscorer, Sir Alex Ferguson had to find a new target, and that he did. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. An unknown player, outside of Norway anyway, it was expected that he would play backup to both Eric Cantona and  Andy Cole, who had signed the year before. On the 25 August 1996, Solskjaer made his Manchester United debut, also scoring his first goal in a 2-2 draw against Blackburn Rovers, champions in the 1994/95 season.

Within weeks of his arrival at Old Trafford, Solskjaer was going to be a starter, not a backup player. In his first season, Solskjaer nicknamed the Baby-faced Assassin, scored 19 goals in all competitions, which was a good start for the new striker, even though he was a ‘super-sub’. That season, United retained their Premier League title, also winning the FA Community Shield at the start of the season.

Solskjaer was going places fast and was the best Premier League signing of the season, costing just £1.5 million, a fee that on today’s money would be around £2.6 million, which compared to the value you get today, is still a steal. The following season, United again were stopped from lifting the Premier League trophy three times in a row, with Arsenal reigning supreme and winning their first Premier League crown, their eleventh league title, level with United eleven league titles, but well behind Liverpool, who at the time had won 18 titles, the same as today.

United did win the FA Community Shield that season, which was still not anything great back then. Solskjaer, not near as good as his first season, only scored nine goals. The following season was going to be epic for Manchester United, the 1998/99 season. It was time to regain their trophy from Arsenal and go on to bigger and better things. Solskjaer famously scored four goals, from the bench in an 8-1 victory over Nottingham Forest on the 41st anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster.

He finished that season with 18 goals in all competitions, one of them very special indeed. Who put the ball in the German’s net? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

During the 1998/99 season, Manchester United reached the promised land. United won their title back from Arsenal, finishing a point ahead of their rivals. A week later, United beat Newcastle United 2-0 at Wembley, securing the FA Cup with goals from Paul Scholes and Teddy Sheringham – the first double since the 1995/96 season, but this season was special, United was in the final of the UEFA Champions League, facing Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.

United was in a group with the German side, also Barcelona and Brøndby, finishing second to Bayern Munich. In the knockout stages, United beat Inter Milan 3-1 on aggregate then Juventus 4-3 on aggregate. United are still the only English team to win a treble. Barcelona is the only major European club to win the treble twice. Thanks to Sheringham and Solskjaer, United had their name on the trophy, on what would have been the 90th birthday of Sir Matt Busby.

United went on to win the Premier League title three times in a row, 1998/99, 1999/00 and 2000/01 with Arsenal breaking that record in the 2001/02 season. Solskjaer scored 25 goals in all competitions that season, his biggest goal haul for the club. The following season would be his last complete season at the club, as injury was about to hit and ruin his career.

In August 2004, Solskjaer had to undergo intensive knee surgery, missing the 2004/05 season in its entirety. At 32, Solskjaer made his return in the 2005/06 season, making five appearances and failing to score a single goal. A banner at Old Trafford ’20 LEGEND’ was unveiled at United with the supporters showing the player what he meant to them. His last season as a player, the 2006/07 season, Solskjaer made 32 appearances, scoring 11 goals, his last against Blackburn Rovers, just like his first, in a 4-1 thrashing at Old Trafford.

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On the 5 June 2007, Solskjaer had minor surgery after discomfort in his knee whilst training with Norway. The surgery was successful, but Solskjaer failed to recover fully, announcing his retirement from the game on the 27 August 2007. After his retirement, Solskjaer was credited with the most goals scored for Manchester United from the bench – 28 and the most Premier League goals scored as a substitute – 17, a record since surpassed by Jermain Defoe.

Just under a year later, Solskjaer was awarded a testimonial, played at Old Trafford on the 2 August 2008 and attended by around 69,000 supporters, the second highest figure as a testimonial match in Britain. United beat Espanyol, with Frasier Campbell scoring the winner. Solskjaer replaced Carlos Tevez in the 68th minute of the match. At the end, he addressed the United faithful crowd, thanking the fans, players staff and his family.

That was not the end of the road for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer though. During the 2007/08 season, Solskjaer was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s coaches, coaching the strikers, which will have been beneficial to them, being that the Norwegian was a clinical goalscorer.

At the end of the season, Solskjaer was named as the Manchester United Reserves manager, looking after what would be the now U23 side (was U21’s). Solskjaer became the first full-time reserve team manager at the club, taking over from Brian McClair and Jimmy Ryan. Whilst managing United’s reserves, Solskjaer won the Lancashire Senior Cup in 2008/09, the Manchester Senior Cup in 2009, the Premier Reserve League North, then winning the Premier Reserve League (it was north and south divisions back then) in 2010.

In November 2010, Solskjaer left Manchester United for his former club Molde, becoming their manager where he stayed until January 2014, before moving to Cardiff City, where he remained until September that year. Solskjaer again became the manager of Molde and has been since October 2015.

Solskjaer is a player that has been missed. Making 366 appearances in his time at Manchester United, scoring 126 goals, meaning he scored a goal every three matches, which is a decent scoring record to have, especially for the low fee Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United paid for him. Back in December, after the sacking of Jose Mourinho, Solskjaer became the caretaker manager of the club, having some good results on and off the pitch.

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Currently, there is no club football because of the first international break of 2019, which has left United supporters eagerly awaiting the next match of the season, against Watford at Old Trafford on the 30 March. In the short time that Solskjaer has managed United, 19 matches have been played, 14 won, two drawn and three lost. Which shows the level of confidence the Norwegian has brought back into United.

United has scored 40 goals, conceded 17 and had seven clean sheets earning 32 Premier League points – out of a possible 39, earning an Emirates FA Cup quarter-final, also coming back from the jaws of defeat against Paris Saint-Germain and earning a UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.

United have a lot to gain from this season, finishing inside the Premier League top for and going as far as they can in Europe, however, Solskjaer earning the role as manager should come naturally for the club hierarchy.

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copyright: JW

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