Ole Gunnar Solsjaer’s place in our history books was cemented when scored against Bayern Munich during injury time in the European Cup final to win us the trophy, however our love for him runs much deeper than that.
The guy is a class act, one of the few United players who is respected by all (apart from Arsenal fans). He is a model professional who has dedicated much of his footballing career to our club.
In the 2001-2002 season, Solskjaer finished the 6th highest scorer in the league, finding the back of the net 17 times in 30 league games.
In the following season, when United were crowned Champions, Solskjaer played for us more than any other player, missing just one league game. He’d really started to establish himself in our team, filling in for an out of favour David Beckham.
However, disaster struck in the next season when Solskjaer’s injury troubles really begun to take effect. He featured in just 13 league games with an injury in September ruling him out until February.
He missed all of the 2004-2005 season, then made a half an hour appearance on the final day of the 2005-2006 season after a couple of games around Christmas.
Solskjaer’s future with the club had all but been written off, with even the player coming close to admitting defeat at times. However, he cited the fans support as the reason he never gave up.
Aged 33-years-old, Solskjaer was ready to make his come back, but critics doubted he’d have much effect on our season. Everyone was surprised, except probably Ole himself, when he ended the season with 11 goals and a Premier League winners medal.
So what could Solskjaer possibly have done now to boost my already incredibly high opinion of him?
Solskjaer, who is now manager of our Reserve team, has his testimonial this month, with tickets now on general sale.
With the funds raised from the tickets and merchandise sold that day, Solskjaer won’t be lining his back pocket, rather investing in building schools in Africa.
“I went to Angola a few months ago and you could see clearly how much things were needed down there,” Solskjaer said. “The aim through my testimonial is to try and build 10 schools. If I can generate more money through a scheme we have set up in Norway, maybe we can generate enough to build five more. As a father, I recognise how helpless these kids are. If it was my children, I would do absolutely anything for them, so it is more important for me to be remembered for helping these people than anything I have done with football.”
Solskjaer spent the morning in the ticket office on the day the testimonial match went on sale, showing there is no limits to the lengths Ole will go to for this club and fans.
Now, he is turning his eye to further challenges, making his goal to change the lives who are less fortunate than him. Focussing on projects in Angola, Uganda and Mozambique, each scheme will cost between £30,000 and £150,000, although the probability of him selling out his testimonial is high, with plenty of fans making the journey from Norway.
“It is about building something concrete,” he said. “It is about changing lives, helping kids get out of the poverty they are in and helping them to become doctors or teachers and able to improve their own communities. A lot of people worry about money from testimonials. I am certainly not complaining about what I made as a footballer. I just felt doing this was right.”
Solskjaer reflected on his relationship with the fans, rightly acknowledging that our feelings for him were only enhanced by ‘that goal’, rather than being created because of it.
“My relationship with the fans has been absolutely fantastic since the first game I came on and no-one knew who I was,” he said. “The affection cannot only be down to that one goal. There has to be something they liked about me.”
Solskjaer missed the journey to Moscow this summer due to the birth of his third child, but of course was watching and was made up with the result. “I rang Edwin and told him I was offering an invite to move next to me,” he laughed. “I am happy for him but he is not the kind of person to let it affect him. Most of all, I am happy for the club. We need to get away from the situation of winning the competition every 40 years. Nine was long enough this time. We have to do it more and more.”
With the term ‘legend’ batted around too frequently these days, Solskjaer is one of the few players who really deserves the title.