Anyone who recalls the 1999 UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich will remember one of two images from that game – a frustrated Samuel Kuffour of Bayern Munich smashing his fists into the ground in utter dismay at the full-time whistle or that of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer running towards the Manchester United fans with the biggest grin on his face after snatching the winner in the dying minutes of the game. Solskjaer, who became known as the baby-faced assassin, due to his boyish youthful looks and habit of coming from the bench to score, snatched the trophy away from the Bayern players in the 92 minute of the game with only the slightest of touches from his big toe. The game, already on a knife-edge after Teddy Sheringham had equalised for United in the 90th minute, is one of the most remembered finals of all time, along side Liverpool’s comeback in Istanbul in 2005 and Ajax’s win back in 1994. The entire squad become legends in the eyes of the United fans but in particular, Solskjaer himself was idolised by the supporters.
Ole Gunnar’s Manchester United story began in 1996 when he joined from Molde in his native Norway. An unknown quantity, Solskjaer was expected to be a bit part player, supporting the main strikers, Eric Cantona and Andy Cole but manager, Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to throw him in to the deep end from day one. In his first season, Solskjaer bagged 19 goals in all competitions for United from only 46 appearances. The fans took to him straight away and supported him throughout the next 10 seasons he spent with the club. Solskjaer had talent in abundance but more importantly was always in the right place at the right time, snatching goals from all over the 18 yard box. His career with United had mixed blessings, some high points including the win in the Nou Camp in 1999 and the subsequent treble United picked up that year, to the trophy led years where he snapped up 6 titles and 2 FA cups in an 11 year span. But times were not always great for him. A bad knee injury ruled him out of the entire 2004 season which also troubled him through his remaining years as a player.
When he finally retired in 2008 as a United legend after scoring 91 goals in 235 appearances, it was expected that he would stay with the club he loved in some capacity and he did, taking on the job of Manchester United Reserve team boss.This would be his first foray into management and to anyone paying attention, the signs of what were to come, were apparent. During his 2 years in charge, Solskjaer steered the team to two reserve team cup victories which caught the eye of his former club, Molde and the Norwegian FA. A fans favourite with the Norwegian fans after 67 international appearnces and 23 goals, it was only a matter of time before his country came calling. He was eventually offered Norway’s top job in 2010 after the resignation of Åge Hareide but turned it down out of respect to his country as he felt he was not quite ready for the job. However, when Molde departed with Uwe Rosler’s services a few months later, the draw of coaching his home team was too much so Solskjaer departed Old Trafford to return to his homeland.
In his first season in charge, Ole managed to turn around the fortunes of Molde. When he took over, Molde were in a bad way. Having performed poorly the previous season under Rosler, Molde narrowly avoided relegation by a few points. Rolser left and the returning figure of Solskjaer proved to be the catalyst that lead to Molde securing their first ever Tippeligaen title, despite losing Solskjaer’s first game in charge. After the success of last season, a host of British clubs came calling with Aston Villa first to requested access to speak to the young coach. Despite a desire to grow in his managerial career, Solskjaer could not uproot his young family so decided to remain in Norway and turned down Villa. This season, as he started Molde’s defence of their title, he again was linked with English clubs, Bolton and Blackburn but decided to remain again and eventually led Molde last month to back to back titles.
For the 39-year-old coach, he has lots of time on his hands and a move back to England looks likely at some stage. The question remains, if Solskjaer continues to win titles and improve as a manager, which club will eventually persuade him to uproot his family for another stab at the Premiership? If that club is Manchester United when Ferguson finally steps aside, its unlikely the young Norwegian manager will be able to resist the draw that Old Trafford has for him.