Why Solskjaer is taking everything in his stride
The cameras clicked and the spotlight glared as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took his first UEFA Champions League press conference as a manager.
When the draw for the round of 16 was being made, Ole was watching with his son Noah and they agreed his old team were facing a “tough challenge”. The much-respected Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy had analysed the clubs left in the competition and identified United and Schalke as the two teams everybody would love to face.
However, with Ole at the wheel, the confidence is flowing and the message coming from one of our favourite sons is striking the right chord. In an adjoining room, during his interview with MUTV’s Stewart Gardner, his attitude seemed to be it’s only the last 16 so let’s not get too excited and there are another three weeks before the tie will be decided in the French capital.
When he made his way into the main suite, alongside Anthony Martial, there was much jostling and competing for position as the vast numbers in attendance indicated this is a big game on a global scale. Ole nodded in agreement when the size of the turn-out was first put to him and even the second question, one that talked of Alexis Sanchez and Martial fighting for one place failed to unnerve him. “They’re not fighting, they’re team-mates,” he corrected with a smile.Of course, the matter of extending the stay as manager was brought up again but it was met with a firm response from somebody clearly growing tired of the one question that he cannot answer. “Yes, it’s too simple,” he replied, when asked if it was as simple as he needs to keep winning in order to keep the job. “Change the script!”
Not that the press find Ole difficult to deal with. Far from it. He smiled and joked throughout what some might perceive as a grilling. He listened on headphones to check Martial’s answers being translated from French into English. When a question about Paul Pogba was submitted, he merely approved Anthony’s response and said his thoughts were the same with a broad grin.
Yet, in truth, he was only too happy to field all queries – agreeing that, yes, it’s been too long since one of these mouthwatering European nights in the knockout stages at Old Trafford. His last one was special, thumping Roma 7-1, when Sir Alex had dismissed the narrow defeat in the first leg in Italy, telling his players he was confident in their abilities.And that appears to be something the Scandinavian has learned from the master. He exudes confidence and this transmits itself to his squad. “Embrace the game,” was one of his messages. “We’re confident” and “we are looking like a team” were other notable statements. Positivity and the firm belief that United are capable of beating any opponents.
Only at the very end of the press conference did Ole express his disappointment with one of his interrogators. The reason? Roy Keane was not mentioned as one of the undroppable players from the Treble-winning squad – Peter Schmeichel and Jaap Stam were the men included in the question.
”Roy would have been disappointed,” deadpanned the caretaker boss as he left his seat. No doubt he would and, if it had been him being posed the questions, his response might have been different. But, then again, so might the question itself! Ole is a very different character to his former team-mate and to other managers. He is his own man, appears assertive and should never be judged purely on his nice-guy persona.
Solskjaer might admit he has been enjoying this role since the very first day when he met his players. One of the reasons for this is he believes in the staff at his disposal and is confident we can perform on the biggest stage. Tuesday night will be perceived as the latest test for the 45-year-old, another chance to audition his coaching talents.
The signs are he will take it all in his stride, just like he has since returning to club he loves so much, and where that feeling is reciprocated. Whatever the outcome, United should not be considered the easy ride that we may have been portrayed in the European press when those 16 balls were spinning around the UEFA headquarters in Nyon. Ties don’t come much harder than PSG but Old Trafford will be buzzing – and you can bet the man in the dug-out will be the coolest character inside the famous ground.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.
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