Monday, July 8, 2013
United history serving Solskjaer
As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stands on the touchline at Molde, the shadow of Manchester United still trails him. It's the kind of association that will never escape him and one he's eternally proud of as a self-confessed 'plastic Manc'.
Solskjaer secured Molde their first Norwegian league before supplementing the feat by retaining the championship a year later. However, his third season has not gone quite as smoothly, with Molde spending most of the season near the bottom of the pile.
It's an alien position for Solskjaer's side to be in. His success has come early but it was richly deserved, built on a core of impressive young players. However, those stars, like Vegard Forren and striker Davy Claude Angan, had already departed the club before the season began.
Such big facets of the team's success, while replaced in number, were not replaced in quality, with his eye always cast to the future, Solskjaer brought over the likes of Fulham forward Lauri Dalla Valle and Aliou Coly, but neither has made a significant impact in Angan's absence.
Replenishment has not been such an issue for one of Molde's rivals. Rosenborg may not sit atop the Norwegian league at present, but their acquisition of Danish pair Nicki Bille Nielsen and Tobias Mikkelsen has made them an intimidating proposition. Coupled with the rise to prominence of current league-leaders Strømsgodset, who almost went bankrupt in 2006, and from the off, Molde's attempts to earn a third title was always going to be difficult.
Traditionally slow starters under Solskjaer, they took that habit a step further this time around. Taking until the fifth game of the season to earn their first point, it would be a further three games before victory was achieved in the Møre og Romsdal derby, beating Aalesund 4-1.
The evening also marked a momentous occasion for Sander Svendsen, who made his league debut at the tender age of 15-years-old; Solskjaer was a year into his illustrious stint in Manchester when Svendsen was born.
With 20 of his 31 strong squad under the age of 24, bleeding the next generation of Norwegian footballers is one of the many reasons Solskjaer has been tipped for the national team job: "To be the national team coach is something one can lean on when one becomes older and have had more experience," Solskjaer said to NRK in November.
Attributing his ability with young players in part to his sessions with Football Manager, there is little the game can do to teach about the absence of fortune. Struggling to earn consistency of selection (a hallmark of the previous two seasons) it has cost his side as they look to move into their new era.
The change never seemed more apparent than in mid-May. The day before Norway's constitution day last year had seen Molde earn a third successive win against Fredrikstad (they would go on to record another four). This year it signalled a crushing defeat at home against Haugesund.
Bested 5-1 in front of a 9,000 strong crowd, the visitors had the lead inside the opening two minutes. With one win in 10, it was by far the most testing period of Solskjaer's brief managerial career and arguably where he deserves most credit. The defeat, rather than a hammer blow, seemed to be the turning point. Using the same kind of adaptability that saw Manchester United fight back time and again, Solskjaer has kept any Ferguson-style hairdryer treatment in-house while also turning the club's fortunes around.
That has meant the club can look to the future with an air of optimism. Still conceivable for Molde is the chance to win bronze in the Norwegian league, but such an achievement would come with the knowledge that it has still been a significantly disappointing season for them.
Now unbeaten in their last six, Solskjaer has once again been challenged to replace a star. Considered his leaving present from Manchester United, Magnus Wolff Eikrem was Solskjaer's conductor in midfield. He will now play in Holland with Heerenveen next season, earning Molde just over £1million.
Yet already Solskjaer appears to have exploited his connections to Molde's benefit. Joining for £1.5million, Manchester United's Mats Møller Daehli is a player some believe has the potential to outstrip Eikrem. Likely to begin life on the bench, in the coming years he could easily establish himself and see the club earn a tidy profit in the process.
With four wins in their last six, the resurgence has already begun to take shape as the club moved up into 10th place this past weekend. A 3-2 victory at Tromso on Sunday saw Molde earn their first away win of the season and in Daniel Chima's equaliser, that stroke of luck that has evaded them for so much of this season.
Despite their difficulties, Solskjaer remains positive. That is in part due to the way his side play. Fast and attacking, there is no underlying style to Molde. However, the squad is incredibly adaptable, and it is for that reason, they appear to have ridden this storm under his guidance.
And it is his upbringing in Manchester that Solskjaer feels is serving him best now. "He [Sir Alex Ferguson] taught me absolutely everything." Solskjaer told Sky recently. "It's good now, in a period where we are struggling in Molde, because I think I've gone the best school any budding manager could have. I worked with him for 14 and a half years. All the insights I've gained, are standing me in good stead."