15 years ago this very day, Alex Ferguson clinched the signing of a 23 year old Noreweigan striker from Molde.
He paid £1.5million for the player who was a stranger to everyone; from fans to TV and media pundits alike, and without the ability to quickly connect to the internet, whip out their iPhone or seek opinion from ‘those in the know’ on Twitter, they were all quick to say: “Ole who?”
“Ole who?” for two reasons. Number one…they hadn’t heard of this lad. Number two…how the hell do you pronounce Solskjaer?
Then of course, the team photos came out. There was no way this guy was 23 years old – he still does a paper round! He just looked small, weak, and like a kid. Who was this lad, and why has Fergie spent more on him than he spent on Eric Cantona?
Well, the lad had spent two years at Molde, playing 42 games and scoring 31 goals. The boss must have been impressed with that return, even in the Norweigan leagues – but to bring him to United…he must have been some sort of clinical finisher or something? Nah – no way…not looking like he still went to Grange Hill.
A little known fact about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is that prior to his Molde days, he bagged 115 goals in 109 matches for Clausenengen – a not so big Nordic team, but one with a reputation for producing players such as Solskjaer, Oyvind Leonhardsen and Trond Andersen. This lad was obviously born to score goals, and with a record like he had in Norway, Fergie must have seen enough to splash the cash on him.
United had began the 1996-97 season with a 3-0 win away at Wimbledon, followed by a struggle of a 2-2 draw against Everton at home, relying on a David Unsworth own goal in the 82nd minute to rescue a point for the the reigning League and Cup double champions.
The third match of the season was at home to Blackburn Rovers, and United weren’t having the best of days at the office of Old Trafford. Paul Warhurst had opened the scoring for Blackburn only for Jordi Cruyff to equalise moments later. After the break Lars Bohinen put Rovers 2-1 up and United just couldn’t get their act together. they were woeful.
Enter stage left the new baby on the block. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Once again, a ripple of “who?” went round Old Trafford, except for one crazy guy dressed in a Viking helmet, with a Norway flag painted on his cheeks, obviously a bit worse for wear after a few beers sat a few rows in front of me in the North Stand. He was going absolutely mental. “HE’S NORWEIIIIIIIGANNNNN!!!” he yelped, with all the delight in the world and a smile the size of his home country plastered across his face.
Five minutes later, we all knew who he was, what he could do…and I think by then we’d pretty much learned his name. Solskjaer had already seen one excellent shot saved with pretty much his first touch after coming off the bench – but second time around he wasn’t going to be denied. In the 73rd minute, Solskjaer’s smash was parried straight back to him by Tim Flowers, and baby faced striker assassinated Rovers chance of all three points by slotting home the equaliser. We looked like we were dead and buried, but this new lad on the scene had brought us back in to the game, and we were going crazy inside Old Trafford…not as crazy as crazy Norweigan man a few rows down, who must surely have hugged 60 or 70 people after “Who?” put the ball in the Blackburn net. (See what I did there?).
We all know the rest, don’t we?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored 91 Premier League goals for United in 235 games. Although reknowned as a supersub, he started 151 of those games, and surprisingly only scored 17 goals when coming off the bench. Obviously, his most famous goal was that sub appearance in 1999 at the Nou Camp which won us the treble. 20LEGEND was born that night.
Ole is now the manager of Molde, the club United pinched him from in 1996. We’re all glad we did. He earned the respect of fans worldwide with his attitude, aptitude, and willingness to sit on the bench but play enough games to be decorated in medals and be well and truly a part of a trophy laden era. He never moaned. And his goals certainly gave us some memorable nights.
His legendary status fully earned. And it started out 15 years ago today.
Follwo me on Twitter: @stevecrab