Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The EPL will be back on NBC this month. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too.
Our fourth week begins with a look at Manchester United, which hasn't won a Premier League title since 2013. Can a familiar face at manager get them back to the top?
It wasn’t long ago that the rumors were swirling around Manchester United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after a slow start saw his side sitting in 14th place after nine matches.
When a club as big and wealthy as United is struggling, not even a long, distinguished playing career with the team can save a manager. And all the best ones currently without a job are often linked to yours.
But even with former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings, ownership stayed behind Solskjaer. He got his team to respond with an unbeaten run of 11 matches before the pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. United now sit in 5th place in the Premier League as the season nears its return next week.
Solskjaer started his playing career in his native Norway but made his way to Manchester United by the age of 23 in 1996 as an unexpected signing by legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. He quickly proved his worth, scoring just six minutes into his debut as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers.
The young Norwegian led the Red Devils in scoring that season with 18 goals in 33 appearances on the way to his first Premier League title. For a player who had as much success as Solskjaer did with Manchester United, it is not something that he keeps fresh in his mind.
“That’s just not me,” Solskjaer told NBC's Arlo White in an interview for the Inside the Mind series. “I just don’t sit back and think what I have done. I’m always, always looking forward to what can I do and what can I improve upon.”
After his playing days were cut short due to repeated injuries, Solskjaer made his way into coaching. Ferguson brought him on to coach the strikers for the Manchester United first team in 2007 and then he was hired to manage the Manchester United Reserves in 2008.
Speaking to White on his relationship with Ferguson, Solskjaer was quick to point out the differences between himself and the manager who won 38 trophies in 26 seasons with Manchester United. But there were various lessons learned along the way, too.
“The way he managed people, managed me as a human being, as a player, I had the best teacher on how to be the front figure of a football club,” Solskjaer said of his former boss. “How to set standards, the hunger to always improve and win, well I’ve just enjoyed working under him, but I have to be myself.”
When Manchester United appointed Solskjaer the caretaker manager on December 19, 2018 after eight years split between managing Molde in the Norwegian Tippeligaen and half season at Cardiff City in the Premier League, he returned to the club that made him a household name among Premier League fans.
That first drive back into the stadium where he spent 11 years as a player and another four as a coach was “definitely different” but soon felt normal.
“The first time of course, it was almost, you’re a bit nervous, but your nerves settle very quickly when you walk in this front door,” Solskjaer said. “It was just almost like, yeah it was like the old days, you’re just coming home.”
Solskjaer’s homecoming to Manchester United started strong as a caretaker manager and he earned himself a 3-year contract to manage the winningest club in English football. As he told White, his goal is to get his team back to a place where they can challenge for the league “and consistently keep winning games like Man United teams do, with convincing, attacking, free-flowing football with flair.”
Solskjaer certainly knows a thing or two about winning and attacking flair having scored 91 goals while lifting 12 trophies in his 11 seasons with United.
The club is clearly in his blood and means “everything” to Solskjaer.
“When I walked in the door in 1996, I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine the footballing career I had,” Solskjaer said. “I owe so much to this club so I’m just trying to give everything I can back to it and hopefully get us back to where we should be, and that’s at the top.”
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