In the summer of 1996, Manchester United desperately craved for a striker. A poacher who could seamlessly shoulder the team’s goalscoring burden with aplomb. It was like an eternity ago the Red Devils boasted any predatory threat in the final third.
George Best was the last representative from Manchester to return with a golden boot. Others couldn’t fit the colossal size. And although three of four Premier League titles landed there, the Red Devils achieved so unconvincingly, with a two-goal-per-game ratio.
Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, and Brian McClair offered guile, power, and work-rate, but their rates of return were not up there with the best in the country. The trio’s goals-per-game average over their time at Old Trafford coming out at 0.31 (Cantona was the best of the three with 0.45).
Uncharacteristically, Ferguson signed little-known Norwegian forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Although the youngster flaunted an intimidating return – a phenomenal 33 goals in 42 games, he was perceived as nothing more than just an eccentric lad. After all, Manchester City and Everton had turned him down.
Solskjaer was not the club’s first choice. The Molde man joined only after Alan Shearer opted to head to boyhood club, Newcastle United for a record £15m. The baby-faced assassin cost one-tenth, yet broke his country’s record. The rest, as they say, is history.
Solskjaer buried 126 goals in 366 appearances for United, but that doesn’t go nearly far enough in explaining his legacy. Of those 366 appearances, 150 substituted. And of those 126 goals, 33 came in the last 15 minutes, including the historic win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in 1999.
Solskjaer is on another rescue mission at Old Trafford. This time, however, as manager. The 45-year-old would oversee the club’s activities for the rest of the season following Jose Mourinho’s dismissal. As tantalizing as the six-month project may seem, it could ultimately ruin all he built in 11 years.
United is a sinking ship. A glut of the clubs faithful is in awe with his appointment. There are already talks of the ‘Alex Ferguson era’ returning with end-to-end attacking football. Reality is such a harsh teacher. Solskjaer lacks the expertise to take this ship and sail it in the right direction.
The Norwegian’s only Premier League experience came as manager of Cardiff City. The Bluebirds were relegated during the 2013-14 season with Solskjaer overseeing the final five months of the season. Solskjaer started the next campaign with the Bluebirds but was dismissed after an awful start in the Championship.
Solskjaer has promised a clean slate to his players. He could get the squad loving their football once more. But what if he doesn’t? What if he’s unable to heal the wounds from Mourinho’s painful spell. What if Paul Pogba’s deteriorates further? And what then if Romelu Lukaku continues to flounder his lines?
Time will tell. Now over to you Mr Solskjaer.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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