It says much for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s impact on Manchester United, that he has thrice been paraded before a packed Old Trafford to say his farewells. Post-retirement, post-testimonial and this week ahead of his impending return to his former club, FK Molde.
“I reckon the club just wants to make sure I’m gone this time – third time lucky,” he grinned on Tuesday morning, hours after providing the welcome warm-up act before Monday's win over Arsenal. As ever, the glint in his blue eyes flickered with mischief. Bar a dusting of grey hairs and a few expression lines, little has changed of the Norwegian in over 14 years at the club.
All that has altered markedly is his standing. He arrived a fresh-faced unknown with a name to spark cerebral logjams (Old Trafford’s internal phone directory still has his surname misspelled ‘Solksjaer'). He departs a friend to anyone with the merest hint of Red in their persuasion.
Cemented in club folklore by his Treble-clinching Champions League winner against Bayern Munich, Solskjaer has been afforded his unique status among United supporters almost by fortune. He couldn’t help the predatory instinct which thrust a big toe at Teddy Sheringham’s flick-on, but his concerted dedication to being a model professional and, moreover, a blueprint of humanity, means he deserves all acclaim bestowed upon him.
Ole could carry an autograph pen in a holster, so frequent are his requests to sign United memorabilia, yet I’ve never seen him make his excuses without tattooing everything thrust before him. He spent two and a half hours fielding media questions at his unveiling in Molde, then headed to a local pub to meet supporters. He donated proceeds of almost £2million from his testimonial to build 10 schools in Africa. You get the message: the man is pure gold.
Predictably, he’s been a dream to work alongside. It doesn’t pay to be starstruck in my job, yet I have forever made involuntary emotional concessions to two specific interviewees: mild panic of saying the wrong thing to Sir Alex Ferguson, and a beaming grin whenever I met Ole to chat about the Reserves. He undoubtedly would’ve preferred to skip a few