When last here I was blogging about Carlos Tevez and his ongoing squabbles with Manchester City; a gruesome affair which will undoubtedly have alienated a lot of City fans – understandably so in these penny-pinching days.
Were Carlos interested in cultivating the affections of the long-suffering City fanbase -and clearly he isn’t – then he need only glance across town to his former club for a role model.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær is about to leave Old Trafford after nearly 15 years of loyal service. Having retired from playing in August 2007, Solskjær has spent the last three years working as an ambassador and coach at Old Trafford, most recently co-managing the Reserves (with Warren Joyce) and achieving great success in that role.
From January, he will take up the manager’s job at his former club, Molde FK in the Norwegian Premier League. Many people feel that Old Trafford has not seen the last of Ole Gunnar and that he might eventually return to manage the club.
Ole Gunnar – looking about 12 – in his playing days at Molde
That’s as may be; it’s easy enough to think of former Red heroes who never really cut it as managers – Bryan Robson and Bobby Charlton, to name but two. For now, it’s merely a pleasant daydream to envisage a battle-hardened OGS returning to United as manager a few years down the line. Time will tell.
Talk of Solskjær and the over-used word ‘legend’ is often not far from the conversation. He has, of course, entered the folklore of Manchester United principally because of the instinctive injury-time strike against Bayern Munich which won the 1999 Champions League Final in what has to be the most extraordinary finale to any major football match ever.
Even before that, however, United fans loved him. Earlier that season, he had scored another dramatic injury-time winner in front of the Stretford End in an FA Cup tie against Liverpool, he had scored 4 goals in less than 15 minutes in a League game against Nottingham Forest and in general seemed to have a knack of scoring late, vital goals – often after coming on as a substitute.
Legendary? Maybe, but the thing that probably cemented Ole Gunnar’s status was the way in which he handled his ‘stardom’. Unfailingly courteous and modest, dedicated to his craft and the club – he could have left in a big-bucks move to Tottenham in 1998, but stayed to fight his corner and was rewarded with the undying affection of United fans everywhere.
Fans of all clubs prize loyalty in those they venerate, but that’s a coin with two faces. Mancunians in particular reserve a particular level of scorn for ‘badge-kissers’ and those that get too big for their expensive boots. United fans know that the club is bigger than any player or manager and have little tolerance for players who get above themselves, something Wayne Rooney would do well to remember.
Doing what he did best……
If the goal against Bayern in the Camp Nou was one defining moment for Solskjær, another – and one that said everything about his commitment to the cause – came towards the end of the previous season.
Near the end of the 1997/1998 season, United were trying (unsuccessfully as it transpired) to chase down leaders Arsenal, but in a vital league game against Newcastle at Old Trafford, they had been thwarted by their own shortcomings and determined Newcastle resistance. With the game deadlocked at 1-1 and moving into injury time, United won a corner at the Stretford End and everyone, including goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, packed into the Newcastle area in an attempt to get a winning goal.
However, the ball was cleared and picked up by Newcastle midfielder Rob Lee, who motored away down the right flank with only the wide-open spaces of Old Trafford between him and an unguarded United net. Then, as if from nowhere, Ole Gunnar Solskjær came sprinting back – the last defender – and took Lee out with a trip that sent him sprawling and brought OGS an instant red card – probably the only one of his career at a guess.
Deplorable, unsportsmanlike, uncharacteristic of the man, yes, of course, but Old Trafford rose to its feet and gave Solskjær a huge ovation as he walked down the touchline to the tunnel. It wasn’t his actions that they were applauding, but his commitment and his dedication to duty. They knew instinctively that he was one of them.
Solskjær the coach
So, it’s au revoir Ole Gunnar, lykke til until our paths cross again. As for Molde in their attractive fjordside stadium, they have just acquired several hundred thousand new fans. Hopefully, it’ll only be a loan deal and Solskjær will return to Old Trafford one day.