20LEgend - part 1  

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Report by Nick Judd (29/06/2008 17:40)
extracted from United site

Part 1: The Solskjaer story

Inside United looks back on the life and times of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in appreciation of his glittering 11-year, 126-goal Reds' career…

It was the phone call Age Hareide had been dreading. The Molde boss knew how good Ole Solskjaer was, the question was when – not if – the big clubs would come calling. "Sir Alex phoned me up a lot to get my opinion on players in Norway," Hareide said. "He knew I knew the English scene and wanted my views on certain players and how they might do in England. Then, finally [July 1996] came the day when the call was about one of my players. Sir Alex asked about Ole Gunnar. I knew we’d miss him badly, but you can't stand in a player's way when Manchester United come along. "I told him: `You've got to sign him.' And he did. United got him for £1.5 million! I think they owe me some money considering what they got!”

For Ole and United, it was love at first sight. Little hoopla surrounded his move, but that changed fast. The first indication we’d got ourselves a baby-faced assassin came at Oldham’s Boundary Park, Ole bagging both in a 2-0 win for the Reserves. Then, days later, he came on as a substitute, with United trailing Blackburn at Old Trafford. Entering the fray in the 64th minute, he equalised just six minutes later to preserve an unbeaten 32-game home streak in a 2-2 draw. He hasn’t forgotten either occasion. “Both those matches are firmly stuck in my mind,” he said. “It was a very proud moment to be wearing the Red shirt for the first time, even if it was only a Reserves fixture. To then score at Old Trafford was so special. I’ll always treasure the memory of those two matches.”

You don’t become United’s top goalscorer in your first season without having other clubs swarm round you when you’re not in the team. In 1997/98, Ole was linked with a host of Europe’s finest, and our worst fears almost came true. Thankfully, he knows his own mind. "I remember talking to my agent a lot about a move to Spurs and he said I was the most stubborn player in the world," he recalls. "The two clubs had agreed a fee – I’ve still got the fax at home! It would have been easy to be pressurised into something like that, but I didn’t want to go and the manager kept telling me I’d get my chance, and he was true to his word. It was the pride of playing for the best club in the country. I wanted to be part of that.”

Ole came to win trophies and, after nine months, 33 starts and 18 goals had not only finished the campaign as United’s top scorer (19 all told), he had his first Premiership winners’ medal. “It was the first time I’d won anything in football, apart from an under-11 or under-12 district championship,” he recalls. “That Tuesday was wonderful, when I sat in front of my telly and watched West Ham versus Newcastle and Wimbledon’s clash with Liverpool. Ronny [Johnsen] called after the final whistle – we stood there screaming at each other like madmen. It was marvellous. I wanted more of that wonderful feeling.” And boy, did he get it…

With just four games left of the 1997/98 campaign, a United win against Newcastle was paramount to keep a Red-hot poker up Arsenal’s backside. Most fans remember the game – a tough 1-1 draw – for another iconic moment fresh from the bench, but of an X-rated variety. Having come close to scoring a dramatic winner, Ole’s goalbound effort beating Shay Given before it was blocked on the line by Nikos Dabizas, Rob Lee broke free for Newcastle with the game almost up. A goal would have virtually handed the Gunners the title. Ole tracked back with the determination of a greyhound on speed and took Lee out of the game with a challenge best described as agricultural. Out of character, sure, but desperate times call for desperate measures. As Uriah Rennie branished a straight red card, the TV camera caught Ole mouthing the words, “I had to do it,” to David Beckham. He knew what his challenge did for the side’s slender chances of catching Arsenal and retaining the title – and we’ve never forgotten it.

“It is my dream to score against Liverpool. My dream would be to score the winner in a 1-0 victory in the 90th minute at Old Trafford.” Ole’s dream came true – if the scoreline was slightly askew – on a memorable afternoon in January 1999 of the Treble-winning season. Liverpool led 1-0 through Michael Owen’s goal and, despite huffing and puffing, we couldn’t bring the house down. As Liverpool’s celebrations began to get into full swing, with two minutes left, Dwight Yorke levelled the scores. Shredded nerves restored, silence in the away end. Then pandemonium everywhere else. The 90 minutes were up when Ole swooped for a late winner – once again he was the opiate of the people, fully five months before repeating the feat in the greatest comeback since Matt Busby and the boys of ‘68.

Hat-tricks anywhere these days are about as frequent as long-serving City managers, but Ole could make the task look easier than shelling peas. Against Nottingham Forest on 6 February 1999 he executed as deadly an example of finishing as you’ll see. He not only scored four goals, he did so in the 19 minutes available to him. "Good job they didn't put him on earlier," mused Forest boss Ron Atkinson. So nonchalant was Ole’s performance, he looked almost embarrassed. The 8-1 – yes, 8-1 – remains the Premiership’s biggest away win.

While the rest of us panicked, crossing what remained of our gnawed fingers, Ole was the calm at the eye of the Nou Camp storm. He was in the know, y’see. “It’s hard to explain, it was just a feeling,” he said of that staggering Treble-clinching climax. “It’s about positive thinking, maybe; you always visualise yourself scoring, so perhaps that’s all it was. But it was a little bit of a stronger feeling. I don’t know why. The goal? It’s one of those that you score one time out of five if you’re lucky, because you haven’t practised that finish. You just do it, you guide the ball on. More often that not it goes over the bar or it's cleared by the man on the far post. There were so many things that could have gone wrong with that finish… it was just instinct.” Killer instinct.

This entry was posted on 2008/07/04 at Friday, July 04, 2008 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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