Manchester United turned to a popular former player by hiring Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager until the end of the season on Wednesday, 20 seasons after he scored the winning goal in the Champions League final.
Nicknamed the “Baby-Faced Assassin” during his time as a United player from 1996-2007, Solskjaer was known for his lethal finishing and ability to conjure up late goals typically as a substitute – none bigger than that close-range winner three minutes into injury time against Bayern Munich at Camp Nou in 1999.
Now he is on another rescue mission at United: To resuscitate the team after its worst start to a league season in 28 years, which led to the firing of Jose Mourinho on Tuesday after 2Â½ years in charge.
“Manchester United is in my heart,” Solskjaer said, “and it’s brilliant to be coming back in this role. I’m really looking forward to working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club.”
The arrival of Solskjaer, who had been coaching Molde in his native Norway, did not come as a surprise.
Late Tuesday, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg appeared to confirm Solskjaer was moving to United by writing on Twitter it was a “great day for Norwegian football” and wishing him “good luck keeping control of the Red Devils.” It was later deleted.
Minutes after Solberg’s tweet, a page was published on United’s official website containing a video of Solskjaer celebrating after scoring the winner in the 1999 Champions League final. Under that, a post read: “Solskjaer becomes our interim manager, 20 seasons after clinching the Treble with THAT goal at Camp Nou…” That page also was later deleted.
The 45-year-old Solskjaer is a sentimental choice as an interim manager – United has said it will look to hire a permanent replacement for Mourinho at the end of the season – and one that should prove popular with fans who have grown weary of watching the team under the pragmatic Mourinho.
Solskjaer likes to play an attacking brand of soccer modeled on the sides of Alex Ferguson, who was his manager at United in that trophy-laden decade when the Norwegian won six league titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League. He has said on a number of occasions that coaching United was his dream job.
Solskjaer is a gamble, however. His only previous experience of Premier League management was with Cardiff in the second half of the 2013-14 season, and he could not prevent the Welsh team from getting relegated. He was fired a few months later, ending his spell with a record of only five wins from 30 games.
In a coincidence, Solskjaer’s first game in charge of United will be at Cardiff on Saturday.
Solskjaer’s playing career ended in 2007 after he failed to recover from a serious knee injury. He scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United. He remained at the club in a coaching and ambassadorial role, and went on to become its reserve-team manager from 2008-10.
He coached Molde – his former club – from 2011, winning back-to-back titles in his first two seasons and then the Norwegian Cup in his third. He returned there after his nine-month stint at Cardiff.
“Ole is a club legend with huge experience, both on the pitch and in coaching roles,” United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said. “His history at Manchester United means he lives and breathes the culture here and everyone at the club is delighted to have him and Mike Phelan back.
“We are confident they will unite the players and the fans as we head into the second half of the season.”
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