Pundit Arena spoke with Norwegian football writer Thore Haugstad to get an insight into how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as Manchester United manager has been viewed back in his home country of Norway.
Pundit Arena: Thore, firstly great to speak with you, what has been the Norwegian general public’s reaction to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as Manchester United manager?
Thore Haugstad: The reaction in Norway has been obviously very surprising because nobody really saw it coming here either. Let’s be honest, he hasn’t really got the qualifications for the job but he does have the history and the identity and the relationship with Manchester United.
It’s a reaction of shock and surprise and also of course happiness and delight because Solskjaer is one of our legends as well. He’s been a great player for the national team probably one of the most successful Norwegian club players abroad.
No one in Norwegian football has been at the centre of such a big moment as he was in the Champions League final in 1999 so he’s a legend for us as well as being very sympathetic and authentic. We have the same image of him as United fans have so we’re really happy for him and excited that a guy from such a small footballing country has gotten such a big job.
PA: You briefly touched on it there but can you expand a little bit on how Solskjaer is viewed in general by the Norwegian public?
TG: He’s a blue-eyed innocent guy but also a very nice guy. Most people don’t really have a bad thing to say about him. There have been some stories about some shady business with his agent, I think all three of his signings at Cardiff were players that share the same agent as he does but I wouldn’t say most people are aware of that.
Most people see him as a great, authentic and honest guy that’s why a lot of people are wishing he pulls it off really.
PA: We have heard a couple of instances of Solskjaer’s appointment being seen as a huge achievement for the country of Norway as a whole, is that something you agree with?
TG: I wouldn’t say it’s really an achievement for Norway in itself. He’s been rewarded a job. If he actually achieves results that are good enough to keep him in the job for a long time then maybe we might be discussing that then.
I think it’s an appointment based on sentimentality and a desperate situation and so I think we need to take that into account before we call it a great achievement in itself. It’s a great moment.
PA: Ok, taking achievement out of it, has the news still caused major waves in Norway? Is the Premier League something that is largely followed in the country?
TG: We don’t have a lot of other stuff to cling onto in Norwegian football. There are fewer and fewer players in the Premier League.
There were lots in the 90s so we had lots of heroes to watch and follow but now we hardly have any at all. So now those who do go to England certainly do create a lot of interest because the popularity in the Premier League is huge in Norway probably more so than the domestic league so the interest is there we just need some heroes.
We’ve had four managers in the past in Premier League which is not a lot at all considering how close we are to England and how closely we follow the league so to have any Norwegian involved as a player or as a manager is huge. On top of that to have one of the biggest legends in Norwegian football to have the top, top job in the country, it’s a pretty big deal.
PA: And just finally Thore, how do you feel Solskjaer will do during his tenure as Manchester United manager?
TG: I think there’s a reasonable chance that he will lift the team based on the fact that he’s something else other than Mourinho. The negativity is so widespread and there’s such a dark cloud above the club that I think any half decent coach can come in now and reverse the trend automatically.
I think the conditions are very good for him at the moment, the expectations are fairly low, the team is underachieving badly so just reversing all the negativity and the problems that Mourinho has created should help him.
There’s a reasonable chance he’ll do well up until the summer. He did relatively well in Norway but didn’t do well too well in Cardiff.
It will be a big surprise if he suddenly steers United through several years of success, obviously, he’ll have to show something that he hasn’t shown at all outside of Norway to date. I think that’s a bit long shot. But there’s a tiny chance.