Solskjær has the ‘hairdryer’ ready to give flat United squad a lift
Manchester United’s caretaker manager admits he would like the job permanently
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “It’s not down to me now to talk about the last five years. It’s down to me to talk about the next five months and to work the next five months towards getting us happy, getting us smiling, getting us winning games.” Photograph: Tom Purslow/Man Utd via Getty Images
Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed interim manager to lift the mood at Manchester United post-José Mourinho, and his opening media performance delivered, even when he insisted there was a “hairdryer” ready for the players. The Norwegian does not come across as someone inclined to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous blasts of temper, but he said he would not be afraid to repeat the off-field tactics of a man he still refers to as the manager and the boss.
“Maybe I should get the hairdryer out of my pocket because I’ve got a hairdryer,” he said. “When my hair needs lifting I use it on myself but I am also not afraid of, if you like, laying down the law.
“You know with your kids when they disappoint you, you tell them off, you don’t give them some chocolate, do you? So you treat players similar to how you treat your kids, really, because you want the best for them, you want to guide them, you want to help them, but if I get disappointed?”
Solskjær considers Ferguson – who signed Solskjær in 1996 and made him United’s reserve team coach when he retired 11 years later – his mentor. Solskjær held the post until 2011. Seven years on, looking slightly bedazzled in the Jimmy Murphy Centre at United’s training ground, Solskjær peppered thoughts on his six-month reign – in theory he will move aside for a permanent manager in the summer – with references to Ferguson.
The line about the Scot’s legendary manner when dressing down players was cutely delivered, and more crowd-pleasing came in Solskjær’s plans to tap into Ferguson’s knowledge. He said: “I don’t know what input he had [in my appointment] but when I got the call, of course I texted the boss and I have been in touch with him. I am going to enjoy a nice cup of tea back at his house to sit down and enjoy and discuss a few ideas.”
United got rid of Mourinho partly because of how he disaffected virtually all of his squad, but Solskjær moved to shut down any suggestion the club’s players now hold the power once wielded solely by Ferguson. “I’m not sure about you saying the power has gone to the dressing room,” he said. “The power is with the manager. He picks the team, the tactics, the strategy. The philosophy is in these walls. That legacy is more important than any player power.”
On the day Mourinho was sacked, Pogba posted a smirking Instagram image of himself with the legend: “Caption this.” It was later taken down, but such a situation would have been unthinkable under Ferguson.
Solskjær was asked whether he had discussed it with Pogba. “We’ve spoken about what we expect, what standards we have on and off the pitch,” he said. “I trust the lads to know what they’re doing, to help the team. Everything we do is to help the team.”
You have so many quality players that I want to get the best out of
Solskjær stated earlier this season that he would build United around Pogba, who was dropped for the last three games by Mourinho. Not wishing to play favourites, Solskjær gave a measured response to a question on that, now he is actually in charge.
“He’s a World Cup winner. Paul is a terrific lad and when I had him as a kid he was always there, the happy-go-lucky lad. He hasn’t changed personality-wise. He’s a better player, of course, and he’s one that I want to get the best out of. You have so many quality players that I want to get the best out of. He’s no different to anyone else in that respect.”
On his announcement, Solskjær said he wanted the players to enjoy their football “again”. If this hinted at an awareness of Mourinho having soured his charges, it caused Solskjær’s stickiest moment as he tried to claim the “again” was down to his grasp of English – which is close to flawless.
“I don’t know if they haven’t been enjoying it because I haven’t asked them,” he said. “‘Again’ – that’s just maybe my English. My job is to make them enjoy football and play their best football because when you are a kid you love playing football.”
He admitted he would like the job permanently at the end of the season. “There are so many managers who would love to be manager of Manchester United. I’m one of them but it’s not something we’ve talked about,” he said. By the close Mourinho’s shadow had faded to the sunshine of Solskjær. The closest he came to suggesting his predecessor failed to play the United way was in the neat “philosophy in these walls” comment.
Challenged on whether he thought the ethos had been lost in the post-Ferguson era he was, again, smooth. He said: “Well, Sir Alex – and even going all the way back to Sir Matt [Busby] – installed that way of playing fantastic football. They’ve had three fantastic managers since. I have to say I’ve got huge respect for all three of them. They’ve managed the club their way. On their own merits, you can’t criticise Mourinho, David Moyes, [Louis] van Gaal.
“It’s not down to me now to talk about the last five years. It’s down to me to talk about the next five months and to work the next five months towards getting us happy, getting us smiling, getting us winning games. Because we’re too far down the league.
“We’re not used to being sixth. We are used to challenging for the league. Of course, that’s maybe a step too far now, too many points, but that’s where we have to aim and to look forward.”
Solskjær’s quest starts at 5.30pm on Saturday against Cardiff, the club he took down to the Championship in May 2014. He will hope his second tilt at Premier League management goes far better.