Ole Gunnar Solskjaer met Sir Alex Ferguson for a cup of tea before his first match at the Manchester United helm, with the caretaker boss warning his players that he will replicate the Scot’s hairdryer treatment if needs be.
It has been a turbulent week at Old Trafford, with Jose Mourinho’s two-and-a-half years in the dugout brought to an abrupt halt on Tuesday in the wake of the club’s worst-ever start to a Premier League season.
Solskjaer, who represented the club as a player with aplomb before spending time as reserve team boss, was installed as caretaker manager for the remainder of the season and kicks off his reign at former club Cardiff this weekend.
The Norwegian endured a torrid time at the Welsh club, overseeing relegation in 2014, but feels he has developed since then. Plus, Solskjaer also has one of the best sounding boards around in United great Ferguson.
“I have been in touch with the gaffer quite a bit,” the Norwegian, a hero of the 1999 treble season, said.
“Well, he signed me 22 years ago, so he is the big part of course. I don’t know what input he had but when I got the call, of course, I texted the boss.
“I have been in touch with him and I am going to enjoy a nice cup of tea back at his house to sit down and discuss a few ideas.”
Solskjaer says “there’s no-one to get better advice from”, nor was there anybody better to learn from up close – even if it that meant the hairdryer treatment back in the day.
“We’re all different to how we manage people and the manager was different to every individual,” the 45-year-old said.
“Of course, maybe I should get the hairdryer out of my pocket because I’ve got a hairdryer – you know, when my hair needs lifting I use it on myself, but I am also not afraid of, if you like, laying down the law.
“You know with your kids, when they disappoint you, you tell them off. You don’t give them some chocolate then, do you?
“So you treat players similar to how you treat your kids, really, because you want the best for them, you want to guide them, you want to help them, but if I get disappointed…
“Ask (my children) Noah, or Karna, or Elijah, or some of the players I’ve had in Molde. Once in a while you really have to tell them standards we’ve got.”
Solskjaer clearly relishes this opportunity and barely stopped smiling during the press conference on the eve of facing Cardiff, when the possibility of staying on as full-time manager next summer was broached.
“I’m ambitious, but I understand that the club is doing a process,” the Norwegian, who is due to return to Molde in May, said.
“I have the perfect life back home now, I have to say, and then suddenly I get this phone call.
“If we come to May, I’ve done a good job and they’ve found a new manager, fantastic. That’s just my aim now to do a good job the next five or six months.”
Getting the players onside is a must after so many of their relationships broke down with Mourinho.
“I’m not sure about (the suggestion) the power has gone to the dressing room,” Solskjaer said.
“Football is evolving, of course, and the gaffer (Ferguson) was in charge of more or less the whole club. Football is developing. The structure of the club has developed.
“The power is with the manager. He picks the team, the tactics, the strategy. The philosophy is in these walls. That legacy is more important than any player power.
“I have to say, being a part of Man United, being a Man United player, it’s a privilege and, of course, I think all of them wants to succeed here.”
Paul Pogba was chief among the disenfranchised and has not started a Premier League match since performing so poorly at embattled Southampton at the start of December.
Such was the Frenchman’s unhappiness with Mourinho that there was little surprise at the cryptic – and swiftly-deleted – social media post from his accounts that some construed as a dig at the departing Portuguese.
“We’ve spoken about what we expect, what standards we have on and off the pitch,” Solskjaer said when asked about the player he coached when reserve team boss.
“Of course you prepare for every game. I trust the lads to know what they’re doing, to help the team. Everything we do is to help the team.
“The world has changed now. I’m not into this social media. My kids are, yeah. I’m that old that I’m not on Twitter or Facebook – maybe Facebook’s old now, but anyway – but that’s just common sense for me, that I’ve spoken to them about.
“We move this forward. We have one target – that we succeed – and we do that as a team.”
The United legend’s prior managerial experience comes in the form of just over six seasons at Norwegian club Molde across two spells, as well as a short stint at Cardiff City – incidentally, his opponents for Saturday’s fixture.
Molde, where Solskjaer was also a player for five season, enjoyed the most successful years in club history with their former striker at the helm. In his first season in charge, in 2011, Solskjaer guided the club to their first-ever league win, and then oversaw a successful title defence the following season.
Though he couldn’t make it three in a row in 2013, Molde did win the Norwegian Football Cup that season, their first triumph in the competition since 2005.
Following on from his success in his home country, Solskjaer was appointed manager of Cardiff City during the 2013/14 season, but his first taste of Premier League management ended on a sour note as he failed to prevent the Bluebirds from relegation.
He stayed on at Cardiff for the start of their campaign in the Championship, but lasted barely a month as their poor form continued. Solskjaer then took a break for over a year, before returning to Molde in October 2015.
His second spell at Molde has lasted three seasons, and could possibly go on for longer as he is, at the moment, only “on loan” to United for the rest of the Premier League season.
But what will these next five months entail for the Red Devils? Though Solsjkaer is a beloved figure at the club, as a manager he’s somewhat of an unknown for the Old Trafford faithful.
With United sixth in the league, 11 points off the top four and 19 behind leaders Liverpool, just qualifying for next season Champions League will be a tough task, while the side have a daunting matchup in this season’s Round of 16 against Paris Saint-Germain, along with an FA Cup campaign that will begin in January.
Here’s a look at what United can expect from their new manager, based on his experiences at Molde and Cardiff.
MOLDE, FIRST SPELL (2011-13)
Solskjaer began his managerial career by first being a first-team coach at United, then taking over the club’s reserves team, before he got his break as a manager at former club Molde.
In 2010, the season before Solskjaer took over, Molde had been in danger of relegation before a strong finish to the season took them to safety. But given that narrow escape, no one at the club could have expected what was to come next, as their former striker made himself an instant legend with Solskjaer taking Molde to their first-ever league title.
Solskjaer’s preferred formation that season was an attacking 4-3-3, though the side didn’t exactly set the league on fire. Molde scored a respectable 54 goals in 30 games, falling short of a two-goal average. They were defensively solid, conceding 38 times, as the club won after an attritional campaign – their 58 points were the lowest title-winning tally in a 30-game season in Norwegian top-flight history.
The following season, Molde were even more attritional. En route to a second straight league title, they scored just 51 goals, conceding 31 as the defence improved. Solskjaer experimented with his formation a little more in 2012, as he mixed his usual 4-3-3 with a few variations, trying a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, and 4-1-3-2 on occasion. The club set a new Norwegian top-flight record for most home wins in a 30-game season, with 14.
Molde’s 2013 campaign was even more profligate, as their goals tally dropped to 46, while the defence took a step backward as they conceded 37 goals. Solskjaer continued to experiment, sending out his side in a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, or 4-3-3 as he searched for his best formation. The club surrendered their league title, but won the Norwegian Cup.
Following his success in his home country, Solskjaer was appointed Cardiff City manager in January 2014, at just past the halfway mark of the season.
The defensive solidity that had become Solskjaer’s trademark in Norway was nowhere to be found in the Premier League, however. Cardiff conceded 40 goals in his 17 Premier League games in charge, while scoring just 17.
Perhaps that was a mixture of the personnel available to him, and the fixture list – Solskjaer had to face Manchester City, United, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Chelsea during that run, and Cardiff conceded 15 times in those five games. But they also conceded four apiece to Hull City and Sunderland, and three to West Brom.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian struggled to find his best formation for the Bluebirds. Solskjaer experimented with playing five at the back, no doubt to shore up the defence, but Cardiff conceded 12 goals in the four games they went with either a 5-4-1 or a 5-3-2, including six in one game against Liverpool, and managed just one point in those games.
At times, Solsjkaer tinkered with variations on a 4-5-1, using that formation, a 4-1-4-1, or a 4-4-1-1, but no amount of changing was able to save Cardiff from the drop.
MOLDE, SECOND SPELL (2015-2018)
After being sacked by Cardiff early in the 2014/15 season, Solskjaer waited a year before returning to management, with old club Molde again. He was put in charge for the final three games of the 2015 season, before getting a full season at the helm in 2016.
As in his first spell at the club, Molde continued to struggle for goals that season, scoring 48 times in 30 games as the club finished fifth in the league. Solskjaer oversaw a historic 1-0 win over Sevilla in the Europa League Round of 32, just their third-ever win in a European knockout game. It was one of the biggest results in club history, but as they had lost the first leg 3-0, Molde were knocked out regardless.
The 2016 season saw a shift in Solskjaer’s tactics. Though the old 4-3-3 formation was used frequently as well, the manager began to prefer a 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders, or a ‘double pivot’ midfield.
It was a formation he’d continue to use in 2017, bringing back some defensive solidity to the club. Molde brought their goals conceded tally down from 42 in 2016 to 35 in 2017, though further up the pitch the side only managed a two-goal improvement, scoring 50 times. Solskjaer also began experimenting with formations using three at the back towards the end of the season, as Molde often lined up in a 3-5-2, 3-4-3, or 3-4-1-2 as the season drew to a close.
2018 saw Solskjaer return to his tried-and-tested 4-3-3, though he occasionally used a 3-4-3 as well. Molde’s attack finally clicked, scoring 63 goals – the first time a Solskjaer team managed more than two goals per game in a league season. The defensive stinginess remained, as Molde conceded only 36 times en route to a second consecutive runners-up finish in the league.
MANCHESTER UNITED (2018-19)
So what does that mean for United? Though a striker in his playing days, Solskjaer the manager hasn’t always overseen the most attacking football. What he has done, apart from his brief spell at Cardiff, is find a way to win, bringing a historic period of success to Molde.
Yet he’s struck the right notes in the build-up to his United managerial debut, talking about the club’s tradition of attacking football. And perhaps it’s merely a question of personnel. The attacking talent on offer at United, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial on form this season, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez due to return soon after spells on the sidelines, and Paul Pogba waiting to be unleashed, may manage more thrilling football under Solskjaer.
Saturday’s game at Cardiff could see a 4-4-2 with Martial and Rashford paired up front, unless Jesse Lingard is fitted in as the third attacking player. Once he has his full squad available, however, it’s likely that Solskjaer will persist with an attacking 4-3-3, especially if he can get Lukaku to find top form again.
What will be interesting to see is whether Solskjaer can get the United defence to be as solid as his Molde units were. United had the second-best defensive record in the league last season, conceding only 28 goals, but they’ve already topped that mark this season, before the halfway point of the campaign. Only four teams have conceded more than the 29 goals United have let in, and all four are in the relegation battle.
Solskjaer will need to get Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and company to make a huge improvement if he is to taste success during his spell as caretaker manager.
Interim Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer feels he is “coming home” after taking up the reins relinquished by Jose Mourinho.
Solskjaer, who will be at the Old Trafford helm for the remainder of the season, told MUTV in his first interview: “It’s great. It feels like coming home, I have to say. It’s been a few whirlwind days, of course, it’s been very hectic, but it’s just great to see everyone again.”
Asked if he could make an impact in his time in charge, Solskjaer replied: “Well, it’s six months and I’m going to enjoy the ride. I’m back home, if you like, and it’s about seeing the players, seeing the staff. It’s about just being myself.
“I know the club is now running a process to find the next manager, so I’m just going to be myself in the meantime with Mick (Phelan) and Kieran (McKenna) and Michael (Carrick) and the rest of the staff.
“We’ll just get the players enjoying football, and I’m looking forward to seeing he supporters again.”
Solskjaer arrival comes with United preparing for four games in 11 days over the Christmas period, and he has challenged his players to show what they can do during that busy period.
He said: “You certainly get to see the players in a game, in a pressure situation, but I think the amount of games coming up is no problem because you’ve got this amazing squad of players.
“We have got 23, 24 players, they’re all quality and they’ll all get a chance now. With the amount of games coming up, they have got a chance to show that they are Manchester United players.”
The club currently sits in sixth place in the Premier League table, 19 points adrift of leaders Liverpool, and that is a situation Solskjaer hopes to address quickly.
He said: “We are in a results business and we want to win games, and that’s our job. That’s mine, Mick’s, the staff’s job to help the players do.
“We just want to see them play the football they can do.”
Solskjaer promised every player he has inherited from Mourinho will be given a chance to prove his worth.
He said: “Everyone in the squad knows that ‘I’ve got a chance now’ because whatever has gone, whatever has happened has happened. Now it’s just about from here.
“Everyone starts with a clean slate and we want players to perform, and we’ll give them the chance.”