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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the would-be Golden Boot winner who put Man United over his ego

Did the baby-faced assassin's playing days give him the perfect footballing education?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has rightfully been praised for his role in Man United’s dramatic reversal in fortunes.

Since the Norwegian took charge at Old Trafford as interim manager, the club have won 11 of their 13 games, averaging 2.5 goals per game in the process.

But should we surprised?

Solskjaer priortised United over his ego for 11 years, it makes sense he would know what’s best for the club he selflessly served as a player.


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A unique legend

Getty Images
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A unique legend

The baby-faced assassin’s career is almost defined by his immediate competition, such is the pedigree of forwards at United from the mid-90s to the mid-noughties.

He was team-mates with Eric Cantona at the start of his career in England and shared a changing room with Henrik Larsson in his last campaign before retirement.

Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Diego Forlan, Louis Saha and Wayne Rooney all also enjoyed spells as Alex Ferguson’s first-choice while Solskjaer sat on the bench.

In five of his ten active seasons (he missed all of 2004/05 through injury) over 45% of Solskjaer’s league appearances came as a substitute.

Few players of Solskjaer’s ability would be content as an understudy for the majority of their career.

His loyalty and humility is something to be admired and a key factor in United’s success  — Solskjaer contributed to six league titles, 2 FA Cups and a Champions League.

Remember United’s blue kit?

Reuters
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Remember United’s blue kit?

Solskjaer even occupied the role of ‘super sub’ during his peak.

The undisputed crowning moment of his career came in the 93rd minute of the 1999 Champions League final.

His instinctive, reactive finish at the Nou Camp broke Bayern Munich hearts and ensured Man United’s place in history as the first English club to complete a treble.

One of the most iconic substitute goals ever

PA:Empics Sport
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One of the most iconic substitute goals ever

That moment of glory – a split second that is Solskjaer’s forever – was just reward for his dutiful role throughout the season.

52.6% of his league appearances came as a substitute in 1998/99, with Yorke and Cole the preferred starters.

Despite this, Solskjaer managed 12 Premier League goals — the same as Dennis Bergkamp and just two shy of Alan Shearer.

*all stats provided by OPTA*

Assassin

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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Assassin

His ability to make an impact off the bench owes a lot to the same attributes that lead him into management.

While many strikers have an insular view of the game, Solskjaer was able to appreciate the broader game situation.

It was this mature understanding of the game that allowed him to integrate himself into games to good effect and also what convinced Sir Alex Ferguson the striker would make a good manager.

Master, apprentice

AP:Associated Press
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Master, apprentice

The Norwegian was Fergie’s go-to man for years with good reason.

Solskjaer has the 12th best minutes-per-goal ratio in Premier League history (minimum 50 goals), making him more efficient than Yorke, Cole, Sheringham, Rooney and all other notable United strikers he played with except Ruud van Nistelrooy.

19 players have made more Premier League substitute appearances but only two have scored more goals after coming off the bench (Olivier Giroud and Jermain Defoe).

He famously scored four goals against Nottingham Forest after coming on in the 71st minute — a vintage example of his clinical finishing.

Iconic No20

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Iconic No20

His commitment to the cause did not just manifest itself in patient minutes on the bench.

In 1998, with United and Arsenal locked in a tense title race, Solskjaer sacrificed himself to preserve a point against Newcastle.

Rob Lee was clean through on goal when United’s resident ‘super sub’ brought him down to prevent a clear goalscoring opportunity.

The Man United fans applauded Solskjaer’s effort and selflessness as he was shown a red card for the most professional of professional fouls.

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After Van Nistelrooy, Solskjaer was the most predatory and natural goalscorer of Ferguson’s Old Trafford reign.

He had the attributes to be a Golden Boot contender and would have been a guaranteed starter on a weekly basis at any other Premier League club.
But he recognised the uncommon benefit of having a top-class finisher to call upon.

He chose Ferguson. He chose the team. He chose United.

Who better to guide the club to the future than one of their true greats from the past?


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