Yesterday marks the last day that Ole Gunner Solskjear will play in a Manchester United shirt and one of my favorite players. Not just for being clinical in times of need but also giving his all for the team in whatever that is required of him. The boy that was the least well known signing actually turn out to be the best among all of them. I will always remember how important he is to the team as well as to fans like me.
By Henry Winter football correspondent Telegraph
Last Updated: 11:42PM BST 01 Aug 2008
Solskjaer’s millions of admirers will miss him: those flocking to the Stretford End, those in his native Norway, where he is revered as much as Ibsen and Munch, and simply all those around the globe who appreciate dignity and determination.
United players will miss him. Ronaldo spoke for all in the champions’ dressing room when he said: “Ole was a fantastic player, with whom I loved to play, not even for the way he plays but also for the person he
really is. As a person, he is absolutely fantastic, spectacular, kind and very, very nice. I improved a lot just because I’ve played side-by-side with him; he taught me lots of things. I also grew up with him and for that I have to say: ‘Thank you, Ole’.”
Premier League statisticians will miss him. In 151 league starts for United, the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ plundered 91 goals, and 17 more from his 84 outings from the bench. He tore into Spurs’ back line, recording seven goals in eight starts. Everton were similarly pounded. He regularly bullied Nottingham Forest’s defence. “I’ll never forget when he came on as a sub at Forest and within 10 minutes had scored four goals,” reminisced David Beckham.
As the 35-year-old bows out with a testimonial against Espanyol, all football will miss the man for more than just his goals. Solskjaer has been a wonderful ambassador for the game, and all proceeds from today’s match, and a planned telethon, go towards 10 new schools in Africa.
From the moment Solskjaer arrived at United in the summer of 1996, he was obviously special. That pre-season, Alex Ferguson gathered his five new players at the Cliff training ground to talk to the media.
Solskjaer was not even the best-known Norwegian in the room. That was Ronny Johnsen. Jordi Cruyff, Raimond van der Gouw and Karel Poborsky were also there, and most of the questions were aimed at them and Johnsen.
Yet there was a sparkle in Ferguson’s eye as he introduced Solskjaer. He knew he had uncovered a gem. We had to check the spelling of his name and find out where on earth Molde was, but as I left, a United
official whispered: “Fergie thinks Solskjaer will be the best of the lot.” So it proved.
“I remember seeing him walk into the dressing room and thinking how young he looked – he had such a baby face,” added Beckham. “As soon as he started training you could see that he had what it took to become a Manchester United player, a great Manchester United player in fact. He was one of those players that, whenever he got the ball, he did something with it.”
To understand the essence of Solskjaer it is important to rewind to Dec 5, 2006, when the striker was talking to his friend, Bernt Jakob Oksnes, a well-known reporter in Norway. Solskjaer was musing on what
qualities were required to succeed at Old Trafford. “You can’t come that far with pure talent,” Solskjaer told Oksnes. “You only reach the first team of Manchester United with the hard work and willpower of
steel.” The next day, Solskjaer took his usual seat on the bench as United took on Benfica in a Champions League group match.
As the game pushed into the later stages, Ferguson gave Solskjaer the nod to warm up as he would soon be replacing Paul Scholes. “I suddenly started to feel very emotional,” recalled Oksnes. “Ole Gunnar
Solskjaer, our man, was doing his warm-up, up and down Old Trafford’s grass. And Old Trafford started to sing, Stretford End at first, then North Stand, and then the whole stadium: ‘You are my Solskjaer, my Ole
Solskjaer; you make me happy when skies are grey.’ It was so fantastically loud. The choir of Old Trafford was at its heights.”
United fans love Solskjaer because he never embarrassed their beloved club, never clamoured to join Real Madrid nor fell out of a nightclub at 3am. Even when that persistent knee injury drained the life from a
fine career, even when he toiled for two years in the gym, no self-pity could be detected. United officials would advise youngsters: “Look and learn from Ole”.
As well as the dedication, United supporters love him for all the goals, and one in particular against Bayern Munich to seal the Champions League final of 1999. “I remember sticking my foot out and the ball going in but everything else is a bit of a blur,” said Solskjaer, typically modest. Solskjaer always smiled when the phone belonging to United’s director of communications, Phil Townsend, reverberated to its ring-tone of “And Solskjaer has won it”, Clive Tyldesley’s unforgettable commentary from the Nou Camp.
That goal. That willpower. That lack of ego. An intelligent and unselfish footballer, Solskjaer showed tactical versatility, playing on the right, on his own up front, or (successfully) in tandem with Ruud van Nistelrooy. United fans adore him because he was a credit to the club and because he offered one quality they shared: commitment to the cause.
“Ole has admitted he had a limited talent, he is more a product of endless and honest work,” said Oksnes. “He is idolised for that. Ole’s appearance, his humble approach, and loyalty are much-acclaimed
qualities. And now he is the most famous Norwegian of all time. He is bigger than Ibsen, bigger than Munch, in terms of how many people know him around the world. You can find people wearing Solskjaer shirts in Nepal and in Kenya and in Singapore today.
“I asked him what he felt when Old Trafford sang his song, even at times when he was injured. ‘I feel proud, but a bit embarrassed as well,’ he answered. ‘I think to myself: ‘Why me?’ A little man from
Kristiansund.’ A legend at Old Trafford.”
Solskjaer’s own verdict? “I worked for the best manager of all time. I played with the best players in the world and in front of the best fans. I am very proud of what I achieved but very humble as well that I was given the opportunity to do that.”
Even now that his playing days are over, he continues to deliver for United as reserve-team manager. As that magical evening in 1999 showed, Solskjaer knows how to influence a game from the bench. Old Trafford will say farewell, and thanks for Munich and all the memories, in style today. The pitch will miss him.
Five great Solskjaer moments:
Aug 25, 1996 – Man Utd 2 Blackburn 2:
An unheralded £1.5 million signing from Molde, Solskjaer marked his United debut by climbing off the substitutes’ bench to score an equaliser that ensured United preserved their 32-game unbeaten home
Feb 6, 1999 – Nottm Forest 1 Man Utd 8
Despite only being introduced as a 71st-minute substitute, Solskjaer scored four goals as United claimed the Premier League’s biggest away victory.
Jan 24,1999 – Man Utd 2 Liverpool 1:
After Michael Owen’s early goal in this FA Cup fourth round tie, Dwight Yorke’s 88th-minute equaliser set the scene for Solskjaer to score an injury-time winner against the big rivals.
May 26, 1999 – Man Utd 2 Bayern Munich 1
The moment that Solskjaer became a United icon. Deployed as a late substitute, he delivered another decisive goal, scoring a dramatic injury-time winner to secure the European Cup.
Aug 23, 2006 – Charlton 0 Man United 3
Solskjaer’s goal, the third in a routine victory at the Valley, marked his first strike for the first-team after almost three years out of the game battling the serious knee injury that ultimately claimed his career.