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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, The Baby-Faced Assasin
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was born and raised in a small fishing village Kristiansund in Norway. He had a happy childhood, an outdoors and free one. He was a clever young man, doing very well academically- although an obsession with football dominated all. He trained alone relentlessly and his enthusiasm for the game was evident in his passion for The FA Cup, some of the only football televised in his youth. He grew up with English football and was actually, though unsurprisingly a childhood Liverpool fan! They, of course, won it all in the 1980's. He played for and trained with third division side Clausenengen, signing professional terms at seventeen.
A family man, his family shared with him a passion for sport. Mother and sister were professional volleyball players and his father was a professional wrestler. The pair often had competitive matches with one another. Unfortunately Ole never got to see his father in a match and it was a deep regret of his. He did not think he would make it as a professional footballer and was all for giving up at the age of twenty-two. However, an offer came in for him from a major Norwegian side, Molde FK.
Solskjaer's first stint as a professional footballer was playing for Norwegian 3rd Division side Clausenengen, one of two local sides in his hometown Kristiansund. He trained with this side as a child, going on to make his debut in 1990 aged seventeen. He helped the side to promotion to the second division in his final season, 1993/1994 scoring more than 3/4's of the team's goals.
His goal return for this side attracted interest from Molde, a club competing in the top division of Norwegian football. He signed for Molde netting 20 in his first season. Progression occurred and he upped his tally to 31 in 38. Scouts from Italy, Germany, and England were interested in him such clubs as Cagliari, Hamburg, Everton and Manchester City. His coach at Molde had been a player for Manchester City, a great link but the club decided against taking him on.
Career Progression, Early Manchester United
Scouts from Manchester United were over in Norway to watch a couple of Solskjer's Molde teammates. However, Solskjaer also caught the eye and arrangements were made to bring him to the club- scouts saying that he was far too good to leave behind. Back in Manchester, a deal to sign Alan Shearer had fallen through again. He opted to instead sign for Newcastle United, for a then record of £15 million. Ferguson had wanted his man badly and there weren't any other strikers out there he deemed worthy of pushing the boat out for.
Solskjaer signed for United in the same season as fellow Norwegian Ronny Johnsen. The club had told Solskjaer that he would be introduced slowly and that he would play for the reserves until he found his feet. He surprised everyone by having a very impressive debut for the reserves, showing he was too good for that level. He went on and made his first team debut less than a week later. Akin to the reserves he scored on his Manchester United debut. Incidentally, in that match, he came on as a substitute, the opposition Blackburn Rovers. In his first season, he succeeded in scoring 18 goals, a very good return and he impressed the fans and his teammates alike. A dream start and one which earned him a Premier League winners medal.
Mid Manchester United Career
His next season was not nearly as easy and was one of real frustration. It was very stop-start due to injury and he admits himself that he never got going. The following season the club came very close to selling Solskjaer to Tottenham, apparently, the deal was a good as done. There was a concern with regard to him getting ample game time with the arrival of Dwight Yorke. In the 1998/99 season, Manchester United had an impressive roster of strikers- Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham, and Solskjaer. Unfortunately for Solskjaer and Sheringham, Cole and Yorke struck up an instant and what became a telepathic partnership.
The two were first choice. However, it was a season of many games and both Sheringham and Solskjaer. Ole and Teddy had important roles to play and played a good number of matches. It was a fantastic four, whom all slotted in well together it would not matter which two you picked. The team went on to win a historic treble and in some style too it must be remembered. It was a real squad effort. Solskjaer wrote himself into United folklore on that rainy night in Barcelona. Forty minutes to go, he came on and scored the winning goal in the game's dying minutes. It was just incredible to win a football game like that, no less a Champions League Final. The Bayern Munich ribbons were already on the Cup but United did it.
Late Manchester United Career
The trophies kept coming and in the following two seasons, Solskjaer kept his place amongst the clubs top goal scorers, 15 in 1999/00 and 13 2000/01. He was a regular in the 2001/02 season, a particularly fond one in terms of a playing perspective. He and Ruud van Nistelrooy combined for 56 goals, Solskjaer getting 25. In 2002/03 the Norwegian lost his place as a regular, Ferguson opting to the start Paul Scholes up front with Van Nistelrooy. When Beckham exit rumours grew stronger, Solskjaer enjoyed a period on the right wing. He played a number of crucial matches there, for instance, the quarter-final match vs Real Madrid. In this period and years later years he occasionally captained the side.
A tricky period in his career began as a result of a knee injury picked up in a Champions League match vs Panathinaikos. The fallout from that was his missing half the season. Though he did return in time to play an important role in the semi's of the FA Cup, United went on to win the trophy. Trouble with his knee really plagued him, a frustrating recurring injury. At one stage he did not play for a year and a half. It was undoubtedly a tough time, his character got him through it and the time was not wasted.
He took big strides in preparing for his life after football, working on earning his coaching badges and involved himself with youth training at the club. In the 2006/07 season, one that is so fondly remembered by fans- Solskjaer made his comeback. It was a fantastic end to his United career. The glory days returned to the club after a period of London domination. Solskjaer scored 11 goals in 18 appearances in his final season. It meant a great deal to the fans, who never stopped singing for him, to see Solskjaer return to the field of play. The highlight for him was that it meant that his son could see him action. This was personally significant as he had regretted never seeing his own father in action in the ring. A testimonial in August 2008 vs Espanyol was a final farewell, bringing to an end his playing days.
Football Career Highlights & Qualities
The defining moment of his United career was undoubtedly that night he came off the bench to score the winning goal in the Champions League final in 1999. Another memorable substitute appearance came in a match against Nottingham Forrest in the 1998/99 season. He came on fairly late in the game and still managed to score 4 goals in just 12 minutes. He commented to MUTV "Jim Ryan had a few words, keep it simple, keep the ball, we don't need anymore, goals, of course, I don't like to do it like that, do I?". He did it again, scoring 4 against Everton the following season. Solskjaer was especially famous or his impact coming off the bench and it was seen time and again.
Solskjaer was especially famous or his impact coming off the bench and it was seen time and again. A very clever player, who read the game and situations well. He was able to adapt quickly and had a resilient mentality. He had fantastic instincts inside the box and was a scorer of some cracking goals, not just poachers ones. His finishing ability was incredibly strong, his biggest strength was that he could score every type of goal. Right foot, left foot, headers, volleys. During his first shooting session at Manchester United, the first team players were apparently blown away. Peter Schmeichel did not enjoy training against players, Solskjaer and Scholes in particular, as those were the two that most often beat him. Those who worked closely and played with him marked him out as a player who possessed the credentials to be a future football manager.
The next chapter of Solskjaer's career after a memorable final season, seen a change of direction for the Norwegian. He had, had every intention of playing on. However, during pre-season, it became clear that there was something very wrong and he did not feel right. His knee had flared up again and he made the decision that it was time to bring his playing career to an end. He recalls being both nervous and emotional going in to tell the manager he wanted to retire. Sir Alex Ferguson supported his decision and offered him a job as coach at the club. Solskjaer jumped at the opportunity to coach the Manchester United youth team. He had a fantastic impact with a talented bunch of players, helping them to become League Champions of their division. The players he worked with had many positive words and expressed great enjoyment about their experience being coached by Solskjaer.
Forays into Management
The following season, an opportunity came up for him to return home to his native Norway and manage a side he had once played for. Molde came calling in their centenary year. It was a match made in heaven. Particularly as it had been a desire of he and his wives, (also Norwegian) to return home with their children. Molde FK was a club that had never won a league title. The lifestyle in Norway, a country life by the sea was a big pull and a wish for his children to experience how he was brought up. A documentary shown on MUTV gives an all access look at Ole's first year in Molde. It was a great insight into the man and it is a beautiful country. Molde had come into some money and were certainly a club on the up within the Norwegian Tippeligaen. Solskjaer guided a young team to win a historic league title and brought the love for football back to the small community.
His team went on to win the league the following season, it is very difficult to sustain success and therefore a great achievement to win back to back titles. This season has been more difficult for he and his team. They have lost a number of talented players and not replaced them. They are really struggling in the league and had a very poor start to their campaign. It is mid-way through the Norwegian league season, with the league trophy out of sight it is to the cup competitions his focus and emphasis will be on that. With league champion success, it has meant an opportunity to compete in Europe. This present season, his team has recently beaten
Title winning success has meant an opportunity to compete in Europe. This present season, his team has recently beaten Sligo Rovers of Ireland in the Champions League. In the next stage, they drew 1-1 at home versus Legia Warsaw. The return leg is due to be played in a weeks time. It will be interesting to follow Solskjaer and an eye will certainly be kept on him. He has been linked to a number of jobs in England. There is a romanticised belief that he may one day return and manage Manchester United. It will be great to see him in a different and more challenging role in a team with bigger ambitions and competing at a higher level than Molde.
Solskjaer made regular appearances for his national team. He amassed a total of 67 caps for his country. His international debut came in 1995 versus Japan a match in which he scored (something he has a habit of, every single one of his clubs). His performances for Molde earned an instant call-up. He played in two international tournaments: 1998 World Cup and The Euro's in 2000. He managed a total of 23 goals for his national side.
A highlight of his time playing for his national side was the partnership he struck up with the former Chelsea player Tore Andre Flo. It is one of the most famous and certainly most loved in the nation's history. The early years of his international career were his most successful. He came onto the scene towards the end of one of the national side's most successful periods, occurring between the years 1990 and 1998. This period was overseen by Egil Olsen. At one stage in the mid-nineties, they did well enough to be ranked second in the FIFA World Rankings. Quite some feat. A golden generation of Norwegian footballers emerged in those times. This included such names as Rekdal, Thorstvedt, Bratseth, Andre Flo,
The early years of his international career were most successful. He came onto the scene towards the end of one of the national side's most successful periods, occurring between the years 1990 and 1998. This period was overseen by Egil Olsen. At one stage in the mid-nineties, they did well enough to be ranked second in the FIFA World Rankings. Quite some feat. A golden generation of Norwegian footballers emerged in those times. This included such names as Rekdal, Thorstvedt, Bratseth, Andre Flo, Berg and Johnsen. Qualification for major tournaments evaded the national side. Manchester United were criticised for preventing Solskjaer playing in specific games. Injury too prevented him from playing more games for Norway, had he been available it is certain they would have been more competitive. His final game for his country ame in 2007 versus Croatia.
Solskjaer The Man
Solskjaer has a firm place in the heart of United supporters. There are few players that are held in such high regard and affection as he is. His songs are still widely sung in games home and away. Solskjaer's personality, quality and what he did in a United shirt are major reasons why he is so loved Fans love a player who loves the club and Ole is certainly one of those. There is not a bad word to be said about the man and that includes opposition players too (except perhaps Robert Lee). He does a great deal of work for charity including Unicef. whilst at the club, he was heavily involved with the Manchester United Foundation and MUDSA (Man Utd Disabled Supporters Association). As well as that he has an affiliation with MUST, the supporters trust fighting to free the club from the grips of the Glazers.
A hugely likeable person. He was so proud to play for Manchester United and speaks so fondly of the club. Known as the most famous Norwegian, his nickname- the baby-faced assassin was just as infamous. This came from a combination of his youthful looks and deadly instinct in front of goal. Ryan Giggs, upon seeing him for the first time thought he was an apprentice due to looking so young. It transpired that Solskjaer was actually a year older than Giggs. Personally, you just cannot not love Solskjaer. He was a personal favourite player of mine and I had wanted him to start every game. I used to get upset and annoyed with such players as Van Nistelrooy and Cole as I thought that they were taking his chances! It is so rare for a player to love a club as much as fans do, really like that about him. Also that he stayed at United when he could have left and been a regular for pretty much any other team in Europe. So many fond memories of him on the pitch and his fantastic goals. He'll live on in the memories of supporters for his role in that heart-stopping win vs Bayern Munich in 1999.
"I've seen many players go through Old Trafford but I can't think of a single one with as much appreciation for what it means." ------ Gary Neville
" I was sulking and watching the clock to see when I would get on the pitch, Solskjaer would study the game and see areas he could exploit. He would watch defenders and the pattern of play." ------ Andy Cole, on being on the bench and Solskjaer's studious ways
"Ole was always one of the professionals that used to take down all the notes from the training sessions and games. He has got an inner toughness, there’s no doubt about that,' added the United manager. He is a nice man with a lovely manner about him. If you go to a club in Norway that have never won the league ever in their history and you win the league you have to have something about you to do that." -------Sir Alex Ferguson
Career In Numbers
Playing Career (Appearances & Goals)
Molde: 42 (app), 33 (goals), Manchester United: 366 (app), 126 (goals) & Norway 67 (app), 23 (goals)
Manchester United Honours
Premier League Titles: (1996/97), (1998/99), (1999/2000), (2000/2001), (2002/03), (2006/07)
Domestic Cups: FA Cup (1998/1999) & (2003/04). Football League Cup (1991/92), (2005/06) & Community/Charity Shield (1996), (1997), (2003)
Europe: UEFA Champions League (1998/99) & Intercontinental Cup (1999)
Manchester United Reserve Team Manager (2008-11):
Premier Reserve League (2009/10), Premier Reserve League North (2009/10), Lancashire Senior Cup (2008)/09 & Manchester Senior Cup (2009)
Molde (2011-14) & (2015-Present):
Norwegian Premier League (2010/11) & (2011/12) Norwegian Football Cup (2013)
night of the Order of St Olav First Class, 3x Kniksen Awards (Norwegian Player of the year- 1996, Career Honour Award- 2007 & Coach of Year- 2011) & Peer Gynt Prize for Football & Philanthropy (2009)