To many, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a shock choice to relieve Jose Mourinho as manager of Manchester United, his legendary status with the club as a player having airlifted him into place at a time when countless contemporaries with bulkier CVs were being linked to Old Trafford’s top job. But Solskjaer had been managing since a surprisingly young age, it turns out.
In his new book ‘The Red Apprentice – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: The Making of Manchester United’s Great Hope’, the Guardian’s Manchester football correspondent, Jamie Jackson, tells us how a young Ole Gunnar was identified as an analytical mind on the pitch before even hitting his teens, and along with a close friend he set up and managed a street team to play in competitions organised by enterprising teenagers around his home town of Kristiansund in Norway.
Jackson takes us from Ole’s childhood, featuring interviews with his parents and old school friends, right the way through Solskjaer’s memorable playing career. From his goal-a-game career with Clausenengen, to his brace in a Molde debut in a 6-0 hammering of a decent Brann side in 1995, we’re taken on a journey to the moment Sir Alex Ferguson snapped up Solskjaer after United scout Jim Ryan had watched him score twice for Norway against Azerbaijan.
Solskjaer would, of course, net that never-to-be-forgotten injury-time winner for United against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final in an 11-year playing career at Old Trafford. However, his innate aptitude for management was spotted and harnessed by Ferguson when the great Scot handed Ole the chance to coach United’s reserves during the injury-hit final days of his playing career.
‘The Red Apprentice’ really comes into its own when covering Solskjaer’s transition from goal-getter to young manager, chronicling the successes he achieved as a reserve team manager for United, starting with the Premier Reserve League in 2010, as well as explaining his clear ability from an early stage to mould players as people as well as footballers. Countless coaches and players who have played for Solskjaer, whether for United, Molde or Cardiff City, speak of his insight into the game, while some remark of his Ferguson-esque tendency to reach for the hairdryer when necessary.
We are also taken through Mourinho’s toxic final months in charge at Old Trafford, setting the scene for the Norwegian’s arrival as interim manager and that early form under Solskjaer which would make it impossible to overlook him for the full-time gig.
And, in covering the 2019-20 season and United’s qualification for the Champions League in depth, the book takes a fascinating peek at the ways in which Solskjaer has taken strands of Ferguson’s management into his quest to become United’s most successful boss since the great man himself.
‘The Red Apprentice – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: The Making of Manchester United’s Great Hope’ by Jamie Jackosn, is published on 27 October 2020, RRP £20.