Part 1: The Solskjaer story
Inside United looks back on the life and times of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in appreciation of his glittering 11-year, 126-goal Reds' career…
It was the phone call Age Hareide had been dreading. The Molde boss knew how good Ole Solskjaer was, the question was when – not if – the big clubs would come calling. "Sir Alex phoned me up a lot to get my opinion on players in Norway," Hareide said. "He knew I knew the English scene and wanted my views on certain players and how they might do in England. Then, finally [July 1996] came the day when the call was about one of my players. Sir Alex asked about Ole Gunnar. I knew we’d miss him badly, but you can't stand in a player's way when Manchester United come along. "I told him: `You've got to sign him.' And he did. United got him for £1.5 million! I think they owe me some money considering what they got!”
FIRST AND LAST
For Ole and United, it was love at first sight. Little hoopla surrounded his move, but that changed fast. The first indication we’d got ourselves a baby-faced assassin came at Oldham’s Boundary Park, Ole bagging both in a 2-0 win for the Reserves. Then, days later, he came on as a substitute, with United trailing Blackburn at Old Trafford. Entering the fray in the 64th minute, he equalised just six minutes later to preserve an unbeaten 32-game home streak in a 2-2 draw. He hasn’t forgotten either occasion. “Both those matches are firmly stuck in my mind,” he said. “It was a very proud moment to be wearing the Red shirt for the first time, even if it was only a Reserves fixture. To then score at Old Trafford was so special. I’ll always treasure the memory of those two matches.”
DON’T LEAVE US THIS WAY…
You don’t become United’s top goalscorer in your first season without having other clubs swarm round you when you’re not in the team. In 1997/98, Ole was linked with a host of Europe’s finest, and our worst fears almost came true. Thankfully, he knows his own mind. "I remember talking to my agent a lot about a move to Spurs and he said I was the most stubborn player in the world," he recalls. "The two clubs had agreed a fee – I’ve still got the fax at home! It would have been easy to be pressurised into something like that, but I didn’t want to go and the manager kept telling me I’d get my chance, and he was true to his word. It was the pride of playing for the best club in the country. I wanted to be part of that.”
FIRST AMONG EQUALS
Ole came to win trophies and, after nine months, 33 starts and 18 goals had not only finished the campaign as United’s top scorer (19 all told), he had his first Premiership winners’ medal. “It was the first time I’d won anything in football, apart from an under-11 or under-12 district championship,” he recalls. “That Tuesday was wonderful, when I sat in front of my telly and watched West Ham versus Newcastle and Wimbledon’s clash with Liverpool. Ronny [Johnsen] called after the final whistle – we stood there screaming at each other like madmen. It was marvellous. I wanted more of that wonderful feeling.” And boy, did he get it…
TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM
With just four games left of the 1997/98 campaign, a United win against Newcastle was paramount to keep a Red-hot poker up Arsenal’s backside. Most fans remember the game – a tough 1-1 draw – for another iconic moment fresh from the bench, but of an X-rated variety. Having come close to scoring a dramatic winner, Ole’s goalbound effort beating Shay Given before it was blocked on the line by Nikos Dabizas, Rob Lee broke free for Newcastle with the game almost up. A goal would have virtually handed the Gunners the title. Ole tracked back with the determination of a greyhound on speed and took Lee out of the game with a challenge best described as agricultural. Out of character, sure, but desperate times call for desperate measures. As Uriah Rennie branished a straight red card, the TV camera caught Ole mouthing the words, “I had to do it,” to David Beckham. He knew what his challenge did for the side’s slender chances of catching Arsenal and retaining the title – and we’ve never forgotten it.
BACK IN THE WINTER OF ‘99
“It is my dream to score against Liverpool. My dream would be to score the winner in a 1-0 victory in the 90th minute at Old Trafford.” Ole’s dream came true – if the scoreline was slightly askew – on a memorable afternoon in January 1999 of the Treble-winning season. Liverpool led 1-0 through Michael Owen’s goal and, despite huffing and puffing, we couldn’t bring the house down. As Liverpool’s celebrations began to get into full swing, with two minutes left, Dwight Yorke levelled the scores. Shredded nerves restored, silence in the away end. Then pandemonium everywhere else. The 90 minutes were up when Ole swooped for a late winner – once again he was the opiate of the people, fully five months before repeating the feat in the greatest comeback since Matt Busby and the boys of ‘68.
Hat-tricks anywhere these days are about as frequent as long-serving City managers, but Ole could make the task look easier than shelling peas. Against Nottingham Forest on 6 February 1999 he executed as deadly an example of finishing as you’ll see. He not only scored four goals, he did so in the 19 minutes available to him. "Good job they didn't put him on earlier," mused Forest boss Ron Atkinson. So nonchalant was Ole’s performance, he looked almost embarrassed. The 8-1 – yes, 8-1 – remains the Premiership’s biggest away win.
While the rest of us panicked, crossing what remained of our gnawed fingers, Ole was the calm at the eye of the Nou Camp storm. He was in the know, y’see. “It’s hard to explain, it was just a feeling,” he said of that staggering Treble-clinching climax. “It’s about positive thinking, maybe; you always visualise yourself scoring, so perhaps that’s all it was. But it was a little bit of a stronger feeling. I don’t know why. The goal? It’s one of those that you score one time out of five if you’re lucky, because you haven’t practised that finish. You just do it, you guide the ball on. More often that not it goes over the bar or it's cleared by the man on the far post. There were so many things that could have gone wrong with that finish… it was just instinct.” Killer instinct.
Part 2: The Solskjaer story
A salute for our legend! legend is the word i can find to describe Solskjaer!Part Two of Inside United's look back on the life and times of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in appreciation of his glittering 11-year, 126-goal Reds' career…
CAN SCORE FOUR, TOFFEES
Few players ever score four in a game, fewer do it twice in the space of nine months. United were one down against Everton in December 1999, but levelled quickly through Denis Irwin. Then the fun began. Two minutes after the equaliser, Ole had put United ahead. Racing past David Weir he slid the ball past Paul Gerrard’s despairing dive to watch it trickle over the line. Minutes before half-time and deja vu, Everton let United through again. Solskjaer – one on one, following a brief catnap from Weir – duly made it 3-1. Three became four when he converted Irwin’s cross for his hat-trick – completing the rout when he tidied up the mess Gerrard left behind following Giggs’ run and shot.
We’d come a long way from ‘Ole who?’ Seven glorious years, in fact. Ironically, given his precision finishing, there was some doubt about when his 100th goal in Red had actually arrived. “After the Bayer Leverkusen game (November 2002) I was told UEFA wanted to give the goal to me, but took it away because my shot would probably have gone for a throw-in,” he remembers. “Well, it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t on target. So officially the one against West Brom [January 2003] was the 100th. To me though, it doesn’t really matter which is the 100th goal or the 99th. A goal is a goal.” Such modesty.
THE COMEBACK KID
An emotionally charged scene on a rainswept, south London night in August 2006: the game against Charlton was already in the bag, but United’s travelling fans celebrated the third and final goal like it was 1999. Their hero was back. Ole had scored for the first time since April 2003 (against Panathinaikos) and shared the love-in with United’s fans in Charlton’s Jimmy Seed Stand. “After three years out it was great for the fans, for the players and the supporters,” Sir Alex Ferguson said in the post-match after-glow. “Ole is a player who has persevered in trying times and he has never lost faith that he would get his repayment one day.
OLE HANGS UP HIS BOOTS
“When my knee flared up in training it made the decision for me, because it means that I wouldn’t be able to play at the level I want to for this club,” Ole admits. “I also have to think about my long-term health as well. When I was out for so long before, it was always my ambition not only to play again and pull on the United shirt, but I also wanted to lift the Premier League trophy. That was my big dream. So, in that sense, last season was a fantastic experience for me and I’m glad I was able to enjoy that.” Amen.
THE BEST OF THE BEST?
So many highs, but the Nou Camp aside, which was the peak? Talking to this magazine in 2003, Ole revealed putting one over against the old enemy is always special. “My debut was a big moment, as was the first time we won the league after I arrived. The FA Cup final [in 1999] is a special game. The FA Cup match against Liverpool in the Treble season was a good one, too. The 3-0 away win in Juventus was amazing. That night will always remain special, we scored at crucial times.” So, all in all, it’s fair to see he enjoyed himself.
Ole may be gone – on the pitch at least – but his legend, and his Red flag will fly high, in the stands, and in his heart. “Europe’s great stadiums all have a different feel about them but Old Trafford is home, and that’s special,” he said. “I feel at home at Old Trafford, I really enjoyed playing here, and I’ve never been scared of walking out and playing in front of those huge crowds, because they always want us to do well. For me, there’s nowhere like Old Trafford.”
THE UNITED EXPERIENCE
We’ve done the maths: 216 starts, plus a further 150 substitute appearances, makes 366 games and a fantastic return of 126 goals – Ole strained every sinew for the United cause. “I think I can say I’ve given my all, given everything I could as a player to Manchester United. I’m proud to have been a part of this fantastic club, and played under such a brilliant manager. I’ve also played alongside some great players and made some great friends here. I’ve had some fantastic experiences that are too numerous to just list here and now.”
RED ARMY LOVE-IN“The fans have been magnificent,” says Ole. “The people of Manchester and the club’s fans all around the world have given me a different perspective of how passionate people can be about football. I really have to thank the fans a lot because they have always supported me, not only when I was on the pitch, but also in the more difficult times when I was coming back from injury.
It’s strange to think that I’ll be an old man, and I’ll be meeting United fans, and they’ll still want to talk to me about that goal. I always get asked questions like: ‘How did it feel? You were the one who won it…’ It wasn’t me who won it, the team won it, it wasn’t my touch, it’s what the team did over the season… but never mind.”
AND, FOR MY NEXT TRICK
In May 2008, Sir Alex revealed that Ole would take charge of United's Reserves from the start of the 2008/09 season. “I’m very excited about working on the other side of the line," he said. "It will be very challenging, which is important, and I’m pleased I’ll make my first steps into coaching at this club. Whenever I’ve thought about coaching I’ve always wanted to work at United, it feels right. But you never know if you’ll be wanted, so when the manager told me there might be a place I was absolutely delighted.” The feeling is mutual.
Report: Orlando Pirates 0 Utd 1
United enjoyed another energetic pre-season workout as Lee Martin’s first-half goal gave the Reds a comfortable Vodacom Challenge win over Orlando Pirates.
In a second competitive game in South Africa, an athletic Pirates side made some feisty challenges but lacked the penetrative edge of their rivals Kaizer Chiefs, with Reds goalkeeper Ben Foster largely a spectator.
Midfielder Martin scored the winner in the 23rd minute, poking the ball home inside the box after running onto a Fraizer Campbell flick-on.
Sir Alex Ferguson made plenty of changes to his side, with youngsters Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson, Campbell and Martin handed starts in front of 50,000 noisy fans in Durban.
Carlos Tevez had the game’s first chance in the seventh minute, his low shot from the edge of the box drawing a smart save from Senzo Meyiwa.
Meyiwa was called into action again three minutes later to deny Martin, while Carrick saw a sweetly-struck volley deflected wide as United dominated early on.
Fraizer Campbell’s pace was causing problems for the Pirates defence and the young striker was involved in the opener, heading the ball on to Martin, who shrugged off Happy Jele and finished smartly past Meyiwa.
Centre-backs Rio Ferdinand, fully recovered from a back spasm, and Evans had little trouble dealing with the Bucs’ enthusiastic but largely toothless attack.
Martin had a strong penalty appeal waved away shortly before half-time and both he and Ferdinand were surprisingly booked for their protests.
United found the Pirates in more determined mood at the start of the second half and the Reds did not create as many clear-cut chances.
Foster was called into rare action to deny Lebogang Mothibantwa and Joseph Makhanya, before Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes came on for a 20-minute run-out. The two substitutes almost combined immediately to score United’s second, Rooney laying the ball off for Scholes to hit a first-time shot that was parried by Meyiwa.
The Reds failed to add to Martin’s opener but claimed a second pre-season victory and, more importantly, 16 of the squad benefited from some more useful match action.
Kaizer Chiefs meet Orlando Pirates on Thursday for the right to face United in the Vodacom Challenge final on Saturday. Fans can watch both games live on MUTV and MUTV Online.
United: Foster, Brown, Ferdinand, Evans (Simpson 88), Silvestre (O'Shea 62), Eagles, Carrick (Scholes 69), Gibson (Fletcher 82), Martin, Tevez (Rooney 69), Campbell.
Round up by James Tuck
Ferguson praises young guns
Sir Alex Ferguson was pleased with his young charges' display in the win over Orlando Pirates, although he accepted that the Reds ran out of steam somewhat in the second half.
The likes of Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson and Lee Martin all started the Vodacom Challenge game in Durban, with the latter's first-half goal settling another fast-paced and competitive pre-season friendly.
Sir Alex told MUTV: "I’m satisfied with the result. Some of the football we played in the first half hour was very satisfying: there was a lot of vision, movement and quick passing in our game, and we didn’t dwell on the ball.
"The Pirates were very aggressive in terms of pressing the ball and we had to be quick on it, which can only help us.
"After 30 minutes we lost our momentum a little bit, which happens with young players. They start to lose concentration. Defensively we were caught one or two times on the counter-attack but they had a lot of pace, although they weren't great finishers."
Ferguson had words of encouragement for Martin and Chris Eagles and is confident the young midfield duo can fulfil their potential by playing more regularly.
"Some of the players have not had enough football at this level, of course," the Reds boss continued.
"Eagles and Martin have been out on loan, Martin got injured at Sheffield United and needs a lot of football, but there’s a lot of talent there, as is the case with Eagles.
"Hopefully they can start to get regular football at a good level because to fulfil their talent and promise they really have to be playing football."
Round up by James Tuck
Martin: It was hard work
Lee Martin admitted an energetic Orlando Pirates side tested his and United's fitness in the Reds' 1-0 Vodacom Challenge win.
Midfielder Martin scored the only goal of the game in Durban, slotting home after running onto Fraizer Campbell's flick-on, but the youngster knows United did not have it all their own way in the second game of the South Africa trip.
"It was a good game but it was hard work, especially in the last 20 minutes when we found it hard to keep the ball and a little bit of fatigue set in," he told MUTV.
"It was humid out there and they are halfway through their season and fighting fit, whereas we have only just started our campaign. Pre-season is all about fitness and they definitely tested that and made it hard for us."
Martin has made a habit of scoring goals on United's pre-season tours but was happy to credit striker Campbell for his contribution to the 23rd-minute winner.
"Fraizer did all the hard work for my goal, I just made the run and fortunately got a little touch on it, got in front of the defender and slotted it in," Martin said.
Watch Kaizer Chiefs v Orlando Pirates and the Vodacom Challenge final live on MUTV and MUTV Online.
Round up by James Tuck
Brave Brown plays 90mins
Wes Brown was determined to play against Orlando Pirates in Durban on Tuesday, despite the death of his half sister on the weekend.
The Reds’ no.6 played the full 90 minutes and will now return to Manchester on Wednesday evening to be with his family.
“[To play Wes tonight] was a decision we both took,” Sir Alex told reporters after Tuesday’s match.
“I’ve been speaking with him over the last few days and the boy wanted to play. He felt he should play and therefore he’ll take up the family duties when he gets back. He’ll fly home on Wednesday night.”
Sir Alex is known throughout the game as a master of man management, but he admits sometimes players are better off making their own decisions.
“It’s a difficult one to advise on,” he said. “Only the individual can know what’s right, and Wes wanted to stay. Because there’s a post-mortem happening at the moment, there was no emergency for the boy to rush home.”
Round up by Nick Coppack in Durban, South Africa
Papers: Wenger slams Real
Wah sei... this is the first time Wenger standing on our side despite of our rivary!Arsene Wenger backs Fergie in hammering Real on Ronaldo
Arsene Wenger has for once thrown his weight behind Sir Alex Ferguson by accusing Real Madrid of "destabilising" Cristiano Ronaldo. Wenger's spats with Fergie have become legendary in the Frenchman's 12 years as Gunners boss - their rows adding spice to Arsenal's battles with Manchester United for the title. But Wenger reckons his old adversary has every right to moan about the way Real have gone about trying to poach Portuguese wing wizard Ronaldo. "If you don't show respect to other clubs, I think that football is moving in the wrong way," said Wenger. "You cannot come out like president Ramon Calderon has done at Real Madrid with Manchester United, and tell them they cannot stop a player from leaving. You can destabilise any player in the world - that is irresponsible. The big clubs should have values and vision, and be setting an example to others. If we do not do that in football, then we do not understand our responsibilities."
Tom Collomosse, The Mirror
Most of the nationals cover Ferguson's assertion from Monday's press conference in Durban that Ronaldo would be making a mistake if he moved to the Bernabeu.
The Daily Mail claims Tottenham have submitted 'evidence' to the Premier League which supports their complaint over United's alleged pursuit of Dimitar Berbatov. Sir Alex has already dismissed quotes attributed to him last week regarding the Bulgarian striker.
The Sun carries an interview with John Terry in which the Chelsea captain admits he is still haunted by his penalty miss in May's Champions League final defeat to United.
Round up by James Tuck
Rio is tops
Maturity and leadership are the qualities which Sir Alex Ferguson feels have helped shape Rio Ferdinand into the best defender in Europe.
The England international's outstanding displays alongside Nemanja Vidic at the heart of the defence last season resulted in a club record for the lowest number of goals conceded in a Premier League season - just 22 in 38 games.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his attacking cohorts may have received most of the plaudits for their contribution to United's glorious double, but Sir Alex feels Ferdinand, in particular, deserves special recognition.
"Rio has been the best defender in the country, if not Europe for a couple of years," declared the boss. "His maturity and leadership have been key factors in his and the team's success.
"He is someone that young players learn from and that more experienced players respect.
"I have not seen a better defensive pairing than him and Nemanja for a long time."
Ferdinand skippered the Reds to a 1-0 victory over Orlando Pirates in Durban on Tuesday night having missed United's opening two pre-season games with a back injury.
Sir Alex to make changes
Sir Alex Ferguson will freshen up his team for Saturday's Vodacom Challenge final against the Kaizer Chiefs in the hope his side can end their trip to South Africa with some silverware.
The Reds lost the corresponding match during their visit in 2006 on penalties and Sir Alex is aiming for a different result this time round.
"We’ll play a very competitive team and one I expect to get a good result for us," he declared at his pre-match press conference on Friday. "We hope to take the big trophy home, which we didn’t do last time."
With two games in two days to come against the Chiefs in South Africa and Portsmouth in Nigeria, the United boss will make full use of his squad, with the likes of Rodrigo Possebon, Tom Cleverley and Craig Cathcart, who flew out to South Africa on Thursday, set to be given a run-out.
"I’ll be playing one team on Saturday and there’ll be a lot of changes for the game on Sunday because it’s only 24 hours later," he explained. "The nucleus of the side will play on Saturday – there might be an issue with the heat and altitude but we’ll monitor how the players are progressing during the game.
"Making changes is the nature of the business at the moment. We want to give everyone enough time on the field to make sure the fitness and tempo of their game is improving. Hopefully by this time next week we’ll be really ready for the season."
The Reds played out a 1-1 draw with the Chiefs last weekend in a somewhat feisty encounter. And having watched them overcome local rivals Orlando Pirates on Thursday evening, Sir Alex is expecting another tough test in Tshwane on Saturday.
"We’ve seen the Kaizer Chiefs’ ability and we saw the game last night [against Orlando Pirates] and it was a very, very aggressive game," he said.
"I think it’s important we see a good game on Saturday. The referee has a responsibility and a role to play in making sure it’s a good game. There’ll be plenty of good footballers on the field and that’s why spectators are here. I’m sure if we do get a good referee then it will be a fantastic game."
The game, which kicks off at 14:30 BST, will be shown live on MUTV and MUTV Online.
Round up by Gemma Thompson & Nick Coppack in South Africa
Tomorrow 9.30am Kaizer Chiefs V UNITED!
Ronaldo still dont wanna commit to Man Utd.....