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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: From apprentice to leader

Born in Kristiansund, to parents Oyvind and Brita, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was destined to kick a football. Ironically, it is widely noted of his appreciation for Liverpool – a club which he supported during his younger years. Solskjaer’s footballing journey began at the tender of seven when he joined local club Clausenengen Fotballklubb (CFK): He would make his senior debut at the age of seventeen. Six years later, on the 29th July 1996, Solskjær would sign for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. 

During his illustrious playing career at Old Trafford, Solskjaer would amass a total of 366 appearances – scoring 126 times. A loyal servant of United, he will be remembered, always, as the man who scored ‘that goal’ in ’99. More notable, however, – considering his current role at the club, will be his unique label as the games great super – sub: a label which was fondly revisited in Ferguson’s second autobiography:

“In games, sitting on the bench, and in training sessions, he would make notes, always. So, by the time he came on he had analysed who the opponents were, what positions they were assuming.

“He had those images all worked out. The game was laid out for him like a diagram and he knew where to go and when. Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] was a sweet-natured boy who was never looking to be confrontational with me.

“There was no risk to my office door from Ole wanting to smash it down to demand a place in the first XI.”

Keeping the words of the legendary Scot close, it was inevitable that Solskjaer would take the next step in his footballing career. Having pursued the mandatory route in obtaining the necessary coaching qualifications, he was named Manager of United’s Reserve team on 20May 2008. During his tenure, the Norwegian would achieve success in the Premier Reserve League (2009-10) – as well as cup success in both Lancashire and Manchester Senior Cups (2009).

On the 9 November 2010, Solskjaer would take the next step in his managerial journey: signing a four-year contact with Norwegian side Molde. He would inevitably lead the side toward success in the Tippeligaen in his opening season – the first in the club’s history: a feat which the Norwegian would repeat the very next season. In his third season in charge, the club would achieve success in winning the Norwegian Football Cup. 

Having spent three successful seasons in charge of his former club, Solskjaer was announced as manager of Premier League side – Cardiff City. Despite the most promising of starts – a 2-1 victory against Newcastle United, the Norwegians side would be relegated in 20th position (collecting a total of seven wins). Shortly after this, it was announced (September 2014) that Solskjaer would depart the club – following a poor start to the clubs Championship campaign.

Solskjaer would return to Molde (October 2015) and despite a lack of silverware, a level of competitiveness was returned to the team. Having previously delivered the clubs first league success, the Norwegian would build his ideas and formulate a culture of attacking and forward – pressing football. This style was recognised throughout the stands and as a result, Molde was quick to tie contractual dealings until the end of the 2021 season.

Fast forward to the present day, Solskjaer finds himself sitting in Old Trafford’s most premium seat. United have ended the season in the sixth position and the hero of 1999 is firmly in the media spotlight. The club are searching frantically for a quick fix but, to the delight of many of the supporters, the Norwegian seems determined to recreate the days of old.

As we approach the beginning of the first pre-season in charge of his beloved United, the club have welcomed their first signing of the summer – Welsh international Daniel James. The signing, a clear indication of the Norwegians desire to focus on youth, is the first of many anticipated arrivals. Solskjaer is determined to rekindle the spirit of United and has been extremely vocal when highlighting the capabilities of his squad– particularly that of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford:

“We want to build this team to be worthy of Manchester United history” They’re young enough to stay here for many years.”

The word ‘we’ is so very important in this scenario. Having embarked on this journey, the Norwegian was quick to solidly his surroundings: cultivating an extremely knowledgeable backroom team to stand alongside him. Assistant manager, Mike Phelan – a former assistant to Ferguson, providing a learned ear. Kieran McKenna and Michael Carrick standing as assured first team coaches and Emilio Alvarez providing the goalkeeping expertise.

Despite calls of inexperience and a lack of confidence in the Norwegian’s ideals, the vast majority of the United faithful are encouraged by the vision of their manager. Cries of ‘attack, attack, attack’ are welcomed by the coaching staff and Solskjaer is determined to cultivate this confidence in his players. One need look no further than his vocal admiration of the youth at his disposal and his willingness to publicly shield:

“He’s still only 21 so you don’t expect the consistency yet in all his play, but he’s always got that quality. His finishing, his striking of the ball, his attitude, that’s always going to be with him.”

The man who sat for so long – observing, listening and digesting the words of his mentor (Sir Alex Ferguson), while he analysed every player on the pitch – finds himself living his dream. Despite the overwhelming pressure, the iconic smile is forever present and he seems completely unfazed by the task at hand.

The upcoming season has provided a sense of encouragement for the United faithful. A sense of the unknown and a desire to see how these particular players respond to a pre-season under the Norwegian’s team. As always, frustration is evident amongst support; Boardroom behaviours instigating many the reaction. However, as we embark on 2019/20 season, we hear an ever-present echo – Ole’s at the wheel!

Written by Shaun Connolly

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