Solskjaer comes gunning for Sligo Rovers
Rovers must break Molde to book place in next round of Champions League
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Molde’s training session at The Showgrounds, Sligo Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
He looks a little less youthful and yet no more lethal than he did in his “baby-faced assassin,” days. Still, Sligo Rovers will know to be wary of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his men tonight for the 40 year-old has made quite the transition from Manchester United striker to Molde manager.
Having won back to back titles at home, the Norwegian is hoping for a Champions League breakthrough this season with Sligo Rovers the first hurdle to be overcome. “We were beaten in the third qualifying round by Basel last year and we’d love to go one further and play in the play-offs of the Champions League,” he said after arriving at the Showgrounds last night, “but to get there we have to beat Sligo, that’s the ambition now. To do it, we need to start the game brightly; try to get the possession of the ball try to quieten the crowd down.”
He’s so soft spoken himself that you can barely hear him at times but the cheerful charm that used to characterise the interviews he gave during his playing days is readily apparent. He’s still on speaking terms with Roy Keane apparently, however, so the suspicion is that, like his team, he can look after himself.
“I still speak to Roy,” he says, the years spent in the north of England showing in his accent at times. “We speak about football and if he decided to go back into management and I was a chairman he’s the first I would call; I’m probably his biggest admirer.”
The Corkman is not, however, the one he admires most as becomes entirely evident when he starts to speak about Alex Ferguson. “In the early years of my career I was only concerned about playing,” he says, “but from the age of 28 or 29 I started writing diaries, noting what the manager said at half- time . . .
“I got to know him better when I got to work with him as part of his staff (he was reserve team manager for three years) and I never hide the fact that I do look back and say: ‘What would he do now?’ I think that’s only natural.”
His continuing loyalty to the club where he spent a total of 15 years is clear too when, asked about Ferguson’s departure, he says: “Now we’ve got a new manager, we’ve got to support him.”
Molde is the team he left to join United, as it happens, and the two league titles he has guided them to in the past two seasons are the only ones they have won in just over a century. They started this campaign far less brightly with just one point from their first six games but they have been building momentum of late and are unbeaten since May in all competitions.
He and Ian Baraclough have, as it happens, met before, back in 2008 when the pair were both on the same coaching course at Lilleshall and, to judge by their comments about each other, seem to have hit it off. They met as equals though, observes the Englishman with a smile – “we were all there for the same reason” – but he is respectful of Solskjaer’s achievements since and must know that he effectively needs to outperform his opposite if Rovers are to progress next week.
That would mean a guaranteed €350,000 from Uefa on top of the €375,000 they are already sure of receiving for their initial participation in the competition. Clearly, however, it will no be an easy thing to achieve.
Baraclough’s task is complicated indeed by the various injuries that so many of his players have been carrying with the likes of Danny Ventre, Danny North and Rafaelle Cretaro all ruled last out of Sunday’s draw with St Patrick’s Athletic.
All took some part in training yesterday but the manager is coy about their chances of starting. Kieran Djilali may well come in, but Baraclough is bound to stick with much the same line-up, although Séamus Conneely is set to replace Alan Keane at right back.
Inevitably, getting things right at the back will be of critical importance. Rovers have generally been very good in the department, although the six goals they have conceded in their last four league games are bound to have encouraged Solskjaer. “We’ve kept clean sheets for fun this season,” says the Englishman – the only one, incidentally, to manage a team in any stage of the Champions League this season – before conceding “they’re not the sort of team that we would expect to face normally so we’ll have to be ready . . . but we will be.”