Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Although his was a career made up largely of bit-parts, how crucial some of those bit-parts turned out to be. At his best (around the turn of the millennium), I'd venture to say that there were few strikers in Europe better than the gentle Norwegian.
Everyone remembers, of course, Solskjaer's instinctive goal which won Manchester United their first European Cup in thirty-one years and sealed their "treble" in 1998/99. What not so many people remember is that, if not for the contributions of Solskjaer, United would probably never have been in a position to claim that trifecta in the first place. He had been in tremendous form leading up to that amazing night in Barcelona.
One of the league games in which Solskjaer featured during that season was an 8-1 away win at Nottingham Forest. The score was already 4-1 when the Norwegian entered the game, 15 minutes from the close. A quarter of an hour and four Solskjaer goals later, he walked from the field shyly holding the match ball.
They were all fine goals too. Real striker's specials. One of them, I recall, was a "thread-the-needle" specimen, in which Solskjaer subtly evaded both the Forest 'keeper and an advancing defender before volleying nonchalantly into the tiny gap that had been vouchsafed him.
Towards the end of his career at Old Trafford, Solskjaer converted himself into a right-winger of sorts, and proved almost as effective as he had been up front. There is no doubt that his return from injury last season was a crucial factor in United's eventual league success, along with the more celebrated contributions of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Best of all, Solskjaer was always a thoroughly likeable figure, with a ready smile, an affable media manner and a reputation for sportsmanship; the sort of character the game always needs.
Fans and opponents alike may have known him as the "baby-faced assassin", but there can have been few more genial assassins in the history of football.
Thinking back, Man Utd had an incredible strike force that season, with Yorke and Cole working together brilliantly, Solskjaer always providing and Sheringham then proving to be valuable towards the close. What a contrast to the present, when they lack strikers in terms of not only quantity but dependable fitness, poaching and ability to truly lead the line.
Apparently it's four years to the day that Solskjaer "felt something go" when receiving a long ball from Scholes.
An apparently completely unaffected, non-egotistic gentleman of the game.
Personally I'm in the camp of the former opinion.
One of my all time favourite players. The club has indicated he will become a Man Utd ambassador, taking over from Bobby Charlton. Some footsteps, but shows you how much the club and the fans love him. Was in fine fettle last season, chipped in with a very handy 12 goals, including an excellent eventual winner against Celtic at home.
Possibly the most natural finished I've ever seen.
Thanks for the memories Ole. We'll always treasure them.