After 11 years at Manchester United Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been forced to retire due to his persistent knee problems.
Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford in 1996 from Molde in Norway and the player quickly dubbed the “baby face assasin” scored within 6mins of his debut, coming off the bench, against Blackburn in a 2-2 draw. Initially United wanted to wait until December of that season to give Solskjaer his first run out in a United shirt, wanting him condition him to English football having come from the less taxing Norwegian League. However Solskjaers early displays in training, where United players assumed on first sight that he was a youth player in the wrong place before seeing his extraordinary finishing skills, meant that Fergie threw him in ahead of schedule, in late August. Solskjaers first season saw him finish as Uniteds top league goal scorer with 18 goals, a head of Cantona and Cole.
The promise shown in his first season lead to Ole being rewarded with a 7 year deal, as the forward, costing just 1.5million pounds, was to become one of the best buys in United history. In 1999 United accepted an offer from Spurs of around 5million pounds for Solskjaer, and it was thought that Ole would leave Old Trafford in search of more first team starts, having spent much of the season coming off the bench behind Yorke, Cole and Sheringham. While many United fans would have been sad to see a player who had firmly established himself as a fans favourite leave, they would have understood the reasons behind it, and given him a standing reception whenever United came up against their ex player. However Solskjaer decided to stay and fight for his place, determined to show loyalty to the club and fans that he had come to adore, particularly when told by Sir Alex that he didn’t want Solskjaer to leave but would not stand in his way if he did. Such loyalty was the hallmark of a player who’s skills and success could have seen him forgiven for enjoying the huge ego that many lesser players possess. That just isn’t Solskjaer. The humble Norwegian, who looked 18 for all his 11 years at United, stayed and carved himself into United legend.
In that same season, 98/99, the season that would be Ole’s finest, the season where he came close to leaving United, Solskjaer became a living legend at United. In the FA Cup 4th round against Liverpool, with United behind to an early Michael Owen goal, United equalised just before full time. Rather then being grateful for a draw, and a replay, United won the tie with an injury time winner by Solskjaer. This sense of timing, and occasion, was only the start of things to come for the Baby Face Assassin. Against Nottingham Forrest United were 4-1 up with less then 20min to play. Yorke and Cole had each scored 2 and bets would have been taken as to which one would get his hat trick first. Enter, from the bench, Solskjaer, who scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, and the most goals scored coming off the bench, as he banged in 4 goals in his brief time on the pitch. This from the player who was almost playing in the white of Spurs. The best was yet to come. In Barcelona against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final Solskjaer jabbed home a Sheringham flick in injury time to complete Uniteds great come back and clinch the Champions League and Treble for United. The Legend was complete.
Since those triumphant days Ole has endured a nightmare of injuries, particularly to his knees, and has spent more time in the treatment room then on the pitch. Each time he made a come back he was greeted with raptures applause and cries of “Ole Ole Ole” by the United faithful, for their idol. When he scored against Charlton last season it was his first league goal in 3 years. Another knee injury at the end of the season was the final straw, there were to be no more comebacks, Ole was finished.
His final goal for United came against Blackburn, in the 90th min, in a 4-1 victory, as Solskjaer goal scoring came full circle, his first ever goal for United and his last ever both against Blackburn. He currently holds the record for most goals scored in the Premier League coming off the bench with 14, and his behind Scholes, van Nistelrooy, Cole, and Giggs in Uniteds leading league goals chart with 92 goals. Solskjaer, a player unlike any the modern game has ever seen, nor will ever see, showing loyalty and patience that are unparalleled in a striker in the modern game, will be rewarded for all he has done for United with a coaching and ambassadorial role at the club. The legend that is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will live on at Old Trafford.