Connect in the back of the net

There was something extremely fitting of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first victory as boss of Cardiff City, achieved via two substitute goals as his new side came back from a goal down away at Newcastle in the FA Cup.

The Norwegian, who forged his reputation in England with Manchester United, scored 29 of his 126 goals for the club after emerging from the bench and it is apparent that his instinctive nature for reading from the sidelines how a game pans out has transferred over to his managerial career.

It is a quality that made Cardiff so desperate and determined to acquire his services when Malky Mackay was sacked in December, as well as the 13 years experience from his time in England which included 2 years as a coach with United.

“He was always one of the professionals who used to take down all the notes from the training sessions and games”, said Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager who brought him to England for £1.5 million back in 1996 and it was no surprise, after his coaching badges were studied in 2008, United handed him control of their reserve squads.

Such was the job he did, winning four trophies in two years, including the Premier Reserve League of 2010, that Norway were not averse to offering him their national team job. Ever modest, Solskjaer declined the post, saying it was too early in his career.

Molde FK were benefactors of that decision as he returned to Norway to guide his old club to successive league titles in 2011 and 2012, and then a Norwegian Cup in 2013. Aston Villa flirted with his services but again Solskjaer’s humility and reasoning were evident as he turned them down to prioritise his family. Cardiff however has presented the right opportunity for the 40 year old to return to England.

Daniel Berg Hestad, his captain at Molde who sought Solskjaer’s advice on where to direct the next step of his 38 year old career, has spoke on the manager’s ability to keep spirits up in the squad. “There were a lot of mental issues [for the younger players]” said Hestad, “and Ole and the rest of the coaching staff were very keen to sort that out as soon as possible.”

Solskjaer’s immediate task at Cardiff will be to direct the club away from relegation trouble after a run of just 4 wins from their opening 20 games have left them separated from the bottom three by just a single point. The Bluebirds’ controversial owner Vincent Tan is hell-bent on keeping Cardiff in the Premier League and his sacking of the popular Mackay, a decision that was met with repeated protest from supporters, is indicative of his uncompromising tenure.

Perhaps, with the Malayan’s contentious decisions to change the club’s badge and the colour of the strip, as well as the bizarre sacking of Mackay’s close aide and head of recruitment Iain Moody, Tan’s public reputation for megalomania has preceded the sense behind Mackay’s sacking. It was the poor form, the poor football which has seen just 15 goals scored, all after Tan had sanctioned the club’s record transfer fee to be broken 3 times in a £25 million outlay over the summer, that earned Mackay his fate.

Tan, whatever the perception of him, had every right for instance, to be aggrieved at the £8 million signing of Andreas Cornelius which has yet to yield a single goal. Solskjaer, who has already added 23 year old Norwegian midfielder Magnus Eikrem to his squad, will be backed in January as he looks to fine tune his group of players with the clear aim of staying up.

“I have a solid foundation here but it’s a long season,” Solskjaer said upon inheriting Mackay’s squad, “The quality is there. We have got loads of quality to work with and then maybe some additions to blend in.”

It will be a spirited and resilient attempt at staying up with Solskjaer at the helm, Ferguson has spoken of the “inner toughness” in his former striker that bodes well both for the remainder of the season and for working with the potentially troublesome Tan.

The next step for the Norwegian coach, should relegation be avoided, will be to consolidate and to build a side for the future, such is his long-term philosophy; “my view on football, to develop players and to build a club” he has said, “We are working to have better players and that way the team will develop as well”.

It is again a further reflection on the Norwegian’s favour of strategy and careful planning, and an understanding of how each detail will affect the bigger picture, something he would have learned from his former manager Ferguson, the master of longevity and the art of constantly rebuilding teams through the evolution of the modern game.

At Molde, one of his immediate tasks was to set about changing the whole culture of the club, from introducing suits to conforming to a stricter fitness routine and diet. “In our little world, with different facilities and resources, you have to make it into a mini Manchester United” said Solskjaer, “how the gaffer runs it is a template for everyone. If it’s good enough for United, it’s definitely good enough for Molde.”

Starting on Saturday at home to West Ham, his next job is to make it good enough for Cardiff City.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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