Ole Gunnar Solskjær KSO (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈuːlə ˈɡʉnːɑr ˇsuːlʂær] (listen); born 26 February 1973) is a Norwegian professional football manager and former player. He is currently the manager of English club Manchester United. As a player, he played as a forward and spent most of his career with Manchester United. Solskjær also supervises a training academy for young footballers in his home town of Kristiansund, and is a patron of the Manchester United Supporters' Trust.
Before he arrived in England, Solskjær played for Norwegian clubs Clausenengen and Molde. He joined Manchester United in 1996 for a transfer fee of £1.5 million. Nicknamed "the Baby-faced Assassin", he played 366 times for United, and scored 126 goals during a successful period for the club. He was regarded as
a "super sub" for his knack of coming off the substitute bench to score late goals. In injury time at the end of the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final, he scored the winning last-minute goal against Bayern Munich, with Manchester United having trailed 1–0 as the game passed 90 minutes, and winning The Treble for United. In 2007, Solskjær announced his retirement from football after failing to recover from a serious knee injury.
Solskjær remained at Manchester United in a coaching role as well as in an ambassadorial capacity. In 2008, Solskjær became the club's reserve team manager. He returned to his native country in 2011 to manage his former club, Molde, whom he led to their two first ever Tippeligaen titles in his first two seasons with the club. He secured a third title in as many seasons, when his team won the 2013 Norwegian Football Cup Final. In 2014, he served as manager of Cardiff City, during which the club were relegated from the Premier League. In late 2018, Manchester United appointed Solskjær as caretaker manager, taking over from José Mourinho for the rest of the 2018–19 season. On 28 March 2019, having won 14 of his 19 matches in charge, Solskjær signed a three-year contract to take over as Manchester United manager on a permanent basis.
Solskjær was born in Kristiansund, Møre og Romsdal to Øyvind, a Greco-Roman wrestling champion, and Brita Solskjær. At the age of seven, he joined local football club Clausenengen, who were in the 3. divisjon. Solskjær supported Liverpool as a child. Between the ages of eight and ten, he followed in his father's footsteps and trained as a Greco-Roman wrestler, but gave it up due to being tossed around too much. Between 1992 and 1993, Solskjær completed a mandatory year's national service in the Norwegian Army.
1996–97 season: Debut
Solskjær joined Manchester United under Alex Ferguson on 29 July 1996, and was something of a surprise acquisition as he was almost unknown outside his homeland and at the time United were still in the hunt for Blackburn Rovers and England striker Alan Shearer, who then joined Newcastle United for a world-record £15 million. As the only striker to arrive at Old Trafford that year, it was widely expected that his first season would be spent as a backup to Eric Cantona and Andy Cole with only occasional first-team opportunities. However, within weeks of his arrival it was clear that he would be a key part of the first team sooner than had been anticipated, and would also prove himself to be one of the biggest Premier League bargains of the season.
He was issued with the number 20 shirt for the 1996–97 season, a squad number he would retain for the rest of his Manchester United career. He scored six minutes into his debut as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers on 25 August 1996, after replacing David May in the 64th minute. Solskjær made his first start on 14 September in a 4–1 win against Nottingham Forest, scoring United's first goal in the 22nd minute. On 25 September, he netted his first European goal for Manchester United in their 2–0 win over Rapid Wien, opening the scoring in the 20th minute. He scored his first brace for United against Tottenham Hotspur on 29 September, scoring the only goals of the game in the 38th and 58th minutes. On 21 December, Solskjær scored his second brace of the season as United beat Sunderland 5–0, scoring in the 35th and 48th minutes. The Norwegian started in both of United's UEFA Champions League semi-final matches against Borussia Dortmund, which United lost 2–0 on aggregate to the eventual winners. He scored his third brace on 3 May 1997 against Leicester City in a 2–2 draw, netting in the 45th and 51st minutes. United clinched the title after Newcastle drew away at West Ham on 6 May, thus Solskjær won his first Premier League title. Solskjær scored 18 Premier League goals in 33 appearances (25 of which were starts) for United in his first season – the club's top goalscorer for that campaign. The British media nicknamed him "the Baby-faced Assassin" because of his youthful looks and his deadly finishing.
Solskjær scored his first goal of the 1997–98 season on 24 September 1997 in a 2–2 draw against Chelsea, equalising in the 86th minute after coming off the bench 20 minutes earlier. On 1 November, he scored a brace against Sheffield Wednesday during a 6–1 victory at Old Trafford, netting in the 41st and 75th minutes. Solskjær got his second brace on 30 November, scoring in the 18th and 53rd minutes of United's 4–0 victory over Blackburn Rovers. On 24 January 1998, he scored his third brace of the season in a 5–1 win against Division Two team Walsall in the FA Cup fourth round, adding the second and fourth goals in the 35th and 67th minutes. Solskjær started in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg at Old Trafford against Monaco on 18 March (with the aggregate score at 0–0). David Trezeguet opened the scoring for Monaco inside five minutes, before Solskjær levelled in the 53rd minute, but United failed to score again and were knocked out on away goals.
Manchester United's match against Newcastle on 18 April would become a defining moment of Solskjær's career. The match was tied at 1–1, and Manchester United needed at least a draw to keep up with Arsenal in the race for the league title, with Solskjær being introduced in the 79th minute. Near the end of the game, Newcastle's Rob Lee had a clear goalscoring opportunity, running unopposed towards United's goal, but Solskjær had run across the entire field to commit a professional foul against him, thus denying Newcastle a winning goal. Solskjær did this knowing he would be sent off, and suspended for the coming matches. Supporters regarded this as an example of how Solskjær put the club above personal interest. The Norwegian only managed six league goals in 22 appearances (15 starts) during his second season at the club, and despite his sacrifice against Newcastle, Arsenal beat Manchester United to the league title by a single point.
1998–99 season: Continental Treble
Solskjær stayed at Old Trafford even though other clubs showed interest in the player in 1998. He refused an offer from Tottenham Hotspur, after Manchester United had accepted a £5.5 million bid for him. He scored his first goals of the 1998–99 campaign in a 4–1 victory over Charlton Athletic on 9 September 1998, netting in the 38th and 63rd minutes. On 11 November, Solskjær put two past Nottingham Forest in a 2–1 win, helping United advance to the fifth round of the League Cup. He scored his third brace of the season against Tottenham Hotspur on 12 December, scoring in the 11th and 18th minute of an eventual 2–2 draw. On 24 January 1999, Manchester United faced rivals Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup. United were down within three minutes by a goal from Michael Owen and proceeded to trail late into the second half. Solskjær was introduced in the 81st minute, replacing Gary Neville, and went on to score the winner in the 90th minute, shortly after Dwight Yorke's equaliser. On 6 February, Solskjær came off the bench in the 71st minute during United's 8–1 win over Nottingham Forest and went onto to score four goals in the last 12 minutes of the match. This has been described as one of his most impressive feats. Manchester United sealed the Premier League title on 16 May, the last day of the season, against Tottenham Hotspur after coming from behind to win 2–1, with Solskjær winning his second Premier League title in three years. Solskjær started in the 1999 FA Cup Final against Newcastle on 22 May, playing the whole match as United won 2–0 and completed the double.
On 26 May, Manchester United faced German team Bayern Munich in the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final at Camp Nou. Mario Basler scored from a free kick in the sixth minute putting Bayern ahead. With United still trailing, Teddy Sheringham was introduced in the 67th minute while Solskjær was brought on for Andy Cole in the 81st minute. Sheringham scored the equaliser at precisely 36 seconds into stoppage time, and shortly after the following kick-off United forced a corner. David Beckham took the corner kick, finding Sheringham who headed the ball across the goal, it then being poked into the roof of the net by Solskjær (the goal being timed at 90+2:17'). The Norwegian's winning goal helped the team secure the Treble and cemented his own place in United folklore. Solskjær finished the season with 12 league goals in 19 games (9 starts).
Solskjær scored his first goal of the 1999–2000 season on 11 August 1999, netting in the 84th minute in a 4–0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. On 2 November, he scored a sublime volley during a 2–1 victory against Austrian team Sturm Graz in the UEFA Champions League. Solskjær won the Intercontinental Cup on 30 November, as Manchester United beat Brazilian team Palmeiras 1–0 at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. On 4 December, he put four goals past Everton in a 5–1 victory at Old Trafford, the second of which was Solskjær's 50th goal for the club in all competitions. Solskjær equalised for United against Liverpool in a 1–1 draw on 4 March 2000. Three days later, he came off the bench in the 83rd minute against Bordeaux, scoring a minute later from goalkeeper Raimond van der Gouw's long ball. Manchester United won the Premier League on 1 April after thrashing West Ham 7–1, with Solskjær getting the seventh in the 73rd minute. On 15 April, he scored a brace during a 4–0 victory over Sunderland, netting in the 2nd and 51st minutes. Four days later, Solskjær featured in United's UEFA Champions League quarter-final second-leg against Real Madrid, but failed to score as United were knocked out 3–2 on aggregate. On 24 April, he equalised against Chelsea bringing the score to 2–2, with United going on to win 3–2. He ended the campaign with 12 league goals in 28 appearances (15 starts).
Solskjær's opportunities were limited at the start of the 2000–01 season, however he scored on his second start of the season on 16 September 2000 as United beat Everton 3–1. On 31 October, he netted a brace during a 3–0 victory against Watford in the League Cup third round, scoring in the 12th and 81st minutes. He scored another brace on 23 December, against Ipswich Town in a 2–0 victory. Three days later, Solskjær helped United snatch a 1–0 win against Aston Villa, with the Norwegian heading in a David Beckham cross in the 85th minute. Solskjær scored the first goal of United's 2–1 FA Cup third round win over Fulham on 7 January 2001. On 25 February, he netted Manchester United's fifth goal against Arsenal (their closest title rivals) in United's 6–1 demolition, which sent them 16 points clear at the top of the table. On 10 April, he scored the winning goal in United's 2–1 victory over Charlton Athletic, scoring only six minutes after coming on in the 76th minute. Manchester United wrapped up the Premier League title in April – their third consecutive title, and Solskjær's fourth. That season Solskjær scored 10 league goals in 31 appearances (19 starts).
After a few years of coming on as the super-sub, Solskjær got a chance as a starter in the 2001–02 season, paired up with Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy. He took the opportunity with characteristic incisiveness, forcing Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke onto the bench. He scored his first goals of the season on 22 September 2001, in a 4–0 victory over Ipswich Town, with Solskjær netting two – the second from a difficult angle. On 23 October, Solskjær came off the bench in the 73rd minute against Olympiacos, with the score level at 0–0, and within six minutes broke the deadlock – helping United eventually win 3–0. Four days later, he came off the bench while United were 1–0 down against Leeds United, and snatched an equaliser in the 89th minute – heading in a Ryan Giggs' cross. On 12 December, he scored a brace and provided two assists in United's 5–0 victory over Derby County, netting in the 6th and 58th minutes while setting up Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. Solskjær started the comeback against Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round on 6 January 2002, scoring in the 77th minute, as well as providing the assist for van Nistelrooy's second goal as United won 3–2.
On 29 January, he scored a hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers in Manchester United's 4–0 win. Solskjær netted a brace against Charlton Athletic in United's 2–0 win on 10 February, scoring in the 33rd and 74th minutes. On 26 February, Solskjær's 29th birthday, he scored his fourth brace of the season against French team Nantes as United won 5–1. He scored yet another brace on 30 March, putting two past Leeds United as 'the Red Devils' won 4–3. Solskjær helped Manchester United advance to the UEFA Champions League semi-final after scoring two against Deportivo La Coruña in United's 3–2 victory on 10 April, the first only two minutes after coming on. He started against Arsenal at Old Trafford on 8 May, but failed to score as 'the Gunners' beat United 1–0 and won the Premier League. Solskjær finished the season with 17 league goals in 30 appearances (23 starts), his best tally since his debut season at the club.
By the 2002–03 season, both Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke had left Old Trafford, leaving Solskjær only Diego Forlán and Van Nistelrooy to compete with for a place in the starting line-up. Ferguson's persistence in playing Van Nistelrooy up front with Paul Scholes, or as a lone striker, meant that opportunities were limited. Solskjær scored Manchester United's first goal of the season on 17 August 2002, netting the winning goal (his 100th in all competitions) against West Bromwich Albion in the 78th minute. On 19 October, he earned a point for United in a 1–1 draw against Fulham, equalising in the 61st minute.
Solskjær was subsequently given his time again when David Beckham picked up an injury and Ferguson played the Norwegian on the right wing. While proving himself to be an able crosser of the ball, Solskjær also continued to contribute with goals, scoring a total of 16 goals in the season. He was selected to play on the right in important matches, such as in the league game against Arsenal and the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid, while Beckham was left on the bench. He also captained the team in a number of matches.
2003–06: Injury-plagued seasons
At the start of 2003–04, Solskjær found himself as United's first-choice right winger. However, a knee injury suffered against Panathinaikos on 16 September 2003 put Solskjær out of action until February 2004. Solskjær returned from the injury for the season run-in and was man of the match in the FA Cup semi-final victory over Arsenal. He also played in the 2004 FA Cup Final, which the club won. Solskjær was forced to undergo intensive knee surgery in August 2004 and had to miss the 2004–05 season entirely. While he eventually recovered his fitness, it was difficult for the 32-year-old to carve his niche again among the heavy-weight attack of Manchester United. The Old Trafford faithful, however, displayed almost fanatical loyalty in their desire to see Solskjær in action again.
To show their continuing support, fans added a banner to the collection that lines the Stretford End reading "20 LEGEND" (Solskjær wore number 20 for United). Solskjær further solidified his status amongst United fans when he became a patron of the supporters action group, Manchester United Supporters' Trust (MUST), previously Shareholders United.
2006–07 season: Back from injury
Solskjær made his long-awaited return to action on 5 December 2005, playing for United's reserves against Liverpool. Spectators numbering 2,738 showed up to witness the comeback of the popular Norwegian – an above-average turn-out for a reserve team match. He made his first-team return as a substitute in the match against Birmingham City on 28 December. He then finally made his first start in January 2006 in an FA Cup match against Burton Albion, before playing a full game as a captain in the third round replay. His return to full fitness slowly continued with regular appearances in the reserves, until on 8 March 2006 when, during a game against Middlesbrough, he was accidentally caught by Ugo Ehiogu, breaking his cheekbone. While facing the possibility of missing the rest of the season, he nevertheless appeared as a substitute against Sunderland on Good Friday. Solskjær had a successful pre-season tour in the summer of 2006 gaining Ferguson's praise who also said he would reconsider his plan to buy a new striker.
He returned to Premier League action on 23 August 2006 when he scored in an away match against Charlton Athletic, his first Premier League goal since April 2003. Ferguson commented after the match that "it was a great moment for Ole, United fans everywhere, the players and the staff" and that "Ole has been through a torrid time with injuries for the last two years, but he's persevered and never lost faith and has got his repayment tonight. Everyone is over the moon for him." He continued his come-back by putting in the winning goal in the Champions League group match against Celtic at home on 13 September, fulfilling his post-injury ambition to score another goal at Old Trafford. Solskjær's first Premier League goals at Old Trafford since his return came on 1 October when he scored both goals in the 2–0 win against Newcastle United. His goalscoring form continued when he started in the away match against Wigan Athletic and struck a sublime finish to round off a 3–1 victory, and again against Crewe Alexandra on 25 October 2006, scoring the first goal in a 2–1 away victory in the third round of the League Cup. After a further injury sustained in Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League, Solskjær recovered and again returned to form scoring the third goal in a 3–1 home win over Wigan on Boxing Day. Solskjær continued his form by scoring United's opening goal in their 3–2 home win over Reading on 30 December. Additionally, he came on as a substitute to score an injury-time winner in the 2–1 victory over Aston Villa at home in the FA Cup third round on 7 January 2007.
After scoring in the away FA Cup fifth round replay match against Reading on 27 February, Solskjær had further surgery on his knee. However, it was not as serious as his previous operations, and he was out of action for only a month. He was predicted to be available for the home game against Blackburn Rovers on 31 March. United manager Ferguson said: "It was good timing with the international break coming up. It gave us the opportunity to get the thing done." Solskjær did make his comeback against Blackburn Rovers as a late substitute, and even scored in the 89th minute to seal Manchester United's 4–1 win. His last match was the 2007 FA Cup Final against Chelsea, but he had to settle for an FA Cup runners-up medal, as an extra-time goal from Didier Drogba gave Chelsea the victory.
On 5 June 2007, it was announced that Solskjær had undergone minor surgery after he reported discomfort in his knee while training with Norway. The surgery was a success, but Solskjær failed to fully recover and announced his retirement from professional football on 27 August 2007. On 4 September, at a home game against Sunderland, Solskjær walked onto the pitch to say goodbye to the fans and received a standing ovation. As of his retirement, Solskjær held the record for the most goals scored for Manchester United as a substitute, scoring 28 goals off the bench, as well as the most Premier League goals as a substitute with 17, a mark which has since been passed by Jermain Defoe.
Solskjær taking a free kick during his testimonial in 2008
On 2 August 2008, a testimonial match was played in honour of Solskjær at Old Trafford against Espanyol. Almost 69,000 fans were present, setting a record as the second-highest-attended testimonial in British history. United eventually got the winner from substitute Fraizer Campbell. Solskjær appeared in the 68th minute, replacing Carlos Tevez.
At Manchester United, Solskjær earned wide acclaim for a habit of coming into matches late on as a substitute and scoring goals. Ferguson remarked that Solskjær has a knack of sitting on the bench and studying the game without taking his eye off the action. Reflecting on this aspect of his career years later, Solskjær said: "I had to think about myself, how can I do the most damage for the opposition if I come on? I sat there and I studied football games but I didn't exactly analyse their strikers. [...] Instead I would pay attention to what the defenders and full-backs were doing wrong
Manchester United appointed Solskjær as caretaker manager on 19 December 2018, taking over from José Mourinho for the rest of the 2018–19 season. He was scheduled to return to Molde in May 2019, with his assistant coach Erling Moe acting as caretaker manager during Solskjær's absence in the pre-season and the first matches of the 2019 Eliteserien, which is scheduled to start on 31 March 2019. Solskjær later suggested that he would need to sign a new contract with Molde if he were to return, but this was refuted by Molde director Øystein Neerland, who expected Solskjær to return to Molde at the end of the English season.
Solskjær's first match was against his former club, Cardiff City, on 22 December 2018, with United finishing as 5–1 winners. This was the first time United had scored five or more goals in a Premier League game since a 5–5 draw with West Bromwich Albion in Ferguson's final game in charge before his retirement in May 2013. Victories in his next four league games made Solskjær the first Manchester United manager to win his first five league games in charge since Sir Matt Busby in 1946. The league winning streak was ended at six (eight in all competitions, including FA Cup wins over Reading at home and away at Arsenal) after United played out a 2–2 draw at home to Burnley on 29 January. Solskjær's successful first full month as Manchester United manager resulted in him being named as the Premier League Manager of the Month for January 2019, during which time his team earned 10 points from a possible 12 in the league, making him the first Manchester United manager to win the award since Ferguson in October 2012 and the first Norwegian to be named either Player or Manager of the Month. Two consecutive away wins in the league against Leicester City and Fulham gave United six consecutive away victories in all competitions for the first time since May 2009. Having picked up 25 points since taking over, Solskjaer earned more points than any other manager has managed in his first nine games in charge of a single club in the Premier League. A 3–1 win at Crystal Palace on 28 February 2019 set a club record of eight consecutive away victories in all competitions.
The UEFA Champions League saw Solskjær suffer his first loss as manager, as United were beaten 2–0 at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their round of 16 tie on 12 February. In the second leg at the Parc des Princes three weeks later, a Marcus Rashford penalty in the 94th minute gave Manchester United a 3–1 win, sending them through to the quarter-finals on away goals and making them the first team in the history of the European Cup to advance after losing the first leg at home by two goals or more.
On 28 March 2019, having won 14 of his 19 matches in charge, Solskjær signed a three-year contract to take over as Manchester United manager on a permanent basis.