Molde coping well in early days without Solskjaer
Background photo: Franz Clemens, CC BY-SA 3.0
The second pair of Champions League quarterfinals began last night. Three Premier League clubs played. Tottenham stunned a lacklustre Manchester City on a Son Heung-min goal to seize the advantage in an all-England tie despite losing Harry Kane to another ankle injury. Liverpool cruised against Porto, taking a 2-0 league into the second leg. Tonight, Manchester United face the La Liga side that defeated them handily in the 2009 and 11 finals by 2-0 and 3-1 scores respectively. While the larger world focusses on that match or Ajax v Juventus, Molde FK’s players will be hitting the showers after 90 minutes spent battling Valerenga at the Aker Stadium.
In those two finals with Barca, Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to throw on late to turn results on their head as the Norwegian did in 1999 against Bayern Munich. Twenty years later, Solskjaer takes another step in Fergie’s shoes and so does his former club. Molde is discovering what life is like without Ole at the wheel. In contrast to Sir Alex taking on Pep Guardiola, Xavi and Lionel Messi, the ride is quite pleasurable.
Over 12 years under Ferguson, Solskjaer wasn’t a regular starter. He accepted a secondary role without rancour but revealed his powers whenever the opportunity arose. Not only did he score the winner in stoppage time against Bayern, in February of the same year he came on against Nottingham Forest to score four goals in ten minutes. He went about his business quietly and professionally, contributing to a greater cause but also finding moments to show off. Typically Norwegian when you consider the Nobel Prizes.
When he took over for Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford, it was the same story all over again. People remembered he hadn’t done well at Cardiff while dismissing his achievements at Molde. Expectations were he would hold the fort until summer and Mauricio Pochettino arrived, then return to Scandinavia. Instead, he answered the call, stepping in again to turn United’s fortunes around just when everyone was convinced all was lost. As a result, there’s no going back now. United had no choice other than to make him the permanent manager.
Meanwhile, no one’s given much thought to the club he left behind. Those left out in the cold when opportunity’s open door closes behind you deserve to be remembered. They must get on with life or freeze to death, showing pragmatism while dreaming anew.
The 2019 Eliteserien began as March ended. In the opening two rounds, Molde stumbled out of the gate but quickly found their footing. A difficult one-goal draw away to Sarpsborg brought Solskjaer to mind. Might he have engineered a win? A week later, the past was put in its place with a three-nil romp over Stabaek.
Fittingly, the man at the helm for the four-point start is the coach named as caretaker boss when Solskjaer took the same role at Old Trafford. Now both are permanent. Nor is anyone making jokes that Erling Moe should hire assistants named Larry and Curly to match Solskjaer’s tandem, redheaded Michael Carrick and bald-pated Mike Phelan. Nyuk, nyuk, why I oughtta.
In a bit of slapstick, the three-year contract extension Molde claimed Solskjaer signed shortly before Ed Woodward had an assistant google the country code for Norway mysteriously disappeared when United sent somewhere between £6-8 million north as a “goodwill gesture.” News in English.no's Nina Berglund reports United’s generosity doubles the largest transfer fee paid by Molde for a player in its history.
When asked, Ole Gunnar expressed confusion but thought his contract with the Scandinavian side had “expired” while he was in Manchester. Days lengthen and shorten with the seasons in much more dramatic fashion closer to the Arctic Circle but three years is still much longer than three months even if you’re in prison.
Regardless, the Norwegian press sings Moe’s praises. A former number 10 for Traeff in the Norwegian second division, he’s in his second stint as Molde’s head man. He also preceded Solskjaer. Before his first tenure ended, he claimed famous victories over Fenerbahce and Celtic in the Europa League as well as a pair of draws against Ajax. OGS was the big-name hire at the Aker Stadium in the same manner that Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho were at Old Trafford. Like Solskjaer on Ferguson’s bench, Moe took his demotion in stride but is taking full advantage of another opportunity to shine. Aftenposten reporter Ola Bernhus summed it up well while further illustrating the parallel between the two gaffers.
Erling Moe is not necessarily a worse coach than Solskjær. Strong professional, persuasive, proper and accurate, confident in himself. He is Molde, more than Solskjær from Kristiansund is.
Each is now where he belongs.