Sport Soccer

Tuesday 20 August 2019

‘Manchester United is in my heart’ – Solskjaer

The former Manchester United striker and reserve team boss has been named caretaker manager.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is back at Manchester United (Peter Byrne/PA)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is back at Manchester United (Peter Byrne/PA)

By Simon Peach, Press Association Chief Football Writer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is delighted to be back at Manchester United and cannot wait to get to started as caretaker manager.

Less than 24 hours after Jose Mourinho’s topsy-turvy reign came to an abrupt end, the club confirmed on Wednesday morning that they had brought in their former striker and reserve team boss from Molde.

Solskjaer, whose Champions League final winner sealed the treble in 1999, will take the reins at United until the end of the season as the club undergoes a restructuring process and searches for a new full-time manager.

The intention is for the fans’ favourite to return to Molde in May, with the Norwegian club’s chief executive Oystein Neerland saying they are happy to “lend” their manager to United.

It is an unusual arrangement but one that appears to suit all parties, leaving Solskjaer understandably thrilled to return to a club he called home for 14-and-a-half years as a player and then coach.

“Manchester United is in my heart and it’s brilliant to be coming back in this role,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club.”

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates after scoring the winner in the 1999 Champions League final (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Sir Alex Ferguson’s former right-hand man Mike Phelan, who managed Hull in the Premier League two years ago, joins Solskjaer as first-team coach.

The pair link up at United with Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna, who took training on Wednesday ahead of the caretaker manager’s first full day in the hotseat.

Solskjaer is expected to speak to the media for the first time on Friday, with a frantic few days peaking on Saturday evening at Cardiff as his first match pits him against the only other Premier League club he has coached.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer endured a difficult time at Cardiff (PA Wire)

Things did not go to plan in the Welsh capital, having overseen relegation from the top flight in 2014 and a poor start to life in the Championship.

Solskjaer left claiming a “difference in philosophy” with owner Vincent Tan after just eight-and-a-half months.

The Norwegian has fared better either side of that as manager of Molde and United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward believes he was the right appointment at a difficult time.

“Ole is a club legend with huge experience, both on the pitch and in coaching roles,” Woodward said.

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Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, centre, continues to be in the spotlight (Martin Rickett/PA)

“His history at Manchester United means he lives and breathes the culture here and everyone at the club is delighted to have him and Mike Phelan back.

“We are confident they will unite the players and the fans as we head into the second half of the season.”

Solskjaer needs to hit the ground running in his new role, given off-field issues have compounded United’s worst ever start to a Premier League campaign.

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Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri, centre, scored twice as Manchester United were beaten on Sunday (Peter Byrne/PA)

Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Anfield leaves the side 19 points behind leaders Liverpool and facing an 11-point gap to the Champions League spots.

United are hoping that Solskjaer, who coached Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard in the reserves, will inject renewed positivity into an ailing side, whose underperforming players and drab style played a big part in Mourinho’s exit.

Seen as a safe pair of hands that understands the club, United will now look to hire a head of football, reporting to Woodward, to oversee football operations – a role it is understood Mourinho had a long-standing reluctance about.

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Mauricio Pochettino is being considered to replace Jose Mourinho in the Old Trafford hotseat (Nick Potts/PA)

Then there is the small matter of finding a long-term successor to the divisive Portuguese.

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is believed to be the main target to take the reins next summer – and is understood to be interested in the post – but Solskjaer will surely dream of earning the permanent role, despite his commitment to Molde.

The 45-year-old’s temporary move to United comes just weeks after signing a new contract until 2021 with the Norwegian club, who were happy to facilitate him leaving until May despite meaning he misses the start of their season.

“In football you never know what can happen,” Solskjaer said. “We get proof time after time.

“This is an opportunity I had to take. I am looking forward to leading Manchester United until the summer.

“At the same time, I will follow closely what is happening here at home.”

Returning coach Phelan had a similar message for Australian side Central Coast Mariners, where he will continue as sporting director in a “dual role” and “take the first opportunity possible to get back to the Central Coast”.

“I’m still a Mariner” Phelan said. “I’ve put something in place that I want to see through.

“This might be a small distraction, but it’s with one of the biggest clubs in the world that I simply couldn’t turn down.”

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