Sport Soccer

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Solskjaer offered hero's welcome as new star hits town

Cardiff City Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer salutes the crowd at Old Trafford
Cardiff City Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer salutes the crowd at Old Trafford

Jim White

FOR a moment, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer forgot what he was doing at Old Trafford. The Cardiff City manager had stepped into his technical area for the first time, and was semaphoring signals to his players, making sharp karate-style chopping motions to indicate the lines he wanted them to take up.

Spotting him there, the regulars in the Stretford End started up a chant. "Ole, Ole give us a wave," they demanded.

Temporarily putting aside the primary purpose of his night, which was to inflict further misery on the United faithful, he duly obliged. He waved like it was 1999 all over again. Maybe he was practising for future times.

Maybe, momentarily, he thought the grand ambition he has nursed since he retired as a player had been suddenly realised and he was now manager of the club he once graced.

WONDER

You wonder, though, what the Cardiff followers thought, seeing their new manager communing with the enemy. For a man seldom known to put a foot wrong, it was as close to a false step as he has committed since he arrived in South Wales.

But then it was understandable if his lines of communication were somewhat blurred. It was like old times when he stepped out into Old Trafford – his name was echoing round the stadium.

It is a rare occasion, indeed, when both sets of supporters are chanting in unison. But here, the second he appeared from the tunnel, the United followers and the boisterous visitors from Cardiff came together to acknowledge the Norwegian.

He was accompanied as he walked to the bench by a security guard. Presumably to protect him from being hugged to death by Fred the Red, the United mascot.

Solskjaer holds a particularly elevated position at Old Trafford. In times of trouble, United fans tend to revert to the old days in their song book. Names like Eric Cantona and George Best ring from the stands. And Solskjaer too. His name has been sung loud and long this season, with every mention bringing back memories of triumph, of last-minute winners, of putting the ball in the Germans' net.

For years there was a banner along the front of the Stretford End in his honour: Olegend, it read. It was taken down this summer. Not as the result of a diminution in respect, far from it. It was removed in order to make room for a new one: an image of David Moyes, The Chosen One.

Here was Solskjaer back, pitting his managerial wits against Moyes. And how he could have done with the resources the United manager had at his disposal last night. No wonder Moyes was smiling. Robin van Persie was back, eager, energetic and scoring his first goal since November.

Alongside him, there was Juan Mata, the new signing. Hungry for the ball, pointing at team-mates where he wanted it played, taking all the free-kicks, the recruit from Chelsea exuded the sort of confidence that has latterly been so missing from the United team.

In his insistent injection of zest and adventure, he looked exactly what was needed. Back in the winter of 1976, anyone with a pair of eyes knew, too, what Tommy Docherty needed as Manchester United manager. He was desperately short of snarl and guile his team too easily brushed aside. He needed some strength and power in midfield. He needed some scrap.

So what did he do? He went out and bought Jimmy Greenhoff, a player of grace and touch, a forward full of craft and invention. It was a very Manchester United thing to do. It worked too, Docherty's team went on to win the FA Cup. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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