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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer declared that Manchester United was in his “heart” as he prepared to take his first training session as caretaker manager on Thursday ahead of his return to Cardiff City for the first game of the post-Jose Mourinho era.
As first reported by Telegraph Sport on Tuesday, the 45-year-old was approached to take the job by the club when it became clear that Mourinho had to be sacked following the defeat to Liverpool. The club also confirmed that Mike Phelan, the long-term assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, will also come back to assist Solskjaer, who has been released temporarily by his current club Molde to come to Old Trafford.
The Norwegian season begins on March 31, and until Solskjaer returns to Molde at the end of United’s campaign, his place will be taken by assistant Erling Moe who has been a successful manager of the club in the past. Phelan had most recently worked as the sporting director at Australian A-League club Central Coast Mariners, where Usain Bolt enjoyed a brief career as a professional footballer.
Solskjaer, who will hold his first press conference on Friday, said to the club’s website: “Manchester United is in my heart and it’s brilliant to be coming back in this role. I’m really looking forward to working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club.”
Speaking earlier to Molde fans he said: “In football you never know what can happen. We get proof of time after time. This is an opportunity I had to take. I am looking forward to leading Manchester United until the summer.
“At the same time, I will follow closely what is happening here at home. We have built stone for stone and the end of the season this year gives us hope for another good season. Erling, Trond [Strande] and Per Magne [Misund] will do a lot of work while I'm gone. At the same time, I would like to thank the club, and [owners] Kjell Inge [Rokke] and Bjorn Rune [Gkjelsten] once again.”
David Beckham wished his former team-mate, and the man originally identified as his successor at United on the right side of midfield, good luck on Instagram. There was also notable warmth from Gary Neville and his brother Phil. Solskjaer’s former Norway international team-mate John Arne Riise described it as “just insane”. “Having had the pleasure of playing with and against him, I am so proud of him! It’s a great opportunity for him as a manager in a complimentary fashion.”
The United executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward said that Solskjaer would “unite” the team. He said: “Ole is a club legend with huge experience, both on the pitch and in coaching roles. His history at Manchester United means he lives and breathes the culture here and everyone at the club is delighted to have him and Mike Phelan back. We are confident they will unite the players and the fans as we head into the second half of the season.”
'Manchester United has a future without me'
Mourinho also spoke briefly to Sky Sports News today, having been doorstepped near his London home.
Like in his statement, the Portuguese refused to speak in detail about what happened at United - "it's game over," he said - and focused on the future, with talk of a return to Real Madrid rumbling on.
"I keep the good things and I don't speak about anything that happened in the club.
"We could speak about so many good things, we could speak about not as good (things), but that's not me. It's finished.
"Manchester United has a future without me and I have a future without Manchester United, so why should I now be sharing with you or even with the supporters any of my feelings.
"It's over and that's me and that's the way I have always been."
Jose Mourinho issues statement after Manchester United sacking
Jose Mourinho has issued an official statement on his departure from Manchester United, saying he has been “immensely proud” to represent the club and that he has made some “friends for life”.
“I have been immensely proud to wear the badge of Manchester United since the first day I arrived, and I believe that all the United supporters recognise this. Just as was the case with my previous clubs I have worked with some wonderful people and I believe that some will be my friends for life.
“I know that you are all aware of my professional principles. Each time a chapter is closed I show my deepest respect and I don’t make any comments about my former colleagues. I hope the media will also respect my position and let me live my normal life until the moment I decide to return to football. Merry Christmas.”
Jose Mourinho is doorstepped by Sky Sports News. It does not go well.
"I have nothing to say. You know me. If you want to walk with me, we'll walk to Battersea."
"I have nothing to say. You know me." ��
Jose Mourinho speaks for the first time since leaving @ManUtd near his home in London.
Follow all the reaction to Jose Mourinho's sacking by @ManUtd as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaces him as interim boss here: https://t.co/kouvEuOFMjpic.twitter.com/kv7tx3jdqE
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 19, 2018
'Just the man for the job'
The Manchester United Supporters' Trust has given the interim appointment of Solskjaer their thumbs-up:
— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) December 19, 2018
What can the worst Man Utd team in Premier League history realistically expect to achieve this season?
That's the question Ali Tweedale has posed. Indeed, he has also attempted to answer it.
The top four is not completely out of sight. Gaps wider than 11 points have been eroded in less time than is available to United and teams have finished in fourth after worse starts than United have made this season. However, history suggests they are up against it.
Of the 104 teams to make up the top four in the Premier League's 26 seasons, only two have finished in the top four after a worse start to the season than United this season: Leeds in 2000/01 and Liverpool in 2003/04. Both teams had 25 points at the 17-game mark and finished the season fourth. Meanwhile, Arsenal had 26 points at this stage of 1998/99 and ended up recovering so dramatically that they came second. In the increasingly competitive world the Premier League now is, it is difficult to see United posing any kind of threat to the top two.
Antonio Conte interested in succeeding Jose Mourinho
He followed Jose Mourinho's annus horribilis at Chelsea, and won the Premier League title at the first attempt. Now Antonio Conte, Matt Law reports, might fancy a go at the Manchester United job:
His relationship with Paul Pogba could also be an advantage, as it was Conte at Juventus who helped the France midfielder become one of the best players in the world. He is also a big fan of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, both of whom he wanted at Chelsea, and Marcus Rashford.
United may well be wary of Conte’s volatile reputation, however, and the accusation that he plays unattractive football.
But the 48-year-old would argue that he gets the best out of the players he is given and formulates tactical plans to suit the strengths of his squad. With money to spend and a talented squad, those close to Conte insist he could create an attractive team.
And despite his messy departure, many Chelsea insiders still rate Conte as one of the best coaches to have ever worked at the club.
Conte also has experience of working under directors of football, both at Juve and Chelsea, and that is a position United want to create under their restructuring.
Apart from winning two trophies in two seasons with Chelsea, Conte guided Juventus to three Serie A titles and took unfancied Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
'I don’t think I am too nice. Most of the time you treat your players like you do your kids'
Here's a fascinating interview with Solskjaer by Jim White back in 2011:
“I wanted the kids to have what I had: a Norwegian childhood,” he says of the move to Molde. “Skiing in the winter, and I mean proper skiing, not that English downhill rubbish. Trouble is they’re a right bunch of Mancs my kids. When I have a weekend off they say, ‘Can we go home?’ And they mean Bramhall.”
On arrival back in Norway, with the family ensconced in his hometown of Kristiansund, an hour’s drive up the coast, Solskjaer determined to change the way of doing things at Molde, the football as much as the infrastructure.
“We lost the first two games 3-0 and 5-0. We had to educate the players to play in the way I wanted. But I knew it would work if we persisted.” His approach, he says, was to make the place work for the players. Little things – the dressing room design, the office layout, the coaching style – made all the difference.
“As a player, every little irritating moment can take away your motivation and they can be easily fixed. Come into work feeling enthusiastic about the place and it shows on the pitch.” And he sets the tone. Smiling, friendly, this is a manager who exudes enthusiasm. It is, he says, a lesson he learned from Ferguson, a man he still refers to as “the Gaffer”.
“I love being on the bench. I love seeing young players expressing themselves,” he says, “I’ve experienced so much with the Gaffer, and passing on that advice and seeing the effect it has, the way they have grown in confidence, the way they have felt able to express themselves, that has given me such a buzz.”
Mauricio Pochettino's dilemma...
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From Blackmore to Blanc...
We've ranked - and, indeed, rated - the managerial careers of the 32 Man Utd players who learnt their trade under Sir Alex Ferguson. Where does Solskjaer find himself?
Mike Phelan, wearer of the greatest tie in Manchester United's rich history, returns to make everything alright:
The 1990s pre-match habit of drinking from a styrofoam cup, performed here by Mike Phelan alongside Ryan Giggs, before the 1992 League Cup Final. pic.twitter.com/yLBMKHDWzi
— Mark Leech (@Len_Scap) December 19, 2018
Solskjær and Phelan joint Prem League Managerial record: Played 38, Won 6, Draw 7, Lost 25. Goals for: 34. Goals against: 86. Big call from Utd
— Matt Critchley (@MattCritchley1) December 19, 2018
Seriously, though, is this about results? Manchester United just need someone to make the players feel like players again, give the fans something to enjoy for a few months before a proper manager comes in next summer.
Molde announce they have allowed Solskjaer to join Manchester United
This is translated from their club website:
Chief Executive Officer Øystein Neerland confirms that Ole Gunnar Solskjær will enter as a temporary manager in Manchester United, out of season to end in May 2019.
Ole Gunnar will take over with immediate effect and Erling Moe will be the main trainer for Molde FK during this period.
"That Manchester United ask Molde FK to lend the manager is by itself an event, and not least a statement of trust for both Ole Gunnar and Molde FK. We are positive to lend Ole Gunnar, we wish both him and the club a success, says Neerland.
"This is a big opportunity for Molde FK, we think it will be developing and helping to put Molde FK further on the football card," he says.
Solskjær recently wrote a new contract with Molde, which extends in 2021.
"In football you never know what can happen. We get proof of time after time. This is an opportunity I had to take. I am looking forward to leading Manchester United until the summer. At the same time, I will follow closely what is happening here at home. We have built stone for stone and the end of the season this year gives us hope for another good season. Erling, Trond and Per Magne will do a lot of work while I'm gone. At the same time, I would like to thank the club, and Kjell Inge and Bjørn Rune once again congratulate me on the world's biggest club, "says Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Ed Woodward, Executive Vice Chairman, comments: "Ole is a club legend with huge experience, both on the pitch and in coaching roles. His history at Manchester United means he lives and breathes the culture of the club and everyone at the club is delighted to have him and Mike Phelan back. We are confident they will unite the players and the fans as we head into the second half of the season. "
Molde FK wishes Ole Gunnar good luck to Manchester United.
The Norwegian prime minister can finally let the cat out of the official bag:
FINALLY CONFIRMED! Great day for Norwegian football. Good luck keeping control of the Red Devils, @olegs26_ole
— Erna Solberg (@erna_solberg) December 19, 2018
Meanwhile, what news about a Norwegian football man is complete without input from Jan Aage Fjortoft?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær the manager of Man UTD!!!!!
Am so proud of him!
I wish him all the best.
Norway will now delay Christmas, snow and skiing! https://t.co/IGH6W9koiA
— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) December 19, 2018
Does Solskjaer have the managerial mettle to cope?
I wrote this yesterday on Solskjaer's credentials to go from fans' favourite and super-sub to steady-handed caretaker manager:
But Solskjaer ticks some short-term boxes that few, if any, more high-profile and seasoned options could: he knows Manchester United inside-out thanks to a 15-year association as player and coach and, at a time when the Old Trafford fanbase could scarcely be more disillusioned with the club, would carry a substantial amount of goodwill into his temporary job.
This stop-gap assignment, with United already 11 points adrift of the top four, would presumably come with no performance targets other than to reunite a near-mutinous squad, galvanise them into an attacking force of some sort, and (football's vaguest KPI of all) ultimately give the fans something to shout about.
That may well be a relief to Solskjaer, as he weighs up whether - and, indeed, how - he will extricate himself from his second spell with Molde to take up English football's increasingly poisoned chalice; after the Premier League pedigree of Moyes, and the stellar credentials of Van Gaal and Mourinho, his CV has little to suggest he is ready for the Old Trafford dugout.
On the other hand, who better to demonstrate some post-Mourinho selflessness for the collective cause than the man who once willingly suffered the most heroic red card in Premier League history? The ovation Solskjaer received for racing back to semi-apologetically chop down Newcastle's Rob Lee, to avoid a costly defeat in the title race with Arsenal in 1997/98, is probably still ringing in his ears.
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“Do you think I really care about my image and reputation?” Solskjaer said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph soon after he took over at Cardiff. “If I think about my image that’s completely the wrong attitude to go into the job. I don’t care about my image. My job is to make Cardiff City a better football club. It is not about enhancing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ‘the brand’.”
Even so the verdict on him in South Wales was damning, with question marks over whether he was tough enough.
Solskjaer returned to his former club Molde, where he had also played, and rebuilt his reputation as a progressive coach playing attacking football. He will certainly find the environment at United far more supportive than at Cardiff.
Manchester United statement
From their official website just now:
Solskjær will take charge of the first team with immediate effect and will remain in place while the club conducts a thorough recruitment process for a new full-time manager. He will be joined by Mike Phelan as first-team coach, working alongside Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna.
“Manchester United is in my heart and it’s brilliant to be coming back in this role. I’m really looking forward to working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club,”
said Solskjær. Ed Woodward, Executive Vice Chairman, comments:
“Ole is a club legend with huge experience, both on the pitch and in coaching roles. His history at Manchester United means he lives and breathes the culture here and everyone at the club is delighted to have him and Mike Phelan back. We are confident they will unite the players and the fans as we head into the second half of the season.”
Old Gunnar Solskjaer is confirmed as the caretaker manager of Manchester United
We can confirm that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed as caretaker manager until the end of the 2018/19 season.
He will be joined by Mike Phelan as first-team coach, together with Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna. #MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 19, 2018
L'Equipe thought they had a tap-in of a headline, and yet they have skied it from four yards.
Love it when the French papers go for word plays in English. Never quite seems to work though pic.twitter.com/htZnlqkNf4
— Matt Spiro (@mattspiro) December 19, 2018
Why Jose Mourinho's replacement will have to accept Ed Woodward is the real king of Old Trafford
Sam Wallace has a note of caution for whoever eventually takes over as Manchester United's permanent manager:
As the dust settles on the third Manchester United managerial sacking of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era the usual questions are asked about the man at the centre of the club who has arguably more power at Old Trafford than even the great Scotsman did in his heyday.
It is Ed Woodward’s club now and the notion of the 47-year-old former investment banker being under any pressure from his bosses in Florida is as remote as United’s chances of winning the Premier League this season. Those American venture capitalists, who have seen their investment in the highest revenue-generating club in the world more than double in value since 2005, trust Woodward implicitly and as long as they own United then it will be his to run.
It was Woodward who delivered the news to Mourinho face-to-face at the club’s training ground in Carrington, south Manchester, on Tuesday morning and it will be Woodward who has reached out to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan to steady the ship in the aftermath. Not a natural hire-and-fire executive, Woodward has not enjoyed those awkward conversations over the years with David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, but accepts them as part of the job he always wanted.
The inside line
Sign up for James Ducker's weekly Manchester United newsletter to get the inside track on what could be a fascinating new chapter in the club's recent history...
'Jose Mourinho was left behind by his rivals - Paul Pogba should follow him out of Manchester United'
Jamie Carragher has written exclusively for the Telegraph this morning on Jose Mourinho's fall from grace:
I spent a few hours with Mourinho at United’s training ground last summer and was given an insight into the problems ahead. He was a concerned man in pre-season. He spoke of his sense of accomplishment in finishing runners-up to Manchester City, but admitted being worried about the year ahead. He wanted significant additions, especially in defence.
I left that meeting in no doubt about underlying tensions at the club. Mourinho did not feel his squad lacked ability, but something deeper. A profile fundamental to his best teams, qualities he alluded to in the aftermath of the defeat by Liverpool on Sunday. He did not trust them to give him everything he demanded.
To play for Mourinho, you have to apply yourself physically and mentally in every training session and match. To use that well-worn phrase, you must be prepared to “die” for him. You are with him or against him. If it is the latter, he will not think twice about burning you in public.
Eric Cantona throws his hat into the ring...
For all his god-like status at Old Trafford, it's become increasingly difficult to take Eric Cantona seriously. Still, this represents his job application:
Eric Cantona has just issued a “come and get me plea” to @ManUtd via our guest on @BBCr4today just now! Eric confirmed that he wants the interim job in a text to Edward Freedman, ex-MD of Merchandising at #MUFC (he transformed turnover from £1.2m to £28m in 5 years). #r4today
— Jacqui Oatley (@JacquiOatley) December 19, 2018
The Old Trafford Hotseat™
The developments around Manchester United's new managerial vacancy last night perhaps summed up the low-key haplessness that has plagued the club ever since Sir Alex Ferguson handed over the reins to a wide-eyed David Moyes in the summer of 2013.
While speculation grew over the imminent appointment of former United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager until the end of the season, Old Trafford remained silent. Until, that is, their unofficial spokesperson - Norway's prime minister Erna Solberg, no less - rather indirectly made the announcement for them.
Internet sleuths - or simply people who had a hunch that Manchester United would make a slight fudge out of all this - then detected some ripples of #AnnounceSolskjaer on the club's website. A video of the Norwegian's most famous moment in a United shirt (not his marvellous professional foul on Rob Lee, but his winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final) with "Solskjaer becomes our interim manager..."
If modern football has taught us anything, it's that unofficial, slapstick, accidental announcements tend to be swiftly followed by slicker, official ones. The expectation, therefore, is that the 45-year-old will today finalise a temporary release from his current job at Molde to assume the increasingly poisoned chalice that is manager of Manchester United.
We'll have all the day's developments right here...