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Red News’ exclusive interview with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for our 30th anniversary here in full.

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  • Red News’ exclusive interview with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for our 30th anniversary here in full.

    This interview first appeared in RedNews’ 30th anniversary mag in April 2017, RN242 and was conducted in February 2017

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    Ole. 366 games, 150 as a sub. 29 goals scored as a sub, 97 goals from starting.
    126 goals in total. Lovely.

    RN: So how are you then?
    Ole: Good, good, preparing and looking forward for a new season (at Molde). It’s completely different because obviously the facilities here, you never know, for example today the under pitch heating didn’t work so it was broke and it was minus -2 so instead of being able to train outside we had to go into a 60 x 40 indoor hall so you’ve got to work day to day really. And it’s a long, long pre-season, friendlies in February and March and then we start the league on 1st April so I was used to it as a player, I remember thinking because it was really hard period of pre-season so we train maybe too long, too hard, loads of running, compared to now where we focus more on high intensity, shorter distances, so how to adapt. English pre-season sometimes the difference maybe 6-8 weeks, maximum 9, while here we have got pre-season for 12 weeks. And that’s probably the shortest one because we started a week or 10 days later than anyone else in Norway.

    RN: And how does it feel going back? Did it feel right?
    Ole: Yeah it does, it’s great just working with players day in, day out, players who want to improve, to develop, players here are dreaming to play abroad, play in England, Germany, so you’ve got 100% attitude every single day, so too many players, say in the Championship then, they’ve got enough money, they are comfortable where they are and it’s not about stepping out of the comfort zone it’s just ticking over.
    RN: Sir Alex often said that you were observing the game on the bench, is that true, were you taking it all in?
    Ole: Yeah, I think so. Because first of all I was privileged to be involved in what I was involved in so I felt no, there was not many times I sat on the bench thinking ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I was there and I was always ready to get on and most of the times I would get on because if we were losing the Gaffer would change because he knew the affect I might have just both on supporters, our own team and the opposition team because we built like an image, like a myth that when he came on he scored goals! Then again if we were winning 2-0, he just gave me 20-30 minutes at the end or at half-time because he wanted to keep us all happy so a 1-0 win was probably the worst result! He wouldn’t put me on! Laughs.

    RN: So were you observing the tactical side or positioning, what was it?
    Ole: I was just mentally preparing for the game. It’s a bit of a myth that I was analysing the lot but I did come on and of course I watched the game so I did see which one of the full-backs was slow or which one of the centre-backs I could beat in the air, really important things, you can find spaces, find weaknesses so in a sense it’s true and in another it’s a bit more exaggerated if you know what I mean. That’s the way I am. I can spot the players quite quickly.
    RN: So you’re sussing that now as a manager? And passing that advice on to the players?
    Ole: Yeah of course. It’s one of those things that I’ve always got with me that I can use to my substitutes, that you might be able to change the game, you’ve got to do this, that or the other, you’ve got to not sulk. No point sulking to me because I know what it’s like, I never sulked. There’s absolutely no point in feeling sorry for yourself because it won’t help you.
    RN: Did it piss you off the ‘supersub’ tag because you started a fair few too banging them in?
    Ole: To be fair it didn’t piss me off but obviously I realise after a while or towards the end of my career that I was the perfect sub for the Gaffer because he knew I was never pissed off or I would never sulk so when I came on it would have an affect on the game. He knew he could trust me as a squad player because I just did my best no matter what. Of course I enjoyed starting games but coming on and doing so well as a sub so many times, changed quite a few games, but it made my name and I’ll be remembered as a good sub.
    RN: More than that!
    Ole: But it doesn’t matter because at least you made a name for yourself. When I grew up there was only one or two subs back then, I remember David Fairclough came on for Liverpool quite often, I was happy doing the job that the Gaffer demanded and required from me.

    RN: There was one thing I have never seen you asked, Teddy and Andy Cole didn’t get on, so how was that for you as one of the players who was sometimes playing with both or alternating, was it uncomfortable?
    Ole: None whatsoever because what we did in our spare time and leisure time didn’t really matter and there was only in one argument, in one game and after that they still played as well as possible together, they never ever had a ‘no, I’m not going to pass to him’, absolutely no chance and the Gaffer sussed that out quickly, that he could trust them, they are top professionals - you don’t have to get on, you don’t have to go and have dinner with each other but when you play you play as well as you can play as a player and it never frustrated me, no. Never, ever.
    RN: Now looking back does it feel surreal that so much time has passed since, ’99 was 17 years ago! It just feels mental that…
    Ole: Yep! Time flies when you have fun! And I had 14 and a half years at United, absolutely fantastic but now I’m going into my… in the summer it’s 10 years since I retired so it’s gone really quickly. I’m not a person, I don’t like to sit down, and sit back and look back at what I did, I always want to make new memories for myself or make something happen but of course in the last, when my kids grow up now I have got Noah who is 16, Elijah will be 9 in the summer, Karna is 13 and it’s like, when they sing my song at Old Trafford, I get emotional, ’well they remembered Daddy! They do remember it still!’
    RN: Always!
    RN: How much did Cardiff scar, are you glad you did it?
    Ole: I’m glad I did it. I’m very glad I did it because for me like an experience it was invaluable, you can’t learn in a coaching course, you’ve got to go out there and test yourself and do it. We might look back at it… I look back at it, well it was the wrong decision right now with hindsight to take that job, I’m sure Vincent Tan they look at it as they’ve, it was the wrong decision to hire Ole, but at the time for me it felt like the right move because if I could get the club going it would have been a great achievement because Vincent still wanted that club to be successful, it was a great chance for me.
    RN: Do you still see managing United as an aim? Or are you happy being happy without the stress of that huge job?
    Ole: I would have loved to have managed United, that’s my dream job and still is. That’s a dream job and when we came to Old Trafford with Cardiff, that’s the most surreal experience I’ve had. Without a shadow of a doubt. So the United supporters singing my song for about 75% of the game and I’ve got to be professional because I’m doing a job. We had a chance to get a result up there and my support, or the Cardiff supporters singing my song, it was such a surreal, difficult position to be in. Even though I was professional and we had a great chance, but it was just bad timing. Robin Van Persie came back, they’d just signed Mata… To have got the result at Old Trafford would have been… on Sunday when Warren (Joyce) was stood there (with Wigan) on the touchline, and he’s like, it’s a strange feeling. Because Man Utd does something to you, it’s not just a normal, everyday club, it scarred me for life! It touched me for life.

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    RN: You still feel that connection?
    Ole. It never goes. Yeah. Oh! Now, when we’ve got the good times going again, with Zlatan is there now, Mkhitaryan, Paul is back, because I had Paul in the reserves, we’ve started to look like Man Utd again. We’ve got the big names, when we beat was it Boro, when Paul scored in extra-time, I was watching with my Noah and with 15 minutes to go ‘don’t worry Son, we’ll win this one, I’ve seen this before!’. It was New Years Eve wasn’t it? Then I said to him ‘I’ve watched these games so many times, don’t worry about it, we’ll win this’.
    RN: So you’re up celebrating when it goes in, jumping around?
    Ole: Yeah! So I text the Gaffer after that game ‘we’ve done that before, haven’t we!’, and he said ’yeah, we’ve done that a few times’, because we text him Happy Birthday, just like the old times.
    RN: What happened after Fergie, do you think that’s just what was going to happen whatever, how do you replace the greatest?
    Ole: It always happens. If you just look at every single club, at home with Rosenborg they had Nils Arne Eggen and they won the league for X amount of time, when he retires, downturn unfortunately, because he had that strong personality that everyone, there was so much respect there so that’s them, 3% or 4% that players will step off the gas a little bit because the Gaffer is not there, that’s enough in the top, top league to be 4th, or 5th.
    RN: And do you think Jose has cracked it and he will get it right and a 21st title?
    Ole: Yeah, oh we’ll get it, we’re on the road, we’re on the way again. Of course the league, it used to be between us and Arsenal to be fair when I played, and towards the end Chelsea came in there, now it’s Man City, now you’ve got Tottenham, Liverpool back in there with a shout and now it’s one of six. I’m sure that with the strength that we’ve got in the management team now, and the players we are attracting, that we are on the road.
    RN: Who was the team that you looked out for, the fixture that you wanted?
    Ole: Of course Liverpool. It’s the Liverpool game. That’s the first one you looked at. There was a couple of seasons when Man City were down in the Championship, and even League One I think wasn’t it?
    RN: Yep, ’99, brilliant…
    Ole: But it was the Liverpool game, home and away. Maybe especially away because you looked at that one and say ‘we have to beat them there’, and we did a few times!

    RN: I was on the top row, third tier, it’s still vivid, I can picture it all, is it still vivid for you in the Nou Camp?
    Ole: Yeah to be fair it is. Because I’ve seen the pictures so many times, I’ve seen the goal so many times…
    RN: How many times have you had to talk about it!
    Ole: So many times I’m asked to answer that question about ‘how did it feel’! So it’s still there and I can still remember my chat with Jim Ryan before the game and I tell him ‘something big is going to happen to me’. Everything in and around that game is quite easy to bring out memories.
    RN: How does it feel watching it with your kids now, now they are old enough to understand what you did?
    Ole: Of course you’re proud that you have been part of Man Utd’s maybe proudest moment.
    RN: Does it feel odd that many men have named their kids after you?!
    Ole: No. There are so many grown men that come to me and say ‘it’s the best moment of my life, don’t tell my wife and all that!’
    RN: It was though!
    Ole: Yeah. It does something to many people.
    RN: It did something demented, I still can’t explain it. We’re normal people but that sent us a bit deranged.
    Ole: Yeah I think so! Laughs.
    RN: I was at Charlton, and you came back and scored that goal after that injury, I have to say I didn’t think you’d come back, how satisfying was that little period, the swansong period? Was it hard, were you suffering badly?
    Ole: My knee was never 100% but it’s part of a story here now… that after my injury because Noah was, when I was injured, Noah was born 2000 and I got my injury in 2003 so he’s 3, then I made a comeback but it was not right, so he was 4 when I did the operation but my Dad used to be a Roman Greco wrestler, and he was Norwegian Champion 6 years on the bounce, from ’66, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’71, he was Norwegian Champion but that was before I was born, so I’ve only seen his paper clippings so I don’t remember my Dad wrestling, but that was always, every day when I was in the gym, my main motivation was ‘my Noah is going to watch me at Old Trafford, score a goal and remember seeing that day for the rest of his life’…
    RN: Oh that’s lovely… Wow.
    Ole: So that was my main like, that’s what my heart, that was the main thing to get back… And when I did, scored that goal at Charlton, that was unbelievable, I missed a chance very similar to the chance I scored just before and the relief when I scored that goal was massive and I came on and I got the Captain’s armband and celebrated in front of the away fans was unbelievable but then again when I score at home and Noah was there, 2-0 against Newcastle, I can still picture him, both hands fists celebrating, I know it is too much! That’s for me is probably the best moment I’ve had. After the injury.

    RN: Is that your favourite goal then?
    Ole: You know the favourite moment, when I walk off the pitch after that 2-0 win against Newcastle and he just clenches his fists. (RN: I think I’m crying at this point!). But of course the 10 days in ’99 were massive. My best goal is probably the one I scored against Sturm Graz in the Champions League, with my left foot volley that went straight from the 18 yard box.
    RN: What was the low points then?
    Ole: Of course the injury towards the end. Losing Finals but probably the lowest and the most vivid memory is the 1-1 away to Bayer Leverkusen when we lost in the Semi Final of the Champions League. We drew 2-2 at home, we should have been 3-1 up, I think it was Seba Veron hit the post, hit the other post, out, counter attack instead of 3-1, they scored, it’s 2-2 at the other end. But I had a chance in maybe the 85th minute or something, a half volley from about 14/15 yards, just palmed that over the crossbar, that’s the most vivid memory I’ve got, of missing that chance.
    RN: Do you think that we should have won more than one European Cup in that spell?
    Ole: Definitely. With Eric when we lost the Semi Final in ’97 to Dortmund, as I felt we were the team to beat. Of course you played Juventus a couple of times, and had tight games against them that I thought we could go onto win it. That period after ’99 we thought we could go onto win a couple, Champions League is its margins. Post in, post out, that’s the difference.
    RN: Roy Keane said in his book that he was looking at the line up at Leverkusen and questioned the hunger, do you think that was it? Or unfortunate moments in games?
    Ole: Well you can say both but when you’re that close. 2-1, we’re winning at home, I’m sure it was Veron who had a shot and it hit both the posts or close to it anyway, that chance inside the post and they go out the other way and score a counter-attack, that’s not down to anything but luck, that’s football!

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    RN: What was it like sharing a dressing room with Eric and Keane, two huge characters?
    Ole: Fantastic. Eric and Roy were two different persons obviously but Keano is the best Captain you could ever have in a team. For me. I’ve been asked so many times ‘pick one player that you played with’ and I can pick Cantona because he was the best player in my position when I came, I could have Ronaldo because he’s the best player now, Giggsy because of his qualities, Scholesy, he was probably the best player, Becks for his crossing, Jaap Stam, Rio, no-one when past him, Laurent Blanc, because he’s a legend, but for me if I pick one, I pick Roy Keane. Because all the influence he had on the squad and all the players around and everything he did. I’d pick Roy.
    RN: How often did he call you out? Was it only occasionally and these stories get exaggerated over time?
    Ole: He picked me out a few times but then again we’re mates now! Or we speak on the phone, and we text each other quite often. And when I’m in England we go for a cup of coffee. I understand that Roy did that because he can affect me in a positive way and he wanted me to do well for the team because the team needed me at my best. The players that never had a bollocking from Roy, you had no chance anyway!
    RN: The Newcastle game, you’ve got sent off, how scared of the bollocking were you from Fergie?
    Ole: To be honest I didn’t see it coming. Because it was the only right thing to do in my mind there and then. We lost the league by one point to Arsenal that year, it was in the 90th minute, 1-1. We could still get hold of that ball and score a goal towards the end in the other end so we needed to win the game. We would not win the game if 1) I gave a penalty away or 2) he scored. So to be honest I didn’t see a bollocking coming! Laughs. But I deserved it, yes, I can see that because it’s not fair play. Players patted me on the shoulder ‘well done, you did it for the team, you took one for the team’, but as the manager for the biggest club in the world it’s the only right thing to do is to give me a proper hairdryer. And he did! I was called into his office the next day. I had one more. One bad and more. After defeat to Sheffield Wednesday away at Hillsborough, so it was one of the two proper hairdryers I’ve had! You take it on board, there is absolutely no point trying to get back at him, just take it, you receive it and you accept it and you move on and you learn from it.
    RN: Was it more worrying when he wasn’t angry, keeping it hidden?
    Ole: To be fair I have to say I really enjoyed coming into half-time when he said ‘well done Ole!’ or when he mentioned me ‘look at the attitude’. I think he trusted me. What he does is he learnt how to manage everyone. So he knew, yeah, the bollocking once in a while did me good because I had to grow up but he praised me, he knew how to keep me on my toes and make me play at my best.
    RN: Obviously the Utd fans have such love for you, how does that feel? When you said about Reds still singing your name? Nobody has a bad word about you, you could murder cats and get away with it…

    Ole: It’s surreal. It is surreal and as I said it’s ten years ago that I retired, it seems like a past life but when I remember back on it and I wish, you can’t wish because I’ve picked it myself, I’ve moved back to Norway, settled, we really enjoy it but I wish I could have been to Old Trafford more often to watch the games and see the atmosphere because it’s the best feeling you can have.
    RN: We’ll have to get you in the away end Ole because a good away day is the best…
    Ole: Don’t I remember! Yes, I will!
    RN: So what are your ambitions left now?
    Ole: Of course I’ve been in the Premier League, got relegated, I would like to set that record straight one day but I can see now that because I was up and young and not so experienced, it’s 3 years ago now I took that job, I was 40, I think I’ll be better suited in say 3 or 4 years to get back in the big time.
    RN: If not for a goal, what’s your favourite moment, where you thought at United ‘this is the business, this?’
    Ole: I never thought I’d made it because I was always striving to get into that first XI more often, I would want to be a regular. Probably not believing 100% that I could nail down a first team regular spot really, but I probably realised I could have such an affect on the team as a sub. But when the Gaffer, because Spurs and Man Utd agreed a fee for me in the summer of ’98, but that not happening was down to the Gaffer. He called me in and said ‘well the clubs are agreed, I don’t want you to leave. We’re going to sign Dwight Yorke but if you stay you’ll play enough games, you’ll be an important part of this team’. That was enough for me. But then he also said ‘don’t tell anyone I said this!’. After what happened in ’99 and I scored that goal I think it’s justified that everyone should know that the Gaffer convinced me to stay! It was down to him.
    RN: And how are your knees today, are they aright?
    Ole: No, not really, no. No, to be fair. I live a normal life. Without being able to play football. The cold doesn’t really help. I can jog round the pitch and I can have a little kickabout but I can’t play proper football.
    RN: One last question, on the 30th anniversary of the fanzine, through all the good and bad of Utd, if you’ve one message to Utd fans, what would it be right now?
    Ole: We’ll get back to Number One. Just keep supporting the players and the club. And I’m sure we’ll turn it round. What’s been amazing, for me I’ve only experienced Man Utd supporters, they’ve always been positive. When I speak to players, my ex-team-mates that have played in Spain, or in Italy, the backing the Man Utd supporters give their own team is second to none. You see now, Real Madrid, if they lose a game or two games, Zidane’s got to go out to a press conference and maybe have a little comment about well the supporters should keep supporting the team and maybe the manager, that’s never happened at Man Utd. Never happens. Through good times and the bad.
    RN: Thanks so much Ole.
    Ole: Pleasure. Absolute pleasure.

    Interview by Barney, thanks to Per at Molde for sorting so very quickly when they heard it was for our 30th. No fuss, and Ole a gent, as you’d imagine!

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