The dust has settled on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as Manchester United manager as he prepares for his toughest test yet against Barcelona. But how did the journey begin? Gary Neville gives a fascinating insight into how the Norwegian devoted his life to coaching even before his retirement in 2007.
There is no doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wasn’t cut out for punditry, and he never wanted to do punditry. The same with Michael Carrick. They’re desperate to be the best coach that they can be.
I sat next to Solskjaer and thought: ‘Coach. He thinks like a coach.’ He was always thinking about the game, and he spoke about watching the game on the bench intently, so he knew where the spaces were when he came on.
When you’ve got somebody thinking about the game in such a deep way, their mindset is such that they want to then put those things into practice on the training pitch.
When Ole retired he became a coach of the youth and reserve teams at United. It was while I was still playing and he sometimes coached the players who were injured or coming back from injury. He always wanted to talk.
I remember he wanted to play the 4-2-2-2 system – I thought: This sounds like a posh 4-4-2 – but actually when you see the wide players nowadays coming into narrow pockets, you can see that system has developed in the game over seven or eight years. That was the first I’d ever really heard anybody introduce that system, and this was probably 11 years ago.
At the time, him and Rene Meulensteen were pally, and did a lot of work together. They were always jotting things down with a tactics board around them. I think when you’ve got that mindset, you deserve to be on the training pitch. He belongs there. He’s poured his life into it over this last 10 years.
Cardiff experience has helped
He’s better for the experience at Cardiff, and he’s more likely to become a success in the future because of it. He’s seen how low you can get in the game, and how desperate it can be when people turn on you.
At the time, I remember being in the media and people saying: He’s a waste of time, he’s no good. The language, the tone… we’ve seen it before with managers.
The reality of it is he has come back into an opportunity and has taken it. He deserves it because I don’t believe that when you’re sacked from a club, that should necessarily mean it’s the end of your coaching career. In fact you’re possibly more employable if you are sacked than if you’re not. You need to have gone through that bad time and I think that’s what Ole has done.
One of Fergie’s disciples
Nobody is ever going to compete with Sir Alex Ferguson. It’s impossible. I never thought I was being compared with Fergie when I went into coaching with England or Valencia. I’m not sure any of the others have either.
There’s no doubt that over the last 20 years, we have talked about which player of Sir Alex’s era would take over from him. That goes back to Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs. All of these players were mentioned.
You probably wouldn’t have put Ole in the top 10 of those to potentially take over. Ole has it now, through timing, through a little bit of good luck, through his hard work and endeavour, his actual credibility at the club and his personality.
United needed somebody at that time able to come in and bring everyone together. There isn’t a single person at Manchester United who would say one single bad word about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There are people who will say: Oh, Gary Neville is a bit moany, a bit narky these days… We all had egos, and some players you could imagine got on the staff’s nerves, even though we all got on well together and the club was great. But there still isn’t one person who would say a negative thing about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He was loved, and is loved. He’s going to get the support of every single ex-player and current player over the next three years.
The goodwill will last
Those current players have got a job to do to keep playing, because if they do down tools on him, they’ll have nowhere to go.
Jose Mourinho, along with Pep Guardiola, is one of the greatest managers of the last 20 years. People don’t feel sorry for him, they don’t show a great deal of sympathy for him, which is wrong in some ways, because I think he deserved some at the end at United.
But the fans won’t turn on Ole Gunnar Solskajer. The players will have to perform under him and give their all. If they give their all and it doesn’t quite work out, that’s fine, but if they do down tools or don’t start playing with the work ethic they have done previously, they’ll have a problem.
The fans will stick with Ole. There’s no doubt about that.
But recruitment is key…
You cannot succeed at a football club nowadays without having an incredible amount of good support and recruitment people. He obviously has that in terms of Mick Phelan, Sir Alex Ferguson and his coaching staff, as well as David Gill being on the board.
Recruitment is an art form. You are swimming with the sharks, and you need to make sure you have people at the club who are capable of swimming with them. I do think Manchester United in these recent years have just dropped a little bit in that sense.
For me, it is a big job in the next few months to ensure he gets the players he wants so they can challenge for the title next season against the likes of Liverpool and City.
(c) Sky News 2019: Gary Neville: How Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poured his life into coaching