Happy ending to Solskjær drama

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Laughter and claims of family values and friendship characterized a highly unusual press conference on Wednesday starring Norwegian football icon Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his “rich uncles” at Molde Football Club. He and club benefactor Kjell Inge Røkke made it clear that they and all involved in the club had come to terms again after a week of turmoil and bitter words.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried the entire press conference from Molde live on national TV. Here, Kjell Inge Røkke (right) in a frequent burst of laughter while joking with Solskjær. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Solskjær confirmed that he’ll be staying at Molde, at least through May 2014, and that he had told British club Aston Villa that he wouldn’t be negotiating any further with them. Solskjær said he had called the club’s owner Roy Lerner and that “I had a very open and honest dialogue with Mr Lerner … he was really understanding.”

Røkke and his longtime business partner Bjørn Rune Gjelsten, meanwhile, will be taking over personally as owners of Molde Fotball AS, also at least through May 2014, with Røkke owning two-thirds of Molde Fotball’s shares and Gjelsten owning one-third. They’ll take over, from 2013, the stakes that have been held by Røkke’s industrial firm Aker ASA. Aker, however, will honor a personal agreement with Solskjær to pay for marketing rights until June 30, 2014, and the Aker name will still be used for Molde’s stadium as well as for Aker Akademiet and Akerhallen.

Football star Ole Gunnar Solskjær will be staying Norway and coaching the Molde Football Club through the spring of 2014. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Røkke, upon hearing that Solskjær had been flown to Birmingham late last week to talk about possibly taking over as head coach at Aston Villa, had angrily threatened to cut off his financial support for Molde, which he and Gjelsten have nurtured for years. They were also largely responsible for luring Solskjær back home to Norway just 18 months ago, with the offer of the coaching job at Molde, when Solskjær’s long and highly successful career as a player for top club Manchester United had come to an end.

Røkke was clearly stung that Solskjær might quit, and the confrontation between him and Solskjær dominated headlines all through the weekend. Things got worse when Molde officials, loyal to Røkke, also let it be known they were disappointed and upset that Solskjær might leave and especially when one of them leaked portions of a conversation Solskjær had with them. Then Solskjær got angry, too.

But at Wednesday’s remarkable press conference, which was carried live by state broadcaster NRK, everything was sweetness and light. Solskjær claimed he and his wife held a “family council” session Monday evening and decided they really wanted to stay in Norway with their children. Solskjær then said he called Røkke, to see whether they could square up and work together again. Not only did Røkke say “yes,” he quickly assembled Gjelsten and both their wives, sent a private jet up to Kristiansund to pick up Solkjær and his wife, and all three couples had a long talk and lengthy dinner Tuesday night at Røkke’s fjordside estate in Asker, west of Oslo.

Businessmen and investors Kjell Inge Røkke (left) and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten are known as Molde Football Club's "rich uncles," and clearly didn't want to lose Solskjær already. Røkke called Solskjær an "icon." PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Røkke, perhaps more chastened than Norwegians are accustomed to seeing him, said it was “fantastic” that they could all come to agreement. Both he and Gjelsten agreed with Solkjær that all of them had learned a valuable lesson through the week of turmoil. “This just shows the importance of communication,” Gjelsten said. “There have been misunderstandings. We all must be better at talking directly with each other.”

Solskjær, meanwhile, promised that he would never put Røkke, Gjelsten, the club, his family or himself in such a position again. If, or more likely when, another club calls, Solskjær said “I’ll call Kjell Inge, and we can have another dinner.”

Solskjær also believes he’ll be able to work closely again with Molde officials, including club director Tarje Nordstrand Jacobsen, who leaked the conversation Solskjær thought was confidential. Jacobsen took off on a sudden vacation when the storm climaxed on Sunday, but he’s expected to return to Molde. Røkke said he thought the criticism Jacobsen received for the leak, believed to be sanctioned by Røkke at the time, was unwarranted. “Any criticism should be directed at me,” Røkke said.

Gjelsten claimed Røkke isn’t, contrary to his reputation, a sour, spoiled investor with a hot temper. Røkke himself seemed to prefer being seen as “engaged” and “committed” instead of “furious” or “very furious.”

Football commentators seemed to accept the “good tone” now promoted among all the powers-that-be at Molde. One told NRK that “there are only winners left.” Most believe Solskjær will eventually leave Norway to take over as coach of a Champions League club, but at least not yet. And now he can return to the business of coaching football. Molde is due to meet Tromsø in a match Thursday night.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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