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Soccer-Solskjaer stardust could help Cardiff shine again

Reuters

By Mike Collett

LONDON, Jan 2 (Reuters) - As a member of a select band of players to score the winner in a Champions League final, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level and his star quality could help Cardiff City shine again.

The golden moment in his glittering career at Manchester United came three minutes into stoppage time at the end of the 1999 final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona, which gave United a 2-1 win and the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.

Cardiff City have never reached those heights but in the last few years have won promotion to the top flight of English soccer after a 51-year absence and appeared in both the FA Cup and League Cup finals.

Yet their first season back among the elite has been marred by public squabbling between the club's billionaire Malaysian owner Vincent Tan and previous manager Malky Mackay which ended when the Scottish coach was sacked last week.

With Cardiff 17th in the Premier League, just a point and place above the relegation zone, Tan has turned to the 40-year-old Norwegian to keep the club up, and to build on their recent advances.

WELSH CAPITAL

Solskjaer arrives in the Welsh capital after three seasons in charge of Norwegian club Molde and his return to British shores has removed some of the stardust from Norway's Tippeligaen (first division).

Yet despite guiding Molde to the first two league titles in their 102-year history - as well as a domestic cup success last year - his tenure was not an unqualified success.

It was always going to be a tall order, but Solskjaer never managed to recreate the success of rivals Rosenborg Trondheim in Europe despite his own place in the history of the world's biggest club competition.

Rosenborg managed a remarkable run of 11 qualifications for the Champions League group stages between 1995 and 2007.

Yet Solskjaer was unable to deliver anything more than qualification for the Europa League group stage during his time in charge of Molde.

His third, and ultimately final season as manager got off to a poor start with a meagre seven points from the first 11 games putting paid to Molde's hopes of a third successive title.

Victory in the 2013 Norwegian cup final restored some pride, but it was still a disappointing end to his stint as manager.

Having declined a chance to manage Aston Villa in 2012, Solskjaer told Reuters in March of 2013 that he and his family had settled well in his home town of Kristiansund, but he left the door open for a return to England's Premier League.

"The kids love it, growing up in Norway," Solskjaer said at the time. "But then again, if an opportunity comes along, you never know."

GOOD OMEN

That opportunity arrived this week when Cardiff came calling and his first match as boss takes him to St James' Park for a third round FA Cup tie against Newcastle United on Saturday.

That might be a good omen as he has tasted success against the Magpies in the FA Cup on the biggest stage, being part of the United team that beat Newcastle 2-0 in the 1999 FA Cup final on their way to the treble.

He played 366 times for United, scoring 126 goals and as well as the being part of the all-conquering 1999 team, he also won five other league titles in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007 and another FA Cup in 2004.

Known as the "baby-faced assassin", a nickname he disliked, he had an unerring eye for goal, and often scored with a clinical finish and the minimum of fuss.

As well as his goals for United he scored 23 times for Norway in 67 appearances and played in both the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship.

He appeared to hit the ground running in Cardiff at his first news conference on Thursday saying one of his main aims was to finish above arch-rivals Swansea City this season.

He had a killer instinct as a player, and his focus on hitting the bullseye and pleasing the fans appears not to have deserted him as a boss. (Reporting by Mike Collett; additional reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Toby Davis)

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