01 Mar 2012
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER: REPAID WITH A FAIRYTALE
How big a transition was it from reserve team manager to first team manager?
The spotlight was certainly on me when I returned to Norway to become manager of Molde FK. I played for Molde before I signed for Manchester United so it was a big deal when I was appointed manager. There was a high volume of media interest to be handled but, as a former Manchester United player, I was used to such media scrutiny. The expectations on the club itself did grow on my return, which was actually probably worse for the players. The club went from finishing 11th the season before I arrived to us being expected to win the league in my first season in charge. I have to say I love the expectation because that is part of the game and part of the job of a manager is to deal with it.
My transition was a smooth one. At United I was given a fantastic opportunity to learn with the reserve team and I benefited a great deal from working with Warren Joyce. I also had the advantage of being able to work under Sir Alex Ferguson for so long and observe his methods and approach. I eventually took my first managerial position because I felt I was ready to take on the responsibility that a first team manager has for results, and for who you need to sell and sign as a manager. I’ve always looked at the man management part of the role as a crucial managerial responsibility. I really love the responsibility of identifying players that I think will strengthen the team.
What approach did you take to manage the level of expectations?
When I returned to Norway I was aware that some people wanted me to fail because of the success I was fortunate enough to experience as a Manchester United player. It was viewed as ‘you don’t just come back to Norway and have automatic success’, but that kind of criticism just motivated me further. When I lost my first match in charge 3- 0, to a newly promoted side, then of course the knives were sharpened straight away and the press coverage wasn’t the best. However, I viewed that result as a great learning opportunity because it is my first job as a manager and I don’t expect to know everything straight away.
In terms of conveying my coaching philosophy and style of leadership to my players, my playing career at United does gives me an advantage when I’m explaining to the team how I believe the game should be played. I can tell my players from experience how a top club conducts itself, explain performance cultures and how winners behave. The players took on board what I said from day one and in training they have always given me their best attitudes and worked hard. As a result, the quality improved and improved as we went along.
What pleased you most about the manner in which you won the Norwegian Premier League title?
I have approached managing in Norway with a view that I want to play attacking and entertaining football. My philosophy, of course, has been moulded around the Manchester United philosophy. I’ve brought two fantastic coaches with me from Manchester United - Mark Dempsey and Richard Hartis - so they have the same philosophy as me. We want to play our way into the box in the same way that we developed the younger players at United. I’ve seen development of Molde players of 30 years of age improve 15 or 20 per cent, which is very pleasing.
Molde FK gave you your start in football as a player, how big an honour was it for you to repay them by winning the first league title in their history, and also in their centenary year?
Winning the title for the first time was massive for the club, the supporters, the region and the owner, who has been there for 20 years now. Personally I felt that I owed the owner quite a lot because I joined Molde as a player, I was there for 18 months and then Manchester United wanted to sign me. They asked me if I wanted to join United. Of course I wanted to, and although there were problems with flying me over to sign in time, they got me there. So I owed the owner to come back and manage the club and try to bring success. My first season has been a fairytale and it’s great to be part of writing new history. It was quite spooky actually because on the actual day of the Centenary anniversary we went top of the League for the first time... and we stayed there!
You scored at the Nou Camp in 1999 to help Manchester United win the Champions League. With how much anticipation are you approaching the possibility of testing yourself as a manager in the Champions League for the first time?
We will have to play Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday to get through the qualifying stages of the Champions League. That’s going to be massive for the club and for me personally because that gives me another new challenge of scouting the teams that we are playing and challenging myself tactically. The game in the Norwegian Premier League is not so tactical, so playing against European opposition involves an entirely different way of preparing the team. Typically the style of play in the Norwegian Premier League is a lot more direct, not a lot of play through the midfield and they play the percentage ball. So in the league we can play the attacking football that I like to play and get away with an odd mistake, but you can’t get away with those little mistakes against the best teams in Europe.
You are another one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s former players who have made the successful transition into management. What imprint do you think you and others take away from working under him?
Sir Alex has got an aura about him. I think the reason behind so many players that have played for him becoming managers is down to the type of players that he signs and then manages. He recruits players not just for their talent but also for their personality. He finds players who have a love for the game and the right determination and interest. Another factor is the way he’s gone about his job, the way he treats everyone and the way he’s inspired us all through his team talks. Before and after every game now I look back and think ‘what would the manager have said in this circumstance when we’d won or lost; how did he react?’ I now understand the agony he must have felt when deciding to leave people on the bench for a match. I have a very young, talented, hungry squad and I want them all to play all of the time but of course I can only play 11 of them. He’s kept in touch and texted me, and it’s always encouraging to hear from him.
There’s no rush because you are only 39 and starting out in management, but is the big picture that you’d one day like to test yourself as a manager in the Barclays Premier League?
As a young player I never had a realistic ambition of becoming a Premier League player. I always said to myself ‘train as hard as you can, work as hard as you can and see how far you can get’. I’ve got the same attitude as a manager but of course I do have dreams. When you are young you dream about being a top football star scoring in cup finals. I’d love to manage in the Premier League one day and if that opportunity does arrive it will be because I have done a very good job here in Norway, made a lot of good decisions, had sustained success and enjoyed it. There are so many good managers about so you have to ensure that you are learning all of the time. Immediately after a defeat you can feel sick to your stomach and you still have to go into the dressing room and speak to the players. I know that I will learn from this feeling, and from every win and every defeat I look and think ‘what can I take from this’ to improve myself as a manager.