The arctic like weather conditions has ensured that Manchester United fans have got no football to look forward to for another week. It gives us the chance to say farewell to a legend who has departed Old Trafford after almost a decade and a half. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has left to rejoin his first club, FK Molde, as first team manager. ManUtd.com caught up with Ole earlier this week for an in depth chat with Sam Bartram
How does it feel to be leaving?
It’s dawning on me that I’m actually going. It’s been a bit strange. Every time I do something it’s the last time I’ll be doing it. It’s dawning now that the family is leaving. My wife and I are going home, but the kids are moving away from home. They’ve lived their lives here. We’re all excited though. If we weren’t then we wouldn’t have done it. For me, work-wise, it’s a good step to get some responsibility and make my own mistakes, and as a family we had to do it now to see if we’re still Norwegian or if we’re totally anglicised!
Will you get any time to relax before you start at Molde?
We’re going for a couple of weeks away in warmer weather before I start. I’ll be back in Norway on the 3rd of January and on the 10th of January I start work. I have a week’s preparation – which will be spent unpacking boxes, probably. When you come over with one suitcase and you leave with a five-bedroom house, it’s unbelievable how much stuff you pick up along the way that you wish you’d thrown out!
Has it been strange to say your goodbyes over such a long period?
I should have done a Cantona! I’m not a goodbye person, really. It feels like that makes it even sadder.
But do you appreciate there was an importance behind your farewell to the fans on Monday evening; that they be given a chance to say goodbye?
Yeah, I understand that and it was special for me too. You don’t really realise how much you appreciate people. I’m happy the club put something on for me – they’ve been really amazing. They’ve really looked after me from day one and they’ve put me on show, if you like, three times now. I think this time it’s to make sure I go – third time lucky! ‘Alright Ole, this time you’re really going!’
Does a day go by when you don’t get stopped by a United supporter?
I’m sure there are days when I’ve gone straight home after training and stayed in! But you do meet people all the time. There must have been a few million people in the Nou Camp because I’ve met so many who tell me they were there. It’s brilliant. I wouldn’t be without it. It’s been amazing, that part of it. I know I’ve been a big part in their lives when they say ‘the best night of my life was because of you.’ I’ve also had someone tell me they got divorced because of me – ‘I didn’t come home from Barcelona’ and all that. There have been plenty of stories from that night.
In terms of popularity, you’ve got a similar standing as all-time greats like Cantona and Keane – how big a deal is that for you?
I don’t rate myself with them, but I am really proud that the supporters have liked what I’ve done. I take it as a compliment, of course. If you say Keane, Cantona… I’ve been privileged to play with the best players. Beckham, Scholesy, Giggsy, Keane, Cantona, Gary Neville… I’ve played with the best players in the history of the club, so I’m really proud.
Will you miss anything about Manchester?
Absolutely. I realised when I drove the kids to school, or went into Wilmslow or Manchester, that it wouldn’t be a part of my life anymore. But I’m keeping my house here. It’s only just finished – it’s taken three years! Sod’s law, isn’t it? But you never know what will happen. I am ambitious, so if I’m successful in the Norwegian Premier League a club over here might try me. At some stage I would like to come back.
Will you take any aspects of English life with you?
We’ll take a lot with us. It’s the little treats like mince pies. That’s what we missed about Norway – the little details. That’s what we’ll miss about Manchester. We’ll miss our friends, big time. We really made some great friends outside football as well, and we’ll miss them. You realise that you’re leaving them for good in the sense of being neighbours and everyday friends, but we’ll see them again. I have to say, the English people are such polite, open people. So friendly and well-mannered and we’ll bring some of that back with us to Norway.
What will you miss about working at Carrington?
Everything. Coming in every day, I’ve always enjoyed it. When you drive into Carrington you know it’s going to be a nice day. The staff are fantastic, you talk football all day long and I’m going to try and create this environment in Molde. The environment at this training ground is fantastic. It’s a performance culture. We’re all striving to make the players better and I’m going to miss that very much. Plus the people, of course.
I’ll miss out some names, but the players I played with that are still here; I’ll miss the banter with them. The staff have been fantastic, from Kath on reception to everyone in the media. The manager, the secretary, the kitmen and then the staff I’ve worked with every day trying to improve the players, and I’ve had a fantastic relationship with Warren (Joyce) over the last two and a half years. That’ll be strange, but we’ll keep in touch and probably speak three or four times a week.
You’ve become quite a pairing, haven’t you?
He’s been absolutely amazing and I’m so happy he wanted to work with me. You can’t go on any courses to get that kind of education that I got with Warren. We never knew each other and I still remember our first phone call together about trying to make sure the lads become professionals. He’s opened my eyes to so many things. He’s got an unbelievable eye for a player, is a great coach and has great tactical knowledge, so I can’t praise him enough.
The club’s got a fantastic coach who can educate the players – he even taught me to surf! We had a great day down in Devon this pre-season for the Yeovil match. He had me up on the board three or four times, properly surfing the waves. I’ll probably never do it again, but I’ve ticked it off now. If you want I can sit here all day and talk about the stories Warren and I have had. We even had Valentine’s Day in Lisbon, the two of us together! (Cracks up laughing)
Yeah, that probably belongs on the record…
We went over to see Carlos (Queiroz). He invited us. So we said yes, of course, we got there and realised it was Valentine’s Day. We got to the hotel and they had booked us in the same room, but we sorted it out. We didn’t spend Valentine’s night together. Make sure that’s on the record!
How enjoyable have you found managing the Reserves?
Very enjoyable. I’ve enjoyed it because they’re top young talents with great attitudes. I come into work and don’t get any problems, really. You get the odd day they feel down and it’s your job to get them up again. In reality you never know how many players you’ll get in Reserve team football. You could have eight, you could have 20. It’s loads of variation, you have to adapt quickly. I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed it a lot.
How highly do you rate this group of players coming through?
Very highly, I think they’ve got a chance. Two or three of these will hopefully get into the first team in a year or two, maybe even before. There are some exciting young talents and I think we all know who. It’s difficult to put money on players making it, because you don’t know how they handle success and setbacks. They’ve got the talent, no doubt. Now it’s up to them to grab their chance and be good pros.
What have you learned about United in your time here?
It’s moved on so much. It’s always developing and trying to stay ahead of developments. The manager has been fantastic in renewing things and being ahead of his time. The size of the club now compared to when I came is a massive difference, but they always cope with the development and the winning culture, the performance culture. We beat Arsenal on Monday, but on Tuesday you didn’t see anyone today talking about that game. That’s amazing. For me, when I first arrived, I scored a goal and I’d be reading the papers to see the reaction. None of that. It’s straight onto the next game and that’s what we do at United – that’s just the framework of behaviour and it’s a blueprint I’ll be taking with me to Molde.
When were you first approached by Molde and how did you arrive at the decision to take the job?
I spoke to them through the year. During their season they struggled, so when they sacked the manager in the summer I didn’t want to do it and they had to get a caretaker. I met them in October and I didn’t say yes, I said no but I felt like it was right for me and my family. After that meeting I went home and discussed it with the family, and it turned out it was a more realistic possibility than we thought.
It’s really important for me and Silje that we give our kids that chance to grow up as Norwegians as well. I’d spoken to loads of clubs – the manager says that you should always go and do the interviews because you never know; something might come out of it. He’s got friends who’ve had hundreds of job interviews but are still in the same job. I’ve spoken to a few clubs and this was the right thing, to be moving back home.
Was that quite a big conversation to have with Sir Alex?
It wasn’t very big because when I spoke to him and said that we were really missing home and that the timing was right for us – because we’ve had 14 and a half years here now – he thought the first step into management, in Norway, would be a good move.
How hectic was the day you signed for Molde?
I was looking forward to it in one way, to just go home and get it over with. I don’t really enjoy sitting and speaking to the press for two and a half hours, but it went well. It was important for me, Richard (Hartis) and Mark (Dempsey) to come across and speak to the Norwegian press, and for me to present them because I’m delighted I’ve got them with me. Dempsey has been in Norway for two years already. He was an under-16s coach and he’s fantastic, a teaching coach and I know the Norwegian players will love his approach to training.
I’ve worked with Richard for three years as a coach and I just asked him if he’d be interested because we’ve got a good working relationship. I think his methods are very good and he’ll bring something to the keepers and the back four in relation to the keeper. I asked the Gaffer if it was ok for him to come across and he agreed to it.
After the press conference, you went to meet Molde fans at the pub…
We went to see some supporters and just wanted to kickstart it a little bit. It’s important, the enthusiasm of the fans and the whole day was good because you could see we’ve sparked a little hope there and it’s important that we build on that.
Molde is its own club with its own history, but will you be trying to apply the United ethos over there?
Definitely. For me that’s how a club should be built and run on an everyday basis. It’s how I’ll run my club. This is the template of the perfect club. That’s why I’ve brought Mark Dempsey and Richard Hartis with me: the three of us are very strongly linked with United. United have signed three players from Molde – Mame (Diouf), me and Magnus (Eikrem) – and it’s a big compliment for our club, but I still think I can take it forward. Hopefully we’ll play in the Champions League together. You never know!
You’d be up against Sir Alex – how big an influence has he been on you?
The Gaffer has been absolutely unbelievable. For 14 and a half years I’ve been here and he’s made me what I am. You learn from him. I came as a young Norwegian and you just look at him and learn to be professional and how to conduct yourself.
He’s approaching a quarter of a century at United – how does he keep going?
He’s enjoying it, that’s the thing. He enjoys coming in and working here. He’s got good staff around him, he’s keeping young staff around him and he’s as enthusiastic as ever, he’s got more energy than ever and, of course, he has to win. He needs to win games. He has to have games like Monday and come back with the buzz of beating Arsenal. It’s just in him. You can see another team developing here and I’m sure he sees a great team developing.
Is your immediate plan to emulate Sir Alex with Molde and transform the club into a dominant force in Norway?
When you go into a job you hope you’ll leave one day – two years, five years, a decade down the line – and leave a legacy; knowing that you’ve started something and you’ve made new history. It’s Molde’s 100 year anniversary next year. They’ve won the cup twice and never won the league. Of course my aim is to win the league in years to come, but that’s a process, so for me now it’s starting at the bottom: the structure of the club, get kids coming through because it’s important that local kids know they’ll get a chance, I’m taking loads with me.
If you want to build a club, you’ve got to look at who has been successful, and the manager has been the most successful one. It’s impossible to say that 10 or 15 years down the line where I’ll manage. If you do well, something will happen to you. I’ve said exactly the same as anyone else who has played here and wants to go into management; if you do well enough and you get the chance to manage United, yes of course you’d take it.
Rosenborg have won 17 of the last 21 Norwegian titles; are they the club you’re aiming to overhaul?
They’re the benchmark. They’ve got a great culture for sustained success. They think long term, the culture of the club has been very good. They have professional players who know they must sacrifice things for football, and of course the financial security they’ve got from the Champions League has brought them on as well. My aim is to get closer and closer, and in the end go past them.
Thanks for the memories Ole. Good luck in your new life, you will never be forgotten at Old Trafford.