Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: a tribute to a true Old Trafford legend

In just over a month's time Old Trafford will bid farewell to a player who has written himself into Manchester United folklore, as he returns to the club which he left some 14 years ago.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joined United from Norway's Molde FK for £1.5m in 1996 at a time when it was widely reported that a certain Alan Shearer was the main transfer target. Despite the low transfer fee, eyebrows were still raised at the thought of United buying a virtual unknown over a proven Premier League striker.

When Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford it was expected that he would be used sparingly behind first team regulars Eric Cantona and Andy Cole in order to get him up to speed with the pace of the Premier League. But before journalists and pundits could roll out the almost cliched "one for the future" label , Solskjaer scored within minutes of his debut after coming on as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers.

Solskjaer rapidly became a fans favourite and, unexpectedly, a regular within the first team squad. His scoring prowess saw him score an impressive 18 goals in the league, a feat only beaten by Shearer and and Ian Wright during the 1996/97 season. His tally was helped by scoring four goals in twelve minutes as a second-half substitute in the 8-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest. It was his ability to find the net as a substitute late on in games that lead to the endearing nickname of "the baby-faced assassin". Within his first season Ole had become an integral member of the League winning squad.


The following campaign saw the Norwegian striker hampered by injuries, only managing to score six league goals during the 1997/98 season. But it was the following season that was to be Solskjaer's finest.

Few would argue that Solskjaer's most memorable Manchester United moment came deep into injury time at the Nou Camp, Barcelona, in the UEFA Champions League Final of 1999.

Having scored an injury time equaliser through Teddy Sheringham, it looked as though United had forced Bayern Munich into extra time. The drama did not finish there though, as a David Beckham corner was flicked on by Sheringham and, as ever, Solskjaer was in the right place at the right time to poke home the treble-winning goal and, in doing so, write himself into United folklore.

Ironically, another defining moment in Solskjaer's United career was when he got sent off for a professional foul on Newcastle United midfielder Rob Lee in 1998 at Old Trafford. Having run two-thirds of the pitch to catch him, Solskjaer felled Lee knowing that he would be given his marching orderd but, in doing so, denied Newcastle an almost certain winning goal with the game all square at 1-1. United needed at least a point at the time to keep up with Arsenal in the hunt for the Premier League title. The fans immediately recognised that Solskjaer had put the team before himself, receiving universal praise from all connected with the club for his selfless act.

Its rare to write a tribute of a modern day footballer without alluding to some sort of scandal or a part of their career in which they would rather forget. Apart from injuries, of which a long-standing knee injury was to get the better of him, Solskjaer does not have a blotched record in anyway. He truly is a rare breed of footballer.

A perfectionist on the training ground, according to his former team-mate Sheringham, and allegedly donating a percentage of his wages to UNICEF shows the mark of the man and the high esteem in which he is held by all connected. David Gill perfectly summarised Solskjaer in his testimonial programme notes as a player who " no-one has a bad word to say about...he is a fantastic ambassador to this club and to this sport".

Away from the pitch Ole uses his status within the game for the benefit of others. A patron of the Manchester United Supporter's Trust (formerly Shareholders United), he is also the ambassador for global charity UNICEF. In 2008 he became the youngest recipient of the First Class Knighthood in his native Norway, an accolade usually bestowed upon notable people of society in their later years.

Having scored 126 times in 366 appearances for United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has left a lasting impression on the club and its supporters.
14 years ago no-one outside of Norway would have known who Solskjaer was. They do now.

2 comments:

  1. Ole is one of my all time favourite United players. An unblemished career is indeed a rare thing and you've brought back some good memories in that post.

    I was there in 1999 in Barcelona, with my then 16 year old son. To be there on that night was really quite special - the memory will live with us forever.

    You might not agree with me at first, but the next time you watch AC Milan play, study Pato; look at the way he runs with his arms raised in the same way that Ole used to run. Pato is the nearest I've seen to Ole: Deadly in front of goal, but one who plays with the air of a kid who is playing on the local park.

    Ole was loved by United fans, but hated by our friends from the wrong end of the East Lancs Road - I cannot for the life of me think why :0)

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  2. There is a mistake in the article - it says that Ole's first season tally of 18 goals was helped by that 4 goal haul against Forest, but that came in February 1999.

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