The Hindu (Mumbai)

With new life breathed into United, Solskjaer urges club to move with the times

The former Red Devils player and manager has welcomed the arrival of INEOS owner Jim Ratcliffe, who is set to acquire a minority stake in the club. In the cutthroat world of the Premier League, Solskjaer says United risks ‘falling behind if we are stayin

- Ashwin Achal

le Gunnar Solskjaer is inextricab­ly linked with Manchester United. He gained plaudits in his 11year stint as a United forward, before serving the club as an ambassador, reserve team manager and manager.

As a player, Solskjaer was an integral part of a powerful side which won trophies galore. The Norwegian built his reputation as a ‘super sub’, for his knack of coming on and scoring crucial goals as the clock wound down.

Fans will remember an incredible outing in 1999, when Solskjaer smashed four goals in 12 minutes against Nottingham Forest. Brought on by manager Alex Ferguson to replace Dwight Yorke, he powered United to an 81 win.

[Being United manager is] a great job, but it is also hard. You are the face of the biggest club in the world. You are scrutinise­d all the time. I needed the break

OA moment for the ages

It was in the same year that Solskjaer created a career highlight for the ages. In the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, Solskjaer’s toe poke past goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, into the roof of the net, in injury time gave United its most famous win.

These epic performanc­es gave rise to his nickname, ‘Babyfaced Assassin’. Though Solskjaer built his career on making a big impact as a substitute, it was not his preferred approach. Like all footballer­s, he wanted a spot in the starting eleven. But once he understood that this was not to be, he made mental adjustment­s to adapt to his role.

“Ideally, I would have liked to play every minute of every game. But I quickly realised that I played alongside some of the best players in the world, so this was not possible,” Solskjaer, who was in Bengaluru on a visit hosted by Tilak Gaurang Shah, founder of ‘Ace of Pubs’, said.

“I was privileged to play at Manchester United, under the best manager in the world, and at the best club. Manchester United was family; it was home. My job as a substitute was to always be prepared. This quality came from my father, who was a humble and hardworkin­g wrestler,” Solskjaer said.

There can be no room for entitlemen­t when given a perceived lesser task, he added. “There are players who will be disappoint­ed if they don’t start in the eleven. They may feel entitled, but that’s not my personalit­y. I believed that I have to give a good account of myself and my family every time I step onto the pitch.”

In the hot seat

After Solskjaer called time on his playing career in 2007, he became the club’s reserve team manager for a period. In 2018, Manchester United appointed Solskjaer as caretaker manager, taking over from Jose Mourinho. He was given a permanent role a few months later.

Solskjaer’s reign as manager yielded hope, as the club secured backtoback topthree finishes in the Premier League for the first time in the postFergus­on era. A string of poor results, however, brought Solskjaer’s exit.

“It was the best job in the world. Of course, it is more difficult when [Liverpool manager] Jurgen Klopp and [Manchester City manager] Pep Guardiola are going great guns. It was just bad timing for me, but that is the challenge. You want to go up against the best managers in the world,” he said.

“It’s a great job, but it is also hard. You are the face of the biggest club in the world. You are scrutinise­d all the time. I needed the break.”

After parting ways with the Red Devils in 2021, Solskjaer has not taken up a managerial assignment. But this is not to say that he is done with the job.

“I’m sure I have at least one more manager gig left in me. I want to feel that pressure. I miss it a little. But with due respect to other clubs, after you manage Manchester United for three years, where do you go?” Solskjaer stated.

The 50yearold acknowledg­es that it will be tough to find a gig at a club with as much legacy and stature as United. The prospectiv­e employer must also allow Solskjaer to practise his managerial style — giving players freedom to be creative on the field.

“Many coaches now tell players exactly what to do. This is difficult and dangerous to implement. When a player is on the field, he has to make decisions on the spot. Yes, everyone must operate within a framework, but a player cannot pass to the left when the obvious pass is to the right. The likes of Xabi Alonso, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo make decisions on the pitch. This is what makes them great,” Solskjaer said.

A new beginning

The Norwegian explained that it is time for United to build a new stadium in place of Old Trafford, which is not in the best shape.

“We have to move on with the times. At the moment, something has to happen at Old Trafford, either a renovation or a new stadium. We are falling behind if we are staying in the same place. We have seen modern stadiums like Tottenham Hotspur Stadium come up. Other stadiums like Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, Camp Nou [Barcelona] and Bernabeu [Real Madrid] have all been renovated.

“It is going to divide fans for sure. But we traded The Cliff [training ground], which was iconic for United and the Busby Babes, with Carrington. While history is important, it looks like we might have to build a new stadium,” he said.

Solskjaer is happy with the arrival of INEOS owner Jim Ratcliffe, who is set to acquire a minority stake in United. Titles, however, will only come as a result of consistent shows on the pitch.

“These are very exciting times with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS coming in. It has breathed life and belief into the club and supporters. Obviously there needs to be more consistenc­y for a title push.

“The better teams are not as consistent as they were even two years ago. Two or three years back, Manchester City and Liverpool had 100 and 99 points. That is consistenc­y. Now, if you want to get to the top, you need to get 8890 points per league season.”

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