Solskjær returns to Manchester United

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The speculation that swirled this week over Norwegian football star Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s new top post at Manchester United seemed to become a sport in itself. The guessing game ended when Solskjær’s own former club confirmed Wednesday that he’s been appointed “caretaker manager” through the end of the season.

Football fans were fired up this week over whether Ole Gunnar Solskjær would become the next manager for his old team, Manchester United. He will, at least through the rest of this season that ends on May 12. PHOTO: Molde FK

Solskjær himself, who’d remained determinedly unavailable for comment on his new post, claimed on the legendary football club’s own website that “Manchester United is in my heart, and it’s brilliant to be coming back in this role. I’m really looking forward to working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club.”

He had just extended his contract as head coach for the Norwegian football club Molde FK. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that it runs through the 2021 season, but he’s being released to take over “with immediate effect” at Manchester United after it fired José Mourinho Tuesday morning. He’ll “remain in place while the club conducts a thorough recruitment process for a new full-time manager.” Speculation is likely to keep swirling over whether that will be Solskjær, too.

Molde, meanwhile, claims it’s merely “loaning out” Solskjær until next summer, “when he’ll return to Norway.” Molde director Øystein Neerland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday that Molde expects Solskjær back in its Aker Stadium in May. He seemed quite proud himself, however, that Manchester United had come calling for Solskjær: “When they rang, it was a major event in itself. We think it’s great that Molde can lend out its manager to one of the world’s biggest football clubs.”

It all happened quickly, according to Neerland. He said Manchester United called around 24 hours before Solskjær was hired. “The past day has been hectic,” Neerland said. “United took contact, to our great surprise, and also to Ole Gunnar’s great surprise.” Solskjær said the call offered a sudden opportunity “that I just had to take.” His assistant, Erling Moe, will take over as head coach at Molde while Solskjær leads Manchester United.

‘Great day for Norwegian football’
Media outlets and even top politicians had scrambled on Tuesday for confirmation of Solskjær’s new current role, and got cold feet when it didn’t come. First broke news on Tuesday that Solskjær was a top candidate to take over after Mourinho was fired. Then came reports from the UK that Solskjær had indeed been offered the post.

NRK picked up that bulletin in the middle of its widely watched national newscast Dagsrevyen Tuesday evening, which in turn fortified Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s decision to congratulate Solskjær on social media. She called Solskjær’s reported appointment “a great day for Norwegian football,” a statement that was quickly picked up in turn by British media.

Then she and others clearly decided they may have been a bit too quick with their messages when no confirmation came from the club itself. The wave of news reports also ebbed somewhat, when more news came that Solskjær might only take over as manager on an interim basis. Newspaper VG, meanwhile, reported how Manchester United’s own website leaked the news too early itself, in a video Tuesday evening that was later withdrawn. That apparently prompted the prime inister to withdraw her congratulations as well.

‘Good choice’
Now they can all simply celebrate the news that’s indeed big in Norway. Solskjær has remained a huge star both in Norway and abroad, despite his lack of success in his first Premier League coaching job for Cardiff. Ironically enough, Cardiff will be the first Premier League team Manchester United will face under Solskjær, at an away game on Saturday.

It’s his astounding record as a player for Manchester United for nine years, his knowledge of the club and his popularity with Manchester United fans that’s made him widely viewed as a “good choice” for the club now. The club noted how he scored 126 goals for it between 1996 and 2007, when he became manager of the club’s reserve team, working closely with legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Then he “came home” to Molde, close to his hometown of Kristiansund in Norway, before going to Cardiff and ultimately returning to Molde again, where he’d done well but got caught in some drama as well.

The word “legendary” is often used in references to Manchester United, and its executive vice chairman Ed Woodward used it again on Wednesday when he referred to Solskjær himself as a “club legend” who also now possesses “huge experience, both on the pitch and in coaching roles.” Woodward claimed that Solskjær’s history at Manchester United “means he lives and breathes the culture here,” adding that  “everyone at the club is delighted to have him back.” Solskjær will be joined by Mike Phelan as first-team coach, working alongside Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna.

They’ll be charged with reviving Manchester United, which currently is ranked sixth in the Premier League, to its former glory. Woodward stated that club officials were “confident” Solskjær and his colleagues “will unite the players and the fans as we head into the second half of the season.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund