Ole Gunnary Solskjaer is set to leave Manchester United to manage Molde Fotballklubb, the Norwegian team where he made his name. Solskjaer has twice previously turned down opportunities to return to Norway, recently declaring a plan to stay at United until Sir Alex Ferguson retires. In a change of heart, Solskjaer could accept the offer on Tuesday.
Solskjaer, United’s reserve team manager since 2008, has previously been offered jobs at both Molde and the Norwegian national team, with Rosenborg Ballklub in the Norwegian Tippeligaen also reportedly interested in taking the 37-year-old coach. Solsjkaer turned down each opportunity to remain at United where he has been player and coach for 14 years.
Molde is currently managed by caretaker boss Uwe Rösler, who received a standing ovation at the weekend for keeping the club in the Tippeligaen this season. However Rösler, the former Manchester City and Germany striker, wants a return to England where he maintains a family home.
Despite the club’s size – with average attendances under 10,000 – Molde has big ambitions. Investor Kjell Inge Røkke funded the development of a new stadium in the 1990s, which was dubbed locally the “Røkke Park.” He has also spent around NOK 400 million (£43 million) on new player acquisitions. Controversially, Røkke was central to Wimbledon’s move from South London to Milton Keynes in 2003.
“It’s no secret we have worked intensely to get Ole Gunnar but we have not signed a contract yet,” the club’s chairman, Erik Berg, said yesterday.
“I can’t guarantee a press conference next week but, to put it this way, I will be delighted to welcome you back.”
Although Solskjaer turned down Molde’s most recent approach this season his agent Jim Solbakken spent Sunday at the 11,000-capacity Aker Stadium in negotiations with director Tarje Nordstrand Jacobsen. Reports in Norway today suggest that Solskjaer will fly on Tuesday to accept the deal, with a January start likely.
Born in Kristiansund, less than an hour’s drive from Molde, Solskjaer has long maintained a plan to take his family ‘home’. Indeed, the 37-year-old former striker recently bought a new house in Kristiansund increasing speculation about a move back to Norway.
However, in October the coach, who scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United, promised he would stay at Old Trafford until Ferguson’s retirement.
“As long as the boss stays, I stay,” said Solskjaer in early October.
“My job at United is dependent on him. Had Ferguson not been manager at United I wouldn’t have been here.
“We have a really good relationship and I enjoy working under him.”
Many observers assume Ferguson is likely to retire in June 2012, with José Mourinho appointed his successor at Old Trafford. Indeed, Ferugson will have endorsed Solskjaer’s early decision to leave and this could lead to speculation about the manager’s position.
Meanwhile, Solskjaer has already drawn up a list of potential transfer targets, according to the Norwegian media including United’s reserve midfielder Magnus Wolfe Eikrem and striker Joshua King. Bjorn Helge Riise, Tore Reginiussen and Tarik Elyounoussi are also on the apparent list, with the Tippeligaen not resuming until the spring.
According to reports, Solskjaer will also take former United player Mark Dempsey to Molde as his assistant. Dempsey made just two appearances for United in 1983 and has worked as a youth coach for Norwegian club Tromsø since 2008.
Speculation in the English media over the weekend suggests the Old Trafford hierarchy will offer 35-year-old defender Gary Neville a first coaching role as Solskjaer’s reserve team replacement. Neville is out of contract in June 2011 and unlikely to be offer a new playing deal.
However, with the player still part of the first team picture, Neville is likely to take the role on a part-time basis with coach Warren Joyce remaining in place for United’s second string.
Solskjaer is remembered at Old Trafford with affection, not only for his affable personality and goalscoring but most memorably the strike that won United the 1999 Champions League final.
Coming from the bench as an 81st minute substitute, Solskjaer poked Teddy Sherringham’s flick-on into the top corner of Oliver Kahn’s net for the dramatic winner.
The match defined Solskjaer’s time as a player for United. It was typically Ole – his 126 goals came in just 216 starts for the club and 150 appearances from the bench.
According to legend, it also proved the start of the player’s injury problems in the last three seasons with the club. Sliding towards the corner flag after the 93rd minute winning goal, Solskjaer later said the action had damaged ligaments in his left knee, although he would have four successful seasons at United before injury took its toll.
On retiring in September 2007, Solskjaer took time out to complete coaching badges before being offered the role of reserve team manager in summer 2008. He won the 2007/08 Lancashire Senior Cup by defeating the Liverpool reserves 3–2 in the final and the 2009/10 FA Premier Reserve league.
Somehow it seems unlikely it will be Solskjaer’s last success with United.
“I would like to become manager of Manchester United,” Solskjaer said in October.
Many United supporters will echo that sentiment.