Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: mild manner meets serious ambition

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is fondly remembered by Manchester United supporters as the "baby-faced assassin" whose goalscoring talents - frequently as a substitute - helped them conquer the Premier League and Europe.

The former striker, still remarkably fresh faced for 40, is now attempting to make an impact as a Premier League manager at Cardiff City, having spent three seasons in his native Norway in charge of Molde.

His spell there brought two top-flight titles, the first in Molde's history, as well as a Norwegian Cup as he quickly established a reputation as a promising young manager.

Those who know Solskjaer describe him as mild mannered and gentle, with a knack for getting the best out of players and a desire to play attacking football. They also call him tough-minded and ambitious.

But how will a manager used to "complete control" of team affairs fare in one of Europe's most unforgiving leagues and under one of the Premier League's more controversial owners in Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan?

"He showed he is a good manager in the short time he was here at Molde," says the club's Norway international goalkeeper Espen Bugge Pettersen. "There is no reason why he should not be successful.

"He probably has not changed a lot since his playing days. He is a mild and gentle guy but when it is needed he can put his foot down.

"You won't find anyone who has a bad word to say about him, because they don't exist. He isn't afraid of making the tough decisions but he does it the right way and if he is not satisfied he will let you know."

Solskjaer, scorer of Manchester United's injury-time winner in their 1999 Champions League final triumph over Bayern Munich, ended his 11-year playing career at Old Trafford with six Premier League titles and two FA Cups to add to that Champions League winners' medal.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unveiled as Cardiff City manager

Injuries disrupted his final few years as a player and he was then offered a coaching role at the club by Sir Alex Ferguson, where as reserve team boss he won the Manchester Senior Cup, the Lancashire Senior Cup and the Premier League reserve play-offs.

"Ole always wanted to stay in the game, so from an early age he was preparing to stay in the game as a coach or as a manager," Ferguson told the Manchester Evening News in 2012.

"He was always one of the professionals who used to take down all the notes from the training sessions and games. He has got an inner toughness, there's no doubt about that."

Given his first senior managerial role at Molde in 2011, Solskjaer delivered instant success at the club from which Manchester United had signed him in 1996.

A first Tippeligaen title in the club's 100-year history arrived in his first season, breaking the dominance of Rosenberg, who had won 16 of the previous 19 championships, followed by a successful title defence and then the Norwegian Cup in November.

"Molde is a small place with 25,000 to 30,000 people," says Jonas Bergh-Johnsen, a journalist for Norwegian TV channel TV2. "It is small club and he won the league at his first attempt and I think it surprised him.

"They say the most difficult thing is to recreate success but he did. It was a magnificent achievement, massive for the town and for the club. He was a hero before but now he is a legend.

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Solskjaer has 'eyes wide open'

"There wasn't loads of money to spend at Molde but he got together a very good group of young players who wanted to play for him. A lot of his success has come from developing young players."

Like Ferguson, Bergh-Johnsen marks out the young manager for his "mental toughness".

"At the start of last season, things were not going well and he was getting a lot of criticism," he adds "This was a new thing for him but he dug deep and turned things round."

Solskjaer's playing career, which included 67 caps for Norway, earned him instant respect when he arrived as manager at Molde but those who played under him insist he brought far more than just his reputation.

"He is a legend in Norway, in football, and he brought that aura with him," says keeper Petterson. "He was able to get that little bit extra out of the players

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrating winning the Champions League with Manchester United

"When he came, the club was good and the squad was good. The year before, we came second so the platform was already there.

"But one of the biggest things he did was make the players feel a little bit more confident. He made us all feel special and wanted. It wasn't magic, it was by paying attention to the fine details.

"He changed a lot around the place. He put pictures up around the ground, like they have at Old Trafford, and brought a lot of what he learned at Manchester United to Molde.

"He wants his teams to play attacking football but he also insists on hard work. I am sure he will stick with that philosophy in the Premier League."

Cardiff are not the first Premier League club to have been tempted by Solskjaer's early managerial promise.

He held talks with Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner in May 2012 following the sacking of Alex McLeish but decided to remain with Molde because he was reluctant to uproot his family from Norway.

He was also a candidate to replace Steve Kean at Blackburn Rovers in the Championship last season after the Scot's troubled relationship with controversial owners Venky's finally came to an end.

Some in Norway are surprised he has now opted to make his Premier League managerial debut under Bluebirds owner Tan.

But it is not as simple as that, according to former Norway and Middlesbrough striker Jan Aage Fjortoft, now a football pundit.

"It has always been said that a manager has to find the right owner," says Fjortoft. "If you believe everything you read about Tan, you would think 'any owner but him'.

"Ole has seen something at the club, though, and has seen this is a big chance.

"At Molde, he did have full control and was completely hands on, so wherever he went it would be a challenge because he would not get that control he has been used to."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Vincent Tan
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Vincent Tan at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday

Not everything will be unfamiliar in his new environment, however. Solskjaer will take former Manchester United and Sheffield United midfielder Mark Dempsey, his assistant at Molde, with him to south Wales.

Solskjaer's former Norway team-mate Morten Gamst Pedersen, who spent nine years at Blackburn, believes the duo work well together.

"It is always an advantage if you can come in with people you know," says Pedersen. "I know Mark well as I used to train at Tromso sometimes where he was coach. He is a very good coach.

"There is no getting away from the fact Ole is a very nice guy. I remember he wished me luck by text when I joined Blackburn but there is no reason you can't be nice and succeed.

"He has never had lots of money to spend before so it will be interesting to see how he copes with that. He knows the English game, though, and is a very clever guy, so I think he will deal with it all well."

Solskjaer's new Premier League adventure begins with a home match against Newcastle United in the FA Cup, before Premier League trips to former employers Manchester United and their local rivals Manchester City later this month.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is presented as manager and Englishman Mark Dempsey as coach for the Norwegian football club Molde FK
Solskjaer and assistant Mark Dempsey are presented at Molde in the Norwegian's first managerial role

"The best word to describe him is adjustable," says Fjortoft. "He wants to play football and wants to play the ball from the back, with speed and young kids, like he did at Molde.

"But he won't be naive. He will be ready to fit around what best suits the match and the players. He has a very good footballing mind.

"I think he might bring Mats Moller Daehli and goalkeeper Orjan Haskjold Nyland with him from Molde but he also has to find the right market for Cardiff. He has to find the right mix."

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