Does he mind being called a super-sub? Did he ever piss off Roy Keane? Was he a better finisher than Ruud van Nistelrooy? And does he still play Football Manager?! FourFourTwo sits down with the Manchester United hero
“We have a saying in Norway: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chuckles as FFT shivers pitchside at Molde’s smart Aker Stadion, an arena his £1.5 million transfer to Manchester United helped build.
It’s just above freezing and snow is on the ground in this tiny city of 25,000 people on the banks of the Romsdalsfjord, where the blizzards are followed by brief periods of bright sunshine, allowing stunning vistas of the 222 peaks of the surrounding mountains.
Solskjaer grew up a few miles away at the other end of the treacherous Atlantic Road in Kristiansund, but it’s in Molde where arguably the greatest super-sub of all time forged his reputation as a player and manager. If his ill-fated period as Cardiff City boss left him pining for the fjords, the 43-year-old appears reinvigorated by his return for a second spell in charge of Molde. In fact, he’s positively beaming when we arrive.
“I’ve always read FourFourTwo,” he says, explaining how he bought the magazine even before he moved to England in 1996. A lot has happened in the 20 years since…
- Full name: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
- Date of birth: 26/02/1973
- Place of birth: Kristiansund, Norway
- Height: 5ft 10in
- Position: Striker
- Clubs: 1990-95 Clausenengen 109 games (115 goals); 1995-96 Molde 42 (33); 1996-2007 Manchester United 366 (126)
- International: 1995-2007 Norway 67 (23)
- Clubs managed: 2010-14 Molde; 2014 Cardiff City; 2015- Molde
- Playing honours: Premier League 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07; FA Cup 1998-99, 2003-04; UEFA Champions League 1998-99; Intercontinental Cup 1999
- Managerial honours: Norwegian Premier League 2011, 2012; Norwegian Cup 2013
Were you a fan of your ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ nickname? Did your youthful looks give you any advantages or disadvantages as a kid?
The nickname was no problem. It was nice to be given one. When I came to the Premier League, I knew I looked young, but I could still be a devil – if I had to hit a player’s ankle in a tackle, I hit his ankle. Were there any benefits when I was younger? None at all. I remember on one family holiday to Majorca you had to be either 15 years of age or above 140cm to go on this slide. I was over 15 but they still wouldn’t let me go on the slide! I was tiny at that age.
I was a very late developer – I only really started developing when I was 20 or 21. Then I moved from my local team, Clausenengen, to Molde and my career took off.
Is it true that your dad was a champion Greco-Roman wrestler? Did you wrestle?
It’s true about my dad. I wrestled between the ages of eight and 10 but I was training with one of the best wrestlers in Norway in my age group. I was being tossed around, getting dizzy, getting headaches... I was never into it!
Did you really grow up a Liverpool fan?
[Laughs] You learn as long as you live, that’s the only answer I can give you… I never confirm that one! I’m a Manchester United fan through and through. I bleed red.
What was the most goals you scored in a match for your first club, Clausenengen?
I scored 14 in an indoor tournament, in the quarter-final of the Norwegian championship. Goals were my trademark, although if my team didn’t create chances I wouldn’t have been the one to stand out and dribble past three or four people. I was very dependent on my team-mates. We only had crowds of 50 or 100 at Clausenengen but we were best mates growing up together in the third and fourth tiers in Norway.
How quickly did you attract interest from other countries after you joined Molde?
Quickly, because I scored two in my first game for Molde and three in my second. I had meetings with Felix Magath at Hamburg, and Giovanni Trapattoni wanted me at Cagliari. PSV and Bayern Munich were interested. So were Liverpool, but there was no offer from them. There was only the Manchester United offer.
What do you remember about your move from Molde to Manchester United?
I scored two decent volleys for Norway against Azerbaijan, then my agent said Manchester United were impressed and wanted to do something before Martin Edwards went on holiday. It had to happen quickly, so Molde’s owners rented a private jet and flew me to Manchester, because they could see I wanted to go there. I’ll always appreciate that. I got to Old Trafford and a tour guide thought I was going for a tour. He was talking away, then at the end he asked me: “So what are you doing here?” I said I was going in to sign a contract! He was speechless. But he gave me his pen and I signed the contract with that pen.
You signed for Manchester United in 1996, the year they missed out on Alan Shearer to Newcastle. Was there expectation on you?
None whatsoever. The gaffer said: “For the first six months, play in the reserves and get used to England, then from January we might try to get you into the first team.” But I scored two in my first reserves game, Andy Cole got injured and we needed strikers. I came on and scored six minutes into my debut against Blackburn.
I knew I’d score goals at United. I’d always been clinical finishing chances. As a youngster on the playground, even if there was no keeper I would always shoot just inside the posts, because no goalkeeper would save it.