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 t
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
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.
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,
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
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.
Solskjaer has so far managed 99 matches for United since coming in as the interim manager after Mourinho was sacked in December 2018 and receiving his permanent contract at the club in March 2019. There has been a lot of criticism for the manager of United with some seemingly manufacturing an agenda about the Norwegian suggesting that he is a PE teacher and has no tactics.
Granted, his time at the club has not been perfect and I for one would worry if it was. Solskjaer did everything he could possibly do and has started to bring in the right players to the club which has in turn created the right attitude at the club. Which we can all agree was needed after the mess that was left behind by David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. It was just not to be for Solskjaer either.
In the 168 matches that Solskjaer managed for the club, he won 91 times, drew 36 times and lost 41 times. United scored a total of 308 goals, conceding 273 in all competitions, which is not all that. But considering the fact United had many defensive injuries in the early days of Solskjaer’s tenure plus David De Gea was not in his best form for a long period of time, seemingly getting back to his best.
United are still a work in progress and despite a poor start to the season, United have a good chance of getting somewhere this season under the guidance of Ralf Rangnick, who became the interim manager after Solskjaer. The club are no way back to taking on the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and maybe Chelsea but there is something happening at the club as the wrongs start to be righted.
Granted, that may be something that many will find impossible under the Glazer’s, who are dire owners and only care about the money that they can take from the club, taking more out of it than the fee they leveraged the club for them they bought it, leaving the club in debt for the last 17 years. United should be thankful for Solskjaer, who did not seem to be the major problem at the club as things are not as great as those against him made out.
The Norwegian will still remain a legend at the club, as gutting as it was to see him leave the club back in November 2021. Some so-called supporters will blame him for everything, even though the problems still remain and were already at the club before Solskjaer returned post-Mourinho. Some supporters will see him as the guy that did not have what it took to raise United from the ashes, but it there a manager out there who could do that with the owners the club has.
I am sure that Solskjaer’s name will continue to be sung in the terraces of Old Trafford, or wherever United play matches, which just shows the impact the guy had at the club both as a player and a manager. The right road was carved out for United but the owners of the club need to ensure United continue to tread that road and eventually get back to where they once were.
However, with the prize money in the Premier League not all that lower between first and seventh place, the Glazer’s do not need United to be winning trophies for them to continue bringing the money into the club, only for dividends, share sales and god knows what else is in their plans, happening. United are a cash cow club and that is the main problem that needs to be resolved. Managers will come and managers will go but the Glazer’s will never take the blame despite being the main constant from the summer of 2013 until today.
Written by John Walker