Football legend Solskjær makes triumphant return

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Ole Gunnar Solskjær, often called the “world’s most famous Norwegian” now living, was getting a rousing  “welcome home” this week after more than 14 years playing and working for football powerhouse Manchester United in England. He’s agreed, as expected, to take over as head coach for the Norwegian club where his top-league career began, in Molde.

8 Jan 2000:  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United in action during the FIFA World Club Championships match against Vasco da Gama at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. \ Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill /Allsport

Solskjær called the city’s club Molde FK “a club with great potential” and said that his boss at Manchester United, the even more famous Sir Alex Ferguson, had recommended he accept Molde’s offer.

The sensational appointment, confirmed at a press conference Tuesday, follows weeks of speculation about the 37-year-old Solskjær’s future. Currently the Reserve Team Coach at the English Premier League giant Manchester United, the former striker known as the “baby-faced assassin” signed a three-and-a-half-year contract worth NOK 2.4 million a year starting in January 2011. He’ll also get NOK 2 million more from Aker ASA (the industrial firm controlled by Molde FK’s biggest fan, Kjell Inge Røkke) and another NOK 1 million if Molde beats arch rival Rosenborg and wins the league title.

Solskjær is known across the globe for his days as a player at Manchester United between 1996 and 2007, during which time the club won six English Premier League titles and the European Champions League in 1999, in which he famously scored the winning goal. He also represented Norway internationally 67 times, scoring 23 goals for its national football team.

Molde FK, which recently finished 11th out of 16 teams in Norway’s top football league (Tippeligaen), was managed temporarily this season by German Uwe Rösler, himself best known for his time in English football at Manchester United’s rival Manchester City. With Rösler looking to move back to his family in England, Molde FK Chairman Erik Berg had long hoped to bring Solskjær back in the other direction. Solskjær scored 31 times in 46 games for Molde during a two-year spell in the mid-1990s before he joined Manchester United.

Solskjær himself said that he will approach the job with a “long-term perspective,” stating that “if things go well, why would I leave?” Underscoring his ambitions for the club, he added that his priorities would be “building relationships” and “shaping a winning culture” at Molde FK, where he hopes to deliver “as much success as possible.”

Family also wanted to return to the homeland
Personal issues were also at stake in his decision to move home to Norway, where his return literally has been greeted with standing ovations. He said his family (wife Silje Lyngvær and three children) wanted to return to Norway, to have parents and grandparents nearby. He said  “the combination of my family’s wishes, the tour over the mountains to Molde, and the professional aspects” prompted him to give up his long association with Manchester United.

He noted that his new compensation package “is less than I had in Manchester, so it’s not the money that has attracted me to Molde,” which long has received millions of kroner in financial contributions from its biggest supporter, industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke. Røkke himself was involved in the negotiations to get Solskjær on board.

But it was Manchester United’s celebrated manager Sir Alex Ferguson who played the most important role, according to Solskjær. He told the hordes of reporters assembled for Tuesday’s press conference in Molde that he had discussed Molde’s offer at length with Ferguson, who thought that accepting it was the “right” thing for Solskjær to do. In a separate statement, Ferguson wished Solskjær well, calling him “a fantastic player” and “a very fine coach” who “will do well at Molde.”

Maintained local ties
Solskjær previously turned down an opportunity to manage the Norwegian national team, claiming that he needed further development as a coach before taking on such a role. Nevertheless, he had stated previously that his future coaching career lies in Norway, where he has been honoured with the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav by King Harald V, and with the Peer Gynt Prize (bestowed by parliament). He already runs a youth football academy in his hometown of Kristiansund.

The arrival of Solskjær has been greeted by celebrations within Norwegian football, and was described as “a gift to the whole league” by newspaper Aftenposten. With the Tippeligaen and many Norwegian clubs facing difficult financial circumstances and falling attendances, it’s hoped that the return of such a talismanic figure will help reinvigorate the entire footballing scene in the country, not least attendance at matches.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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