Picture the scene, the year is 2000 and you are sat in you’re favourite stadium watching your favourite team play against Manchester United, hot off the back of winning the treble and on their way to another Premier League title.
However, your team are doing pretty well, the game is approaching the 70th minute and the score is level (or maybe you are lucky enough to have a one goal lead) and United look to be running out of ideas. You feel confident, full of hope and slightly nervous anticipation that you might be about to see your team pull of a result that will be talked about for a good few years to come.
That is until the ball goes out of play and the assistant referee holds his flag above his head on the halfway line to indicate to the referee that Sir Alex Ferguson is not happy with his forward line up and would like to make a change. Anxiously, you peer towards the United bench to see who is coming on for them, when you realise who is coming on your heart sinks into the pit of your stomach and you know that the remaining twenty something minutes plus added time are going to be even more nervy, containing the very real threat of heartbreak, as Bayern Munich found out in the Nou Camp less that a year previously.
The diminutive baby faced substitute I am referring to is none other than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a man who had a fearsome reputation as a goal scoring substitute, after coming off the bench and scoring 6 minutes into his debut, hitting four goals in a twelve minute cameo at Nottingham Forest and the aforementioned winner against Munich in the Champions League final, as well as numerous other occasions when Solskjaer came on to score goals at crucial moments for United, earning himself cult hero status with the Stretford End faithful.
Twelve years on, the Norwegian is still making a real impact from the subs bench, this time calling the shots at Molde, a club in his homeland’s top flight, and this week it has emerged that Aston Villa have held talks with him about their vacant managerial position.
I stated in my previous blog that Aston Villa owner, American Randy Lerner, needed to make a bold step and recruit a manager that would give Villa a fresh look and re-energise the club following a couple of disastrous appointments, and I believe that should this deal come to fruition, Lerner may have pulled off a master stroke way out of left field, just as Sir Alex did when he first brought the Norwegian striker to the Premier League in 1996 from the team he now manages, Molde FK.
Solskjaer’s coaching career began where his playing days, cut short by injury, ended. It was at Manchester United, under the guidance of arguably the greatest manager ever, that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer first began cutting his teeth in his new job by first of all coaching United’s strikers for a season before moving on to before stepping up to become reserve team manager in 2008, a position he held with great success for two years. Rave reviews from Sir Alex and good results on the pitch gained Solskjaer admiration as a coach across the game and it was during this time that Solskjaer declined the chance to become manager of the Norwegian national team.
In 2011, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally said goodbye to Old Trafford after 15 years at the club, returning to Molde FK as manager of the first team. Prior to Solskjaer’s second coming at Molde, the club had narrowly avoided relegation and were hoping for a better season to celebrate their centenary as a club.
Even the most confident of Molde FK supporters could not imagine what the season ahead was to bring, especially after they lost their first game of the season 2-0 at the hands of newly promoted Sarpsborg 08. What followed that result was an unbelievable run that saw Molde FK win the Norwegian league title for the first time in their history, there was no last minute Manchester City style fairy tale here though, Molde won the title with two games to spare after their closest rivals, Rosenborg, failed to keep up.
Sir Alex Ferguson always maintained that Solskjaer was so lethal when coming off the bench because, unlike today’s iGadget brandishing replacements, the “baby faced assassin” as he was then known, used to pay real attention to the game that was unfolding before his eyes, meticulously watching the opposition defenders and plotting their downfall from afar. When Fergie gave Ole the nod to come on, the striker would already know what he was going to try and achieve and managed to score 28 times after coming off the bench, a United record.
This level of tactical awareness and the ability to read what is developing on the pitch will have surely been a key factor in Solskjaer’s early successes as a manager in his home country, and I believe that in Solskjaer, Villa could find themselves with the next up and coming young manager and the latest in a long line of managers who have played for Fergie.
Of course, tactical nous on its own is not good enough to manage a club at the highest level, you need to be able to handle the media and manage the players as people, two things I believe Solskjaer will excel in, having seen his ice cool personal come through in interviews over the years. Solskjaer has always come across as a reasonably relaxed, approachable person, but nevertheless a dedicated and hard working professional who will no doubt expect the same from his players.
Ultimately, managers are judged by their activities in the transfer market and results on the pitch and it will be interesting to see how Solskjaer handles a Premier League transfer budget and the players that he brings in. Given the number of young players at Aston Villa at the moment, I can easily see a young up and coming manager getting one heck of a lot more out of the players than Alex McLeish ever did, although it could be argued that it would be difficult for a manager to get any less out of Aston Villa’s class of 2012.
So far in this article I have done nothing but praise the former Manchester United forward and his tutor, whom he will no doubt learned a lot from. I’ve spelled out all the reasons I would want Solskjaer to manage my team if I were Randy Lerner, but I have a feeling that Villa will have to really pull out the stops to obtain the Norwegian’s signature.
But why would Solskjaer want to manage Villa?
Sure, stepping up from the Norwegian league to the Premier League sounds like something only a fool would turn down, at least on the surface of thing anyway, but if you scratch beneath the surface I think there are plenty of reason’s for Solskjaer to be cautious about risking his reputation in the Midlands.
As I previously stated, whilst manager of Manchester United Reserves, Solskjaer was approached by his country about taking up the reigns at the Norwegian National Team, Solskjaer declined the opportunity, saying that he was not ready to make the step so early in his career. If big clubs like Aston Villa are coming in for him off of the back of a successful season in Norway and a reference from Sir Alex so early on in his managerial career, then Solskjaer may stay at Molde FK for another season, waiting for a club who are in a better position than Villa currently are to come in for him.
I have a feeling that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is no mug and will continue to progress his career, but at his own pace. If Villa want to bring the former “super sub” to their dugout then Randy Lerner is going to have to convince Solskjaer that he will be given the full backing of the board, something the last few Villa managers have not had in my honest opinion, otherwise they could miss out on one of the hottest up and coming young managers in Europe right now and the lift that the Villains so desperately need.