The 'Baby-Faced Assassin' has come of age. After a career full of goals and glory, former Manchester United and Norway striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has learned his trade as a manager with the Red Devils' reserves and after three successful years with Norwegian side Molde, Solskjaer is back in the Premier League again, this time managing Cardiff City's inaugural season in the top flight.
With a total of 261 goals in a 453-game career, Solskjaer is one of the most prolific professionals in the modern era. The son of a professional wrestler, he began his career with Clausenengen before moving to Norwegian Premier League side Molde. His strike rate of 0.74 goals per game earned him a £1.5m move to Manchester United, which is considered to be one of the shrewdest acquisitions of Sir Alex Ferguson's illustrious reign.
Those visiting Old Trafford today will notice a banner in the Stretford End, bearing the phrase '20 LEGEND.' The '20' part bears reference to Solskjaer's shirt number at Manchester United and the legendary status bestowed on him is a result of his contribution in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final. With United trailing 1-0 to Mario Basler's sixth-minute free-kick, the Norwegian came off the bench. Ten minutes later, United were level through Teddy Sheringham, another substitute, before the Norwegian scored an injury-time winner to cement his place in Manchester United folklore forever.
"I never get tired of answering questions about that match," he smiled when speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. "I was a substitute and, to be honest, I was a little bit frustrated. I was itching to get on and things weren't going well. I knew I could do something and I had an inkling that something big was going to happen for me. The manager put Teddy Sheringham on quite early, but I still felt that we needed something different.
"I can't remember too much about it, but when I see the video, I know that when I ran on the pitch, I was ready. As a striker, you have to be positive and think you're going to score, but I just had a feeling. In the dressing room before the game, Jimmy Ryan, one of the first-team coaches said to me: 'We're going to win tonight' and I responded, 'Yes, I know. I'm going to come on and score.' And, thankfully, that's what happened! Whether I'd scored 50 goals or 500 goals for Manchester United, that winning goal would have always be remembered as it won the Champions League in a very dramatic manner."
There was also an exciting end to another of Solskjaer's cameo roles, this time in the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ during Norway's final group match against Brazil in Marseille. With Mario Zagallo's side in front through Bebeto, two goals in the last ten minutes through Tore Andre Flo and Kjetil Rekdal gave Norway a historic win over the world champions.
"Being a part of the only team to beat Brazil in the first group stage is something I'm very proud of," he said. "I didn't score and I wasn't involved in the goals, but it was still fantastic. The strange thing about the match was that before it, Kjetil, who was my room-mate, told me: ‘Ole, tonight I'm going to score in the last minute with a penalty.' And that's exactly what happened! So, maybe there is something about inklings and destinies, but I suppose we'll never know!"
On 27 August 2007, it was announced that Solskjaer would retire from football at the age of 34, after being plagued by knee injuries for the preceding four years. He coached Manchester United's forwards until the end of the season and then took over the team's second string at the beginning of the season. It is a role that the Norwegian is relishing, especially as he is gaining a unique insight into the thought process of Ferguson, one of the best managers in the business.
"I get the same buzz now when I prepare for games and get to games as a coach as I did when I was playing," he said. "I'm really enjoying it. It's been a big change going from managing yourself to managing a bunch of teenagers who need direction in managing their own careers, so it's a big challenge for me.
"I've been lucky enough to have the same manager for 11 years as a player and now one or two years as a coach. The way he [Sir Alex Ferguson] manages the team and man-manages the players and the club is an inspiration to me. If there's anyone I look to, it's him. Obviously, I've now got more insight into his views on certain individuals and how to develop them as players, whereas when I was playing, the conversations always focused on myself. He knows everything there is to know about football and how to manage different people and it's fascinating to be around him."
Despite being a rookie in coaching terms, Solskjaer was offered the position of Norway manager following Age Hareide's resignation in December 2008. However, he turned down the role, preferring to continue his education at Old Trafford.
"I said no to Norway because I'm just beginning my career as a coach," said Solskjaer. "I need to find out if I'm really made for it, but I'm obviously enjoying it. As long as the manager wants me here, then I'll stay here, but the biggest job you can have as a Norwegian living in Norway is that of national team manager. If that comes up at a stage of my career when I feel ready for it, then I'll obviously consider it, but at the moment I need to develop my skills."
Clubs: (player): Clausenengen (1990-1994), Molde (1994-1996), Manchester United (1996-2007).
Honours: UEFA Champions League (1999), Intercontinental Cup (1999), Premier League (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007), FA Cup (1999 and 2004), Knight of the Order of St. Olav, First Class (2008).
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