Fish and chips with Ferguson: How Ole signed
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have scored the most important goal in Manchester United history – and ultimately ended up managing the club – but the Norwegian admits he might never have joined if not for a chance encounter.
Speaking exclusively to UTD Podcast, the manager relived the story of his signing and told us that a move to Wolves could have been on the cards if not for the quick thinking of club coach Jim Ryan.
"I did well for Norway one game when Jim Ryan was watching Ronny Johnsen," remembered Solskjaer. "I scored two decent goals. Mark McGhee was sat next to him. So Jim Ryan asked Mark McGhee: 'What are you looking for?' He needed a forward, because he was manager at Wolverhampton at the time.
“So after I scored those two goals – and with Mark McGhee next to him [and] looking for a striker – Jimmy rang the gaffer straight away: 'I've found someone, we need to be quick. I think someone else might be interested in him.' And that was it.”
Ole signed for United in the summer of 1996, along with Raimond van der Gouw, Jordi Cruyff, Ronny Johnsen and Karel Poborsky.
The 23-year-old might have been little known to English football enthusiasts at the time, but United were far from his only suitor.
"Were Liverpool and Bayern Munich in for me? Yes, [and] Cagliari, PSV and a couple of other teams. But I wouldn't change the history. There was only one choice. It was fantastic when the call came.
“The owners of Molde asked me to come to the office. 'We've got this offer – do you fancy it?' Yeah, okay. They were going to go on holiday the next couple of days. Martin Edwards was going to go on holiday as well, so we had to come in the next day. Their private jet was down by some fault, so they booked and rented another private jet just to fly me over.”
A daunting first meeting with Alex Ferguson followed, along with a fish-and-chips meal and a chat with a stadium tour guide.
"I was nervous [before meeting Ferguson], because you're afraid that you're going to say something daft and he's going to have a wrong first impression. I knew he'd not seen me play a game, so it was an important meeting for me.
“It was just me. We had fish and chips at Old Trafford, in the restaurant back there, and it was maybe half an hour or 45 minutes. He said: 'Use the first six months in the Reserves, then after Christmas maybe we can integrate you into the first-team squad.'
“They were just negotiating the deal inside Old Trafford, and they were giving me a tour. The tour guide just asked me [why I was here] and I said 'I'm here to sign a contract'! He actually gave me his pen to sign the contract with! It was a proud moment for him as well, I think.”
Solskjaer celebrates with Eric Cantona having scored just minutes after coming on to make his debut against Blackburn.
Despite the nerves, Solskjaer was an instant hit at training – amid some gentle ribbing from the rest of the first team.
"When I first came, Nicky Butt's the first one I meet on the car park at the Cliff. 'Nice to meet you'... and he brought me down to the dressing room. You're nervous, but you realise quickly that they're normal lads, [who are] just good at playing football. I think they had a laugh at my expense, the boys, because I've got to be honest, I didn't look like I was a ready-made Man United player! I had youthful looks.
“I felt it [at home] straight away in training. I love training. I scored a few goals in training. I played this first game in the Reserves at Oldham, [at] Boundark Park. I scored two in that one. The first team played Everton, two each – big Dunc [Duncan Ferguson] scored two.
“So I listen to this and then Coley gets his unfortunate injury, so the next game I'm in, as a sub, and I score after six minutes! Since then, I think the fans just liked the way that I gave everything. I wasn't the most talented, not the most skilful, but I could score goals and I ran and I tackled.”
Ole ended his first season in English football with an excellent 19 goals.
WHAT THEY SAID
The Sunday World: "Along with Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff, Scandinavian duo Ronny Johnsen and Ole Gunnar Sloksjar (sic) signed for a combined fee of £2.7 million, make up Fergie's team of flash continentals."
The Observer: "United are not just trying out a handful of cut-price Euro hopefuls, they have identified useful players and gone for them. One of the least well known, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, from the Norwegian side Molde, could even be the answer to United's goal shortage if he continues the scoring rate – 20 in 26 games for Molde –which earned him a cap in his first full season.
Martin Edwards: "Solskjaer is one for the future. He's only 20 years of age and he could prove incredible value if he comes on as well as we hope he will."
You can listen to the full Solskjaer episode of UTD Podcast now, on Deezer and all of your favourite podcast platforms.