Tuesday 08 January 2019, 08:09

Solskjaer, United’s eternal super-sub

  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer making instant impact in Manchester United dugout

  • Joins Sir Matt Busby as only Red Devils coach to win first five games

  • Teachings of Sir Alex Ferguson at the heart of early success

New Year, new you. Having had the unexpected Christmas surprise of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking the helm, this is the mindset Manchester United fans are taking into 2019. Though with how the former striker is approaching the role, ‘new year, old you’ might be closer to the truth.

Taking over a team that had won just one of their last five games under Jose Mourinho, Solskjaer – effectively on loan from Norwegian side Molde – has inspired that same side to five straight victories. In United's entire history, the legendary Sir Matt Busby is the only other manager to achieve such a long unblemished start.

But it is Sir Alex Ferguson who is more responsible for Solskjaer’s instant impact.

The super-sub strikes again

If Solskjaer is used to anything at United, it’s hitting the ground running. Renowned as the supreme super-sub during Ferguson’s reign, only Jermain Defoe and Olivier Giroud have hit more off the bench than him in Premier League history, with 29 of his 126 United goals having come as a substitute.

While he’s also the only player to be brought on and score four in the division, his impact in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final – completing a stoppage-time turnaround against Bayern Munich – is iconic.

“I don’t think anyone has been on the bench more than me!” he said during his opening press conference. “You never know, you might come on, make an impact. Grab the opportunity when you get it.”

With hopes that he’ll be in the less familiar role as a starter next season, he’s trying his best to do just that.

Road to the dugout

Solskjaer maximised his time watching from the sidelines, asking questions of Ferguson as the Scot shaped games through tactical switches and substitutions, and had his mind on coaching well before he hung up his boots.

“From 2000 onwards, I started to make notes of the [training] sessions that we did. I’ve got all the diaries here with me at Molde,” he told FourFourTwo back in 2016.

Spells with Manchester United reserves and Molde – featuring two league titles and a cup win – came before an ill-fated move to Cardiff City gave him a harsh introduction to the English Premier League. Having returned to Molde to mature further, he has returned with confidence.

“I’ve about 3-400 games as a first team manager now," he said. "I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made a few mistakes, but if you don’t make mistakes you’re not going to learn.”

Instant Old Trafford impact

While there are only seven squad members who featured under Ferguson, one thing Solskjaer has done is create a sense of familiarity that embraces the retired master’s reign. Principle among that is the return of veteran coach Mike Phelan.

"Micky Phelan may be the best signing that Manchester United have made," former United defender Paul Parker told talkSPORT. “Someone like him, who worked with Sir Alex and knows about the club as well, it is as important off the pitch as it is on it.”

With Michael Carrick, another Fergie disciple, remaining in place on the coaching staff, Solskjaer has looked “to come back to the way we used to play, the way Man United are supposed to play. That’s exciting football, and I think we are looking a little bit like we want to see them.”

Reigniting their stars

With 16 goals in his five victories so far, the Norwegian tactician’s approach has got his attacking lights shining brightly. “Pace and power. Man United, that’s what we are!”

While Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford, the former having sparkled at the FIFA World Cup™, have increased their impact in front of goal, the difference in Pogba has been marked. Four goals and three assists have seen the Frenchman recapture his best form. It had been six years since the last player scored back-to-back braces for them.

“Ole has helped him 100 per cent,” Jesse Lingard explained. “He has given him the confidence and licence to be free, to play his game and do what we know he can.”