Ole - Dying Breed, Eternal Legend
Article by Joe Thompson (from last year)
If you were to ask who my United heroes are, I would respond, like a lot of us, with names from my childhood. It was as kids that footballers were heroes to us. Favourites of the past are often judged on their skills, passion and personalities but back in the day players like Sparky and Choccy, Big Norman and Captain Marvel, were true sticker book heroes. They were the guys whose spare stickers would find their way onto the headboard, school books, and whose posters were pinned up on the wall.
With age and maturity there's no diminishing love for football or United but these days players are followed at every angle on and off the pitch. How are they playing? Are they injured? How flexible are they? Some of the romance is left behind as the hard business of title chasing grows up with you. There are no longer posters on the wall and it is with this sense of lost romance that I dedicate this piece to one of the last poster heroes - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It seems like yesterday that United signed him. Fans had heard about his impending arrival, back when United's signings were gold and Fergie was on his way to legend status. But it was a low-key signing and there were a few United fans with raised eyebrows as this baby-faced kid walked through the doors of Old Trafford from Molde FK in 1996.
United had tried to buy Shearer but he was dearer and Ole took only six minutes to score on debut, finishing with 18 Premiership goals in his first season - a Championship year no less. He was an instant hit with the deadly accuracy of his finishing, his genuine delight in scoring and a stoic attitude towards playing second fiddle when he had do. The fact that Ole didn't mind coming off the bench to score endeared him to the fans even more.
He was an 'instant hit' in every sense. Not just scoring on his debut and impressing with his conduct on and off the pitch but really gelling with the fans on a level that few players achieve. It has become an almost spiritual bond usually reserved for the god-like figureheads of Charlton and Law, or Eric and Keano.
Likeable players with skill and a work-ethic go down well with everybody but the thing that makes Ole special is that he knows how lucky he is - to play for the best, on the biggest of stages and reap huge rewards. These are honours bestowed on few and this is not lost on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In an age of prima donna players, full of arrogance, petulance and greed, and often very little intelligence or generosity of spirit, Ole stands proud.
Sometimes, having paid their money, fans are treated to poor displays from over-paid players and it 'seems' to us like they are taking the piss. Like that bloke at work on twice the money, who does half the work - and knows it! Hard-working people hate piss-takers and football fans are no different in this regard.
As his career has waned at United, Ole cannot be left wanting - the medals that he has won have his mark all over them. 'That' goal in the European Cup final, breaking the hearts of Scousers in the FA Cup, and racking up league goals year after year. He has seen Cole, Yorke and Beckham all move on, yet Solskjaer endured. Now, after a lengthy injury, he's back and his goal against Charlton signalled misty eyes all round. And not just amongst United fans - there were unprecedented scenes as the football world took heart in this wonderful moment; one that summed up a wonderful footballer.
Ole may only have a limited role in the United's future, and he finds the team around him a very different to the one he limped away from three years ago, but every club needs a Solskjaer.
The sense of closure around his return was palpable, not least from the player himself. To witness the player come full circle in a United shirt after three seasons of injury horror brought a collective sigh of relief. Many, including Sir Alex himself, had questioned whether he would ever play again.
Ole himself added after the game that he had been "dreaming about this day and now it has finally arrived, I just feel relief. I waited a long, long time to celebrate with the fans after scoring a goal. The prospect of doing it was one of the major things that has motivated me over the past three years. Throughout all that time, the fans and the manager have supported me. They have shown patience and the gratitude I feel for that is difficult to put into words."
He just wanted to share that joy with the fans one more time. He'll get a goal at Old Trafford before long, probably coming off the bench. Its fate and something says Ole knows it too.
How many like him remain? Few, if any. And for a player who sums up the words loyalty and dedication he's not finished yet. While Ole will be involved on the pitch this season he will also work behind the scenes for many years to come. He's an articulate and representative ambassador too. His poster, small and unassuming on my pin board at work, will remain. Time will fade the poster but never the memories. Cheers Ole, from all of us.