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Ole Gunnar Solskjær Will Build up United Players, Not Break them Down

Ole Gunnar Solskjær Will Build up United Players, Not Break them Down

Tuesday, 25 December, 2018 - 09:30
Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær. (AFP)
London - Jonas Giæver
When Ole Gunnar Solskjær started his spell as Manchester United caretaker manager the players will notice one big difference. The Norwegian, unlike the man he is taking over from, is here to build up the players, not to break them down.

In Norway his tendency to compare his Molde players to Manchester United legends became a little bit of a running joke but here is the thing: it worked. Who would have thought that publicly praising players and telling them how good they are would have a positive impact?

And surely that is what the United leadership wants from Solskjær, a shift from negativity to positivity and standing together instead of cultivating a blaming culture.

As for the United comparisons at Molde the list is long. The young striker Erling Braut Håland, who is the son of the former Manchester City midfielder Alf-Inge Håland, has been described as playing “like Romelu Lukaku” while the veterans Magne Hoseth and Daniel Berg Hestad were Solskjær’s “Giggs and Scholes” during the manager’s first spell at the club.

When Rosenborg signed Nicklas Bendtner in March 2017 it created shockwaves in Norway but Solskjær responded by saying: “I would not switch Björn Bergmann Sigurdarson for any other player in Norway.” He added: “We may not have a Steve Bruce or an Eric Cantona but we have Björn Bergmann Sigurdarson”. The Iceland striker, who struggled at Wolves, responded by scoring 16 goals in 27 matches.

Solskjær is also prepared to give youth a chance. His ability to spot and nurture talent has been obvious ever since he managed United’s reserves. At Molde his team has been ripped apart several times as players have moved abroad but he has always managed to replace them with talented youngsters.

Hestad, for example, was seen as a talented player who had never quite managed to reach the levels expected of him until Solskjær allowed him a free role in the forward line. Stian Rode Gregersen, who was 22 at the time, was handed a start away against rivals Kristiansund in the opening match of the 2017 season, while a young Fredrik Gulbrandsen played a vital role at Molde before moving to Red Bull Salzburg.

Braut Håland is another case in point. He was born in 2000 and was leading the line for Molde at the age of 17. He repaid his manager by scoring four goals at Brann, who had the best defense in the league at the time.

At Molde, Solskjær created a winning atmosphere. He demands only the best from himself, his staff and the players around him – and it rubs off. It is partly due to the aura he brings with him from his time at United, having played for so long under Sir Alex Ferguson, but it is also down to the competitor within him. He has a natural way of calmly analyzing himself as well as those around him – which he will act on.

All that does not mean he will automatically be a success and his failed spell at Cardiff, which ended in September 2014 after relegation from the Premier League and five wins in 25 league games, is worrying.

It was a chastening experience and when he returned home, he realized he needed a break away from football and away from the world. He found solace in his hometown of Kristiansund, where he spent time with his family.

He did not want to rush into another job. He coached one of the boys’ teams at Kristiansund BK and attended some of the first-team sessions to give them some inspiration as they pushed for promotion to the top tier but kept a very low profile. Such is the character of Norway’s most famous footballer.

It would be 13 months before he returned to management but when he did, with Molde, the club he had done so well at before joining Cardiff, it was as if he had never been away. Solskjær felt he had learned a lot at Cardiff.

Before the 2017 season he explained to the Norwegian newspaper Nettavisen how he had needed to change. He started to work with Mark Dempsey, who had been with Solskjær in his first spell at Molde and his time at Cardiff, again which, in his own words “allowed me to be me”.

Solskjær said he had “tried too hard at being a coach” at Cardiff. Coaching and being out on the training ground is not something he is against, but analyzing games and delegating is where he excels.

The results at Molde have been outstanding. In 2015-16 they were paired with Celtic, Ajax and Fenerbahce in an incredibly tough Europa League group but they won it and were stopped only by the eventual winners, Sevilla, in the last 32. It is hard to overstate what an achievement that is for a Scandinavian club.

Solskjær has proven himself to be tactically flexible. His best results during the 2018 season came with the use of a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation but he often opted for 4-4-2 during his first spell and has also experimented with a 3-5-2. The return of the former Manchester United youth player Magnus Wolff Eikrem in the summer allowed Solskjær’s team to dictate the tempo of the play, while also allowing talents such as Håland, Eirik Hestad and Fredrik Aursnes to stand out.

Molde and Solskjær did not lose in their final 10 league games last season, recording a 1-0-win at home to champions Rosenborg along the way, as they finished second.

Solskjær signed a new three-year deal in December but the United job is the ultimate calling. In interviews Solskjær still refers to Ferguson as “the boss” and has called Old Trafford “his home”.

It is logical to question whether or not he is the right man, considering his dreadful spell at Cardiff, but the 2018 version of Solskjær is more seasoned, more meticulous and simply a better manager.

He has shown he can handle big characters, and within the walls of Old Trafford one has to wonder if perhaps Solskjær is a bigger personality than most.

Throughout his time away from United, he has continued to behave as an employee of the Premier League club: professional, dignified and resolute. Even the way he handles the media seems inspired by his time at United.

For example, he is perhaps the only manager it is impossible for the press to call in Norway. Most managers in the top flight will be available on the phone for journalists during the week but with Solskjær, it has to go through the club. To him, it is all about the club and about keeping things in-house, just as he was taught by Ferguson.

Finally, his love for the club is not in doubt. In an interview with Manchester United Scandinavian Supporters Club in 2017 he was asked about whether he would be interested in the United job and he replied: “To be honest, yes I would, and at the moment I’m getting goosebumps [just thinking about it].”

The Guardian Sport

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