Rarely has a football match involving a low-ranking Welsh club in the Premier League attracted so much attention in Norway as one did over the weekend. Saturday’s face-off between Cardiff and West Ham ended in a loss for the high-profile Norwegian sports star now coaching Cardiff, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær faces even bigger challenges after his disappointing debut.
Solskjær’s recent move to Cardiff from the Molde football club he led to Norwegian league and cup championships caught headlines both in Norway and abroad. Expectations were high that Solskjær, the Manchester United legend from Kristiansund, would quickly reverse Cardiff’s woes. The media hype continued through the weekend, after Solskjær once again left his homeland to make a professional return to the UK.
Newspaper Aftenposten, among the many Norwegian media outlets with an unusually strong presence in Wales on Saturday, reported how Solskjær was met with cheers and a standing ovation when he entered his new home stadium for the match against West Ham. He really wanted, perhaps needed, to triumph for his new fans.
Instead the match ended in a 0-2 loss that sent Cardiff down to 18th place in the Premier League, dangerously close to expulsion. Solskjær was visibly dissatisfied and disappointed, also after the first half, complaining that his Cardiff players lacked energy and the will to attack. It was clear he has a lot of work ahead of him.
Solskjær claimed that he never expected the job would be easy, but he seems optimistic. He told reporters how he felt the second half went much better, and he has “good faith” that his new team has potential. He also has taken two young Norwegian players with him to Cardiff, Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Mats Møller Dæhli, the latter giving up a spot on Manchester United’s squad to be able to play for Solskjær.
Now they all face two tough away matches, against Manchester City and Manchester United itself. Solskjær told Aftenposten that he hasn’t forgotten how Molde also lost the first match he coached, a loss that provided some consolation on Saturday. He ended up turning things around in Molde and intends to do the same in Cardiff.
“We’re not traveling to Manchester expecting to lose,” Solskjær said. “If we get something out of those two matches, we’ll be flying!”