When Sir Alex Ferguson opted to sign the then unknown Norwegian forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of Alan Shearer back in 1996, you could have forgiven the united faithful for having their doubts. He was untested in the Premier League, was fairly Young and hand on heart we really hadn’t heard too much about him. However Solskjaer quickly went on to become arguably Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest ever bargain in his managerial career.
Having signed Solskjaer for a mere £1.5 Million pounds, Ole quickly established himself in the Manchester United side, becoming an instant fan favourite amongst the united supporter’s. His knack of popping up at the right times in the box was becoming a real trade mark for Ole and one that would save United on countless occasions, from his famous injury time goal vs Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup Final, to his last gasp winner against Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round at Old Trafford in 2007. When the big occasions came calling Ole didn’t go missing, he delivered.
It didn’t take Ole long to get off the mark for the club, 6 minutes to be exact. After seeing his initial effort saved the keeper, Ole neatly slotted the ball home on the rebound and into the bottom corner opening up his united account. This would be only a sign of things to come, as Solskjaer continued to cause opposition defence’s havoc. Ole ended his debut campaign for the club scoring in all a total of 19 goals, helping United secure yet another League Title.
The following season may not have quite hit the heights of the previous year with the club missing out on the Premier League title to arch rivals Arsenal, but Ole’s ever growing importance to the Manchester United side was becoming ever more undeniable. His late late equaliser against Chelsea at Old Trafford, followed up by his double against Blackburn Rovers, kept United well and truly in the race. Even though he only managed 9 goals, you could see the development he was making as a footballer, we knew we had something really special in Solskjaer.
What was to follow in the 1998/1999 campaign was beyond the stuff even dreams are made of! As United completed an historic treble. This would arguably be Solskjaer’s finest ever season in a Manchester United shirt, on paper the 2001/02 campaign could be classed as his personal best, as he scored more goals. However throughout treble winning campaign Ole’s goals and performance’s was just that little bit more special. He showed not just us, but the entire footballing world just how important he was to our side, when a chance fell to Solskjaer in the box, you could almost bet your house on him scoring, he was just that good.
We had to wait until January in the FA Cup clash with Liverpool at Old Trafford, to witness the first real bit of Magic arrive that season, but boy was it worth the wait! With United trailing 1-0 and all but a matter of minutes to go, Dwight Yorke looked to have rescued a draw for the reds with a late equaliser, but that was only to be half the story. Almost out of nowhere Ole dramatically appeared in the box, edging the ball to the left before then placing it past the keeper and giving United the victory, however the best was still yet to come. Picture the scene, last minute of a European cup final, 100,000 + supporters in the ground; probably will be the last kick of the game when the ball comes in from the corner, would the pressure be too much? No, Not for Ole, as he dramatically flicked the ball into the top right hand corner, winning the European Cup for Manchester United. The Treble was complete and so was Solskjaers’ legendary status at the club.
Of course it would be almost impossible to top or even for that matter match the standards set by the Treble winning campaign, it was a 1 in a million season. Despite the following seasons bringing more success, failure in Europe left us with a bitter taste in our mouths, the feeling that we could and should have won so much more, however from Solskjaer it was business as usual. A combined total of 28 goals over the next 2 seasons, (1999/2000/ 2000/2001) proved essential, as United eased their way to another 2 Premier League Titles.
The arrival of Dutch forward Ruud Van Nistelrooy would see Ole been given a more regular starting place in the Manchester United side, rather than appearing off the substitutes bench. Right from the off it was clear the pair had the makings of a fantastic partnership. In both Ruud and Ole you had two out and out goal scoring machines, they didn’t need 3 or 4 chances to find the back of the net, they only needed 1. The pair’s unreal striking partnership netted a combined total of a whopping 61 goals, as United narrowly missed out the League Title to Arsenal.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s persistence to playing Van Nistelrooy as the lone striker throughout the 2002/03 campaign did somewhat limit Ole’s opportunities to play in a more advanced role up front for the cub, but did see the Norwegian play in a unfamiliar position on the right wing. It was something we hadn’t really seen from Solskjaer before, but it was a role he did effectively with in particularly his standout moment coming against Newcastle United at Old Trafford, where he beautifully glided past Newcastle’s full back, before then giving it to Paul Scholes who empathically blasted the ball home helping United on their way to an 8th Premier League title. Ole was even selected to play on the Right hand side for the majority of United’s bigger games that season, including against the likes of Real Madrid and Arsenal where again he blossomed.
As we headed into Ole’s final few years at Old Trafford, injuries would become an unfortunate regular occurrence. A knee injury suffered against Panathinakios in September 2003 would limit the forwards appearance’s that campaign to a mere 19. An intensive Knee operation in August 2004 kept Solskjaer out on the side-lines for the next 2 years as he began his recovery process.
He finally made his long anticipated return from injury in August 2006 down at the Valley at Charlton Athletic, where in typical Solskjaer fashion coolly slid the ball home, adding United’s third and final goal of the game, It was almost like he had never been away. With it likely to be his last season, you just knew with Solskjaer he would leave us with just a few more injury time winners! And that is exactly what happened. Firstly it would be Celtic who would be on the end of one of Solskjaers late late shows, who after seeing Louis Saha’s effort saved by the keeper, tucked away the ball home, giving United a 3-2 victory, next it would be Aston Villa in the FA Cup. With the game seemingly all but certain to end 1-1, Ole from the edge of the area placed the ball under the keeper handing the club a 2-1 victory and a place in the next round of the FA Cup. Fittingly his last goal for the club came against Blackburn Rovers (where it all started off) scoring United’s fourth and final goal of the game in a vital 4-1 victory.
His retirement from the game was officially announced on 28th August 2007, which brought to an end an 11 year stay at the theatre if Dreams. His playing days may be long over but the memories he left still live ever present in the minds of every single Manchester United fan.