It started out so well, and ended paradoxically: Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s three-year stint as manager of the Manchester United football club was over, notes Norwegian sports commentator and editor Reidar Sollie, after a former Norwegian protegé scored against him during the weekend.
Sollie, sports editor at Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen, wrote on Monday about how Solskjær’s first coaching job in the Manchester United system was for the academy where the then-young Norwegian player Joshua King was one of his students. On Saturday, King was among the Watford players who kicked in one of the four goals that humiliated the once-mighty ManU, winning by a score of 4-1.
That followed another crushing 0-5 defeat against Liverpool, and a general decline that began after his thrilling start as Manchester United in 2018. Solskjær had been coaching Molde back home in Norway when he got the call to return to the club where he’d had brilliant playing career and won the hearts of Manchester United fans. He stepped in as temporary manager after the club had fired José Mourinho, and immediately beat Cardiff (where he’d had a less-than-successful stint as manager) by a score of 5-1. “His start couldn’t have been better,” Sollie wrote. “He won his first eight matches, and the man had to be hired permanently.”
That happened in the spring of 2019, and Norwegians back home were bursting with pride, but then began the first of several periods of decline. The worst one, this fall, did him in as manager but he left the field after the loss against Watford as the gentleman he is, applauding the fans, apologizing to them and withstanding the enormous media pressure and speculation that he’d be fired in the morning.
He was, but in the most dignified and, especially for a tough club, honourable of ways. Norwegian media printed the club “Statement on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer” (external link to the club’s website) that lavished praise on Solskjær even though he’d “left his role as manager.” The club claimed “Ole will always be a legend at Manchester United” and that it was “with regret that we have reached this difficult decision.”
Fifteen of his 22 players published tributes to Solskjær on social media, including Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo. “Good luck, my friend! You deserver it!” wrote Ronaldo, calling Solskjær “an outstanding human being.”
The club’s own statement went on to claim that “his place in the club’s history will always be secure, not just for his story as a player, but as a great man and a Manager who gave us many great moments.” Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was among media in Solskjær’s homeland that compared the club’s lavish praise of Solskjær to its statement on Mourinho when he was fired in 2108 (external link to NRK’s website, in Norwegian). It contained none of the accolades given Solskjær.
“He will forever be welcome back at Old Trafford (the club’s stadium in Manchester) as part of the Manchester United family,” the club went on, adding that Solskjær “leaves with our sincerest thanks for his tireless efforts as Manager and our very best wishes for the future.”
He also leaves with severance pay reported by the Manchester Evening News to be around GBP 7.75 million, or nearly NK 90 million, and hopes by some of his former Norwegian national teammates like Kjetil Rekdal that he’ll take a break, relax and allow himself some time for reflection.
“He’s been in this business for 30 years, so he knows how it works,” Rekdal told NRK. He thinks Solskjær will tackle this passage well. An era is over, and it may be the last time a Norwegian manages one of the biggest football clubs in the world, but at age 48, he’s got lots of experience and strong prospects. He spent several successful years as manager for Molde and, as Sollie wrote, “can define his further football career if he chooses. He has a background that won’t leave him exactly helpless in the job market.”