In his final season at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored eleven goals, and won the Premier League title. Beforehand he had fought his way back from a three-year long injury nightmare, that only let go temporarily while he put on his last few shows for the Stretford End.
His contributions in that final season was a nice microcosm of his career. Most of his goals came as a substitute, and no one will ever forget his 3-0 comeback goal at Charlton in 2006, when the Norwegian took a bow in front of the away section during his celebration.
Now, Solskjaer has gone into coaching. After taking baby-steps as head of the United youth teams, he is enjoying success back home in Norway as manager of Molde – the team Sir Alex Ferguson bought him from. Despite finishing this season in a relatively disappointing sixth place, Solskjaer has guided Molde to their two first ever titles in the Norwegian Tippeligaen. This has added to his already respectable reputation around the continent, and several clubs are reportedly monitoring his situation.
The English football managerial merry-go-round is moving again – right on schedule. As certain as winter will follow autumn, as sure as the slightest hint of snow will shut England down, and as predictable as Gary Lineker describing Match of the Day as “cracking”, November is when managers start getting the sack. Middlesbrough drew first blood when Tony Mowbray was forced out the door at Riverside Stadium, and Crystal Palace soon after became manager-less when Ian Holloway stepped down. Simultaneously, Martin Jol must have had a scare after dropping into the relegation zone this weekend, but the Cottagers chose to put ex-United head coach Rene Muelensteen in charge of training sessions rather than eliminating the manager. It makes me wonder, will Solskjaer ever become a Premier League manager? And if he will, should he ever be in line to take over at Manchester United?
There is no secret that Solskjaer has had suitors in the Premier League already. Aston Villa gave him a call after Alex McLeish left Villa Park in the summer of 2012. The official reason why Solskjaer turned Villa down was because of family reasons. What reportedly happened however, was that the owner of Molde, Kjell Inge Rokke (notoriously recognised for moving Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes in 2004) went bonkers when Solskjaer considered leaving his club, and, looking from the outside, guilt tripped Solskajer into staying at least another year. It is not a given that he would ever get the job over Paul Lambert, but there are suggestions Solskjaer will get the chance to manage in England soon.
In fact, Ladbrokes had him as their odds-on favourite to take the helm at Middlesbrough before Aitor Karanka was given the job, and Fulham, the only club in the league with Norwegians in the squad (John Arne Riise and Brede Hangeland) considered the six-time Premier League champion. But would he be a good appointment?
There are still strides for Solskjaer to make before he is ready to become successful in the English top flight – something he has publicly expressed his desire to do several times. Although two consecutive titles in your first two years as manager is impressive, Tippeligaen is a different kind of animal to the Premier League. When Solskjaer arrived in 2011, Rosenborg had retained the title they won 13 consecutive seasons from 1992 to 2004, and Molde finished 11th. These two teams, however, are the only signs of consistency in Norway. Runners-up in Solskjaer’s first title-winning season, Tromso, were relegated on Saturday. In the same fashion, champions in 2008, Stabaek, struggled to hang on for three more seasons before they went down by a clear margin last year. If there is anything to learn about Solskjaer’s managerial ability from Tippeligaen, it is whether he can create a solid team, able to fight at the top consistently.
This season was affected by the loss of Magnus Wolf Eikrem, attacking focal point Davy Claude Angan, and Vegard Forren’s unsuccessful spell at Southampton, before he came back when the transfer window opened. Molde did make some useful signings in an attempt to acquire replacements, but still, Solskjaer only managed to finish sixth. The entire Tippeliga is a selling league, so consistent success is difficult, yet you would expect the Baby-faced Assassin to do better. The biggest of his career so far will be to see if he can win the title back again next season.
But Solskjaer does have some core values that the United board and fans value highly. His record of 28 goals as a substitute is a sentiment to his unique mindset. Nothing and no one is bigger than the team, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer simply felt privileged to play for Manchester United. His will to come on as a sub and put on a match winning performance is in many ways what defined Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Such a mindset is likely to be a hit among Red Devils supporters, and Solskjaer has a healthy attitude to football, which is rubbing off on his players already.
Furthermore, Solskjaer wants to develop his own talents, and tries hard to bring youngsters through the ranks at Molde. Wolf Eikrem, now at Herenveen, and Mads Moeller Daehli are examples of former United U18 players who Solskjaer has nurtured through first team experiences. Both are now Norwegian internationals, and Daehli has been compared to Paul Scholes by the manager. So Solskjaer certainly ticks a few boxes already, but I am sure he too agrees that he needs more time to become a top European manager.
The Manchester United hot-seat is of course occupied for the foreseeable future, and David Moyes will surely be given a proper go before any changes are considered at Old Trafford. But If Solskjaer continues his development in management, there is no obvious reason why he shouldn’t be in line to take over after Moyes. And the fans, who still keep the ‘2OLEgend’ banner at its designated spot in the Stretford End, will love to see their Baby-faced Assassin at the helm.
Will Solskjaer ever be good enough to take over at Old Trafford?
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