HomeSportsOle Gunnar Solskjaer: Cristiano Ronaldo, Glazers and Manchester United sacking

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Cristiano Ronaldo, Glazers and Manchester United sacking

“I’m on a ferry now,” says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, talking on the phone in his first in-depth media interview since being sacked as Manchester United manager in 2021. “We’re going to Surnadal for our under-16s’ second team. I’ve driven from my home in Kristiansund. The team minibus is next to me with 14 boys aged 15 enjoying themselves.

“This is how I remember growing up as a footballer. It’s lovely being with my youngest son Elijah, just as it was when I coached our eldest son Noah after I was sacked at Cardiff — and our daughter Karna just before I joined Man United.

“To be able to turn offers down that I didn’t feel 100 per cent about to spend time with my family is a privilege. When you manage Manchester United, you sacrifice all of that.”

It is almost two years since Solskjaer was sacked, the club legend dismissed six months after taking the team to the Europa League final, where they were beaten by Villarreal on penalties.

He has not spoken fully about his experiences at Old Trafford. I have regularly asked him to talk, but the time has never been right. A text on Monday morning confirmed he was now ready to speak — and no topics were off the table.

During a one-hour conversation, it becomes clear he is ready to return to professional football. On Wednesday, he begins a new role as a UEFA technical observer but he is thinking about management again.

In this wide-ranging interview, he discusses:
– How signing Ronaldo “felt right but turned out wrong”
– Telling players at half-time of his final match that he expected to lose his job
– Views that some of his players “weren’t as good as their perception of themselves”
– How some players turned down the chance to be captain
– Filming players singing “Ole’s at the wheel” after famous PSG win
– Why he wanted to film farewell video
– Missing out on Harry Kane, Erling Haaland and other stars
– His view of the Glazers

“I’m doing a lot of coaching, four times per week, and we have three teams,” he says en route to the junior game 300 miles northwest of Oslo. “I’m helping the kids, who enjoy it. You see a different side to football, the grassroots – except it’s all plastic pitches here. You see the brightness in their eyes, they listen to you, they want to learn.

“But you start to miss it (professional football) when you see the games, either in person or on television. Since I left United, I’ve travelled around as a fan with my kids, going to places like Napoli, Milan and Dortmund to experience games. We loved it.

“My role with UEFA means watching Champions League matches in person. I can watch teams from a different perspective than being a manager: analyse them, solve problems, see how both teams will try to hurt each other.

“Then I’m going to the east coast of the United States in a few weeks to see Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, see a few games and see what’s what.”

Do you want to manage again? Yes, and I’ve had offers. Most recently, two from Saudi Arabia. My best mate, who is also my agent, sifts through them. If you’ve managed Man United, you put your own criteria about what you want to work with.

I love England and the Premier League. Even the Championship feels stronger than ever, but I don’t feel bound to England. Maybe a different challenge where I need to experience a new culture and learn a new language.

The DNA and identity of the club are important, a club where I can be the best me. It has to be a match. Maybe I made the wrong decision to go to Cardiff, for example, where there was a clash of identities and styles.

What I miss most is working with good people, coming in every day, discussing football and putting a plan together for the next game. It’s not just about formations, but creating a culture where the staff enjoy their job and building a team together.

Nearly two years after leaving, how do feel about your time managing United now?

Well, there’s something missing: a trophy. One penalty could have changed that (in the shootout defeat to Villarreal in the Europa League final) and my time there would be viewed differently.

Trophies are important, but it was also important to lay the foundation of good performances. We managed to do that for a long time, consistently. Ultimately, that’s not good enough, but the remit I was given was to get fans smiling again and we had something going. We were top of the league in September 2021, Cristiano Ronaldo came in, and Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho joined.


And we’d gone strong by signing these players. It was about taking the next step to challenge for the title. And, unfortunately, it just didn’t work out.

There’s a perception among fans and some media that Ronaldo ruined your team, that he was a vanity buy by Ed Woodward. What’s the truth about his arrival and how you found him to work with?

It was a decision that was very difficult to turn down and I felt we had to take it, but it turned out wrong. It felt so right when he signed and the fans felt that at that Newcastle game, when Old Trafford was rocking (after Ronaldo scored twice in a 4-1 win). He was still one of the best goalscorers in the world, he was looking strong.

When I looked at the fixtures it was going to be a deciding period: Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham, and Leicester away. Then Chelsea and Arsenal, plus Champions League games. Things went against us. It started with Aston Villa at home (a 1-0 defeat) and a late penalty miss.

When you have a group you need everyone to pull in the same direction. When things didn’t go right, you could see certain players and egos came out. We beat Tottenham convincingly 3-0 away, but then we lost two games…

You lost five league games from seven that autumn. Did you feel you were going to lose your job?

Nobody told me, but I knew at half-time against Watford (a 4-1 defeat in November 2021). We didn’t look like a Man United team; the players weren’t running for each other. At half-time, I told the players it was probably going to be the last time we worked together and to play with pride. We almost turned it around, until Harry Maguire got sent off.

And then?

I got a text message the next morning from Ed Woodward saying he needed to see me in his office at Carrington. That was pretty hard when you’ve been at the club for 18 years with all those good and bad times.

I’d had lots of backing and good times with Ed. He’d given me the chance and for that, I’ll always be grateful. I dropped my family at the airport before the text arrived. After the text, I told my wife that I might be back in Norway before her.

It was an emotional day. Very emotional. I didn’t think it would be, but it was like leaving your family. I wanted to speak to all the players and say goodbye. I spoke to the coaches and the staff. Then I went back to an empty house.

You did a farewell video. Was that your idea?

I didn’t want not to say goodbye to fans who’d treated me so well, fans who felt like family. Doing the video felt like the right thing to do.

Were you angry? Did you feel let down by your players?

Not angry. Not bitter. Disappointed. I’d not managed to do my dream job as I’d hoped. I’d gone in to do a job for six months and enjoy it. I certainly did, especially that win at Paris Saint-Germain (a stunning 3-1 away win in the Champions League last 16 in March 2019 to reach the quarter-finals).

And there were some great moments when I got the job permanently. The wins at City away, beating City at home with Scott McTominay scoring with the last kick before the lockdown. I’ve never…