Stanley Chow's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer illustration.

Treble Icons: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Twenty years on, the man who scored the most famous goal in Manchester United history is the Manchester United manager, and memories of his huge, defining impact on the 1998/99 season remain as fresh and vivid as ever.

The one-time ‘Baby-faced Assassin’ will be reprising his on-field role for Sunday’s Treble Reunion match, and will bequeath his seat in the dugout to Sir Alex Ferguson, exactly two decades on from the day he leaned forward in Barcelona to score arguably the most dramatic goal in football.
 
Tickets are still available for the 15:00 BST kick-off, which will raise funds to support the work of the Manchester United Foundation in the local area.

OLE ON THE TREBLE

“We were just so focused on doing our job and we knew that we had come back into games so many times. When Teddy scored, I have to say that I was celebrating so much being able to play an extra 30 minutes of a Champions League final! That was going to be a fantastic experience. But, of course, we had just scored, so we had the momentum and we had won so many times at the end of games that season, so I think we all believed that we could get the winner.

“It was a fantastic end to a great season. The team spirit, the quality of the play we’d shown, the times we had to dig out results, the times we had to stick together as a team, the good nights out – we had a fantastic season.”
SOLSKJAER'S SEASON TO REMEMBER
 
The signing of Dwight Yorke, and his telepathic relationship with Andy Cole, meant Ole’s opportunities to start games would be reduced in 1998/99. So much so that, prior to the beginning of the campaign, the Norwegian had been close to moving south to join Tottenham Hotspur.
 
“He [Sir Alex] called me and said that the clubs had agreed,”
Solskjaer remembered earlier this year.
“He said to me that, if I stayed, I would play quite a bit of football, and that he wanted me to stay, so I listened to him. I felt important, valued. He told me: ‘Don’t tell anyone about this,’ because, of course, the clubs had agreed, but, after the end of that season, I think it was just fair that we all knew I was there still and those were his words.”
 
Ferguson’s prophetic late intervention into that prospective transfer was vital – perhaps one of the Treble season’s earliest and most pivotal junctures – for Solskjaer delivered his second-best season at the club in terms of his goals-to-games ratio, with 18 strikes in just 37 appearances.
 
Only Yorke and Cole found the target more often, but our former no.20’s contribution was unique. In addition to his famous moment against Bayern, he snatched a legendary late winner against Liverpool in the FA Cup – a game that, in some ways, prefigured the Champions League final and fuelled the season with enormous momentum – and eight of his efforts came after the 80-minute mark, which helped United bloom into a team that was never more dangerous than in the final moments of tight matches.
 
He netted in just one of our first 13 matches, but soon began to contribute with typical regularity, and arguably hit a personal peak in February, when he fired home four goals in the last 14 minutes to complete an 8-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
 
Along with Sheringham, he was also the only player in the squad to score across all four competitions in 1998/99.
OLE’S OUTSTANDING MOMENT
 
Any guesses? Of course, we’re legally obliged to select the Treble season’s final goal, which Ole describes thus:
 
“It’s one of those moments that you come outside of your body, really, because [if] you follow the ball, I’m tightly marked by the Bayern Munich defender. But as the ball is floated in, it’s not going to reach me or the area we’re in, and I think the defender lost his concentration. I think he maybe followed the ball and was watching the ball more than watching me, so he let go of me and, as a striker, I’m always the optimist. You have to hope that the ball lands in your area, and it was there, and then it was just about getting your toe to it.”
 
Ole had been annoyed prior to coming as a substitute in the 81st minute, after being ignored at half-time by the manager, and then overlooked when Sheringham was sent on as the boss’s first change in the 67th minute. Sheringham had scored just four goals in an injury-hit season. Ole had already notched 17.
 
“At half-time, he spoke to Teddy Sheringham, and I was a bit disappointed he didn’t come up to me and prepare me to come on,”
recalls Ole.
“But I had done it so many times, so I knew exactly how to wind myself up and be ready and, when he sent me on, I could see by the way I was running onto the pitch, that I had a spring in my step and I was ready.”
 
As for the finish itself, Solskjaer remarked to The Daily Telegraph in 2008:
“Ninety-nine times out of 100, that would go into the hands of [Oliver] Kahn or on the head of the guy on the line.”
 
It was the greatest moment that the majority of Manchester United fans have ever experienced during their time supporting the club, and cemented Ole Gunnar's status as a legend. But other contenders for his 'outstanding' moment would include the late goal against Liverpool and his terrorising four-goal hit-and-run mission against Forest. 
WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT OLE
 
“It was obvious that his desire was to be a coach, but more than that it was a desire to be the best you can be. I’m very lucky that he never complained [when he was a substitute], I don’t think any other player of that quality would have stood for it. Teddy [Sheringham] was always moaning at me, and I can understand, because he was a great player, but Ole never complained. He had that fantastic patience.”
– Sir Alex Ferguson
 
“A good substitute can change a game, as Ole Gunnar regularly did for United. We’d sit together on the bench and he’d study the opponents he knew he was coming up against later in the game. It served him well.”
– Diego Forlan
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE TREBLE?
 
Ole had many more seasons after his greatest moment at the club, and scored a career-best 25 goals in 2001-02. The following campaign, he made a huge 57 appearances and delivered important contributions from the right-wing, as United negotiated a tense run-in to reclaim the 2002/03 Premier League title from Arsenal.
 
Knee issues plagued him for the following three seasons, but he made a hero’s return in 2006/07, contributing an important  tally of 11 goals as United won our first Premier League in four years, reached the final of the FA Cup and the semi-final of the Champions League.
 
It was a fitting but sad end, as the Norwegian announced he would retire due to his ongoing injury problems. He left a true club legend, after 126 goals in 366 appearances, and remains so today.
 
Ole entered management in 2010 by taking charge of  former club Molde, and led them to their first two top-flight titles in 2011 and 2012, before assuming the reins at Cardiff City in 2014.
 
He returned to Molde the following year, and remained in his homeland until United called in December 2018, asking him to join as manager on a caretaker basis. After a remarkable 14 wins in his first 17 games, Ole was made permanent boss in March.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the 2006/07 Premier League trophy.
Ole lifts the 2006/07 title in his final season as a player at Old Trafford.
A LEGENDARY ILLUSTRATION
 
Thanks to United fan and Old Trafford season-ticket holder Stanley Chow for his portrait of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. To see more of his ‘Treble Winners’ collection, visit www.thestanleychowprintshop.com.
 
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