It is often said that there is no place like home. And perhaps this is truer nowhere more so than in management, where patience and the support of a partisan crowd are often crucial for a rookie boss. This is something to which Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can easily attest.
Last January the former Manchester United striker left the Red Devils, ending a 14-year association to take up the job of head coach with Norwegian Tippeligaen outfit Molde. Widely known as “the city of roses” due to its thriving and lush rose gardens, Molde is where Solskjaer began his initial trek towards stardom, representing the club for the first two seasons of his professional career. 31 goals in 42 games secured a dream transfer to Old Trafford as Manchester United paid £1.5M for the, at the time, almost unknown striker on 29th July, 1996. 15 years later, Solskjaer has gone back to his roots.
Solskjaer’s introduction to the dugout was far from easy, with Molde heavily beaten (3-0) by newly promoted Sarpsborg 08. Little by little however, the new coach has been able to put his side back on the right track, instilling his philosophy – an attacking attitude mixed with consistency and a winning mentality.
A lack of cautiousness had cost Molde the title in 2009 despite the team playing the best football in the Tippeligaen and in 2010 the club’s results were too up and down to avoid a disappointing mid-table finish. The troubled season was summed up by a 3-3 draw grabbed by Lillestrom at the Arke Stadium after Molde had amazingly led 3-0 heading into injury time.
One of Solskjaer’s main aims at Molde has been to help the club rediscover the superb football last played two years ago – but this time without falling away at the business end of the season. It is a mission that is half-accomplished, with MFK currently leading the league after 15 games, three points ahead of Tromso and Alesund at the time of writing, albeit having played two matches more than the first. A 2-0 win over Sogndal on 19th June put Molde top of the Tippeligaen pile on the same day as the club’s 100-year anniversary was celebrated. And momentum has not been lost. In their last two outings, Solskjaer’s men proved once again that they must be considered as serious title contenders by beating domestic giants Valarenga in Oslo, before following up that performance by crushing Alesund 5-2 at the Arke Stadium – with four goals from Senegalese striker Pape Pate Diouf.
Deployed as a left winger in a 4-3-3 system, Diouf is one of Molde’s key players. Two years ago he formed a perfect partnership with countryman Mame Biram Diouf, who was later sold to Manchester United following several scouting excursions from Solskjaer back to his homeland; at the time the Norwegian had been serving as United’s reserve team boss. Pape Pate Diouf could not follow up his blistering 2009 however, with a number of physical problems interrupting his progress in 2010. The Senegal man hit the ground running this year though, rediscovering his touch in front of goal, scoring 12 goals in 14 games.
Molde can also be grateful for keeping hold of another Senegalese – Makhtar Thioune – as an outstanding 2009 campaign was not enough to seal a departure from Norway’s top flight. Like Diouf, Thioune struggled to repeat his heroics in 2010, but Solskjaer’s arrival has reinvigorated the 24-year-old. The midfielder is now crucial to MFK’s play, ruling the centre of the park along with veteran Magne Hoseth (Molde’s top scorer four times and the club’s top provider in 2010).
In recent years Molde have striven to build a tradition of developing good strikers. After Mame Biram Diouf, last year the club took in another Senegalese, Baye Djiby Fall, on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow and the 26-year-old duly finished as Tippeligaen top scorer. To fill the hole left in the middle of the attack by Fall’s departure, Solskjaer raided relegated outfit Honefoss and captured Ivorian Davy Claude Angan. The striker had arrived in Norway in 2008, joining Lyn (the former club of Molde team-mate Daniel Chima Chukwu; a 20-year-old forward with breathtaking vision and a big future in the game). Angan has made an impact at the Arke Stadium, finding the back of the net seven times in the current season.
Solskjaer attracted some scepticism within Norway when he announced he had returned home to collect silverware with Molde. “I signed a four-year contract with an ambitious club”, declared the former Champions League final-winning goalscorer. “I am satisfied because we have a good team with loads of potential and I am confident that we can win the league in my time at the club.” If Solskjaer makes good on his promise it will be a first ever national title for Molde, who have won two Norwegian Cups and finished as top flight runners-up seven times.
While Sir Alex Ferguson was Solskjaer’s mentor as he took his first steps into coaching (“Twenty seconds after I told Ferguson I couldn’t play anymore”, said the Norwegian, “he offered me a new job, asking if I would join his coaching staff”), the former Norway national team boss Egil “Drillo” Olsen also played an important role in the striker’s development. “Olsen is fantastic at motivating players and making them believe they can do it”, remembered Solskjaer, who was in “Drillo’s” Norway side that defeated Brazil at the 1998 World Cup.
“If a player has the right attitude, he can learn a lot from Olsen’s way of coaching and managing – and that’s what Solskjaer did. He has a good football brain and he’s down to earth”, commented Stale Solbakken, another former Norway international who played under “Drillo”. Last season Solbakken led Danish giants FC Copenhagen to an impressive march to the Superligaen title, setting four records along the way, and to the Round of 16 in the Champions League; another good example for Solskjaer to follow. It seems that, regardless of whether Molde can maintain their momentum, the former Manchester United man is looking every inch a diamond in the rough in the dugout.
Fonte: Inside Futbol