A long list of legendary footballers have stepped out onto the turf of Old Trafford, but few ever defined the fighting spirit of the club as dramatically as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Joining the club in 1996 for just £1.5 million, Solskjaer went on to score a total of 126 goals in 366 appearances, but those statistics simply don’t tell the full story of what an impactful and important player he was for Manchester United.
After success with Clausenengen and Molde in his native Norway, Solskjaer arrived in England as a veritable unknown. At the time, United were in need of a new striker and had their eye on Three Lions and Blackburn legend Alan Shearer, who ended up joining Newcastle for a world-record fee of £15 million. 10% of that fee was all it took to bring in Solskjaer, who would go down in history as one of the best bargain buys in the history of the league.
Little was expected of the young Norwegian, with fans and the media doubting he’d play much of a role in his first season. It didn’t take too long for Solskjaer to change their minds. He only needed six minutes on the pitch to score his first goal after coming on as a sub against Blackburn Rovers. And as the season progressed, the goals kept coming. By the end of his first year as a Red Devil, Solskjaer had netted 18 times in the league, adapting to English football with startling ease.
One of Solskjaer’s strongest attributes was his determination. While some players start to wave a white flag and rest their muscles towards the end of a game, the diminutive Norwegian could always be relied upon to give his all. He was desperate to score and help his team win every single time he trotted out on the turf, and he demonstrated that passion time and time again, even developing a reputation as one of the best ever ‘super subs’.
The former Molde man started plenty of games on the bench, but could always be relied upon to make an impact, and opposition fans and players started to sweat when they saw Solskjaer warming up on the touchline, knowing that he only needed one good chance to turn a game on its head. One of his greatest ever accomplishments as a substitute came in a league game against Nottingham Forest. Solskjaer stepped onto the pitch for the last 20 minutes and managed to score four times in a stellar 12-minute spell.
An even more memorable accomplishment, and unquestionably Solskjaer’s greatest moment in a United shirt, came later that season in the 1999 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. The Germans had led 1-0 from the sixth minute of the game all the way through into injury time. Teddy Sheringham managed to pull one back, and then, having only come on 15 minutes earlier, the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ netted the winner, cementing his status as a United legend.
His strong form continued in the seasons that followed and he racked up the trophies, but injuries kept him out of action for a long time. Nevertheless, he remained loyal to the club and came back in the 2006-07 season, performing admirably once more and even scoring in his final Premier League match against Blackburn, perfectly bookending a brilliant career. A fantastic finisher who made 150 of his 366 appearances for the Red Devils from the bench, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a simply magical player who left an unparalleled legacy at Old Trafford and in the hearts of countless United fans.