Graham Ruthven: Solskjaer must learn from where it went wrong at Cardiff

Now that he’s been announced as interim Manchester United boss, Graham Ruthven looks at why it didn’t work out for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Cardiff…

Sometimes football has a way with narrative. As a player, as football’s greatest ever super sub, there was plenty to remember Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by, but in terms of his managerial career the Norwegian has been defined by what happened to him at Cardiff City.

And so there was only one place that Solskjaer could start his interim Manchester United spell.

Indeed, the Old Trafford outfit will make the trip to South Wales this weekend for their first match of the post-Jose Mourinho era. Even as an interim appointment until the end of the season, Solskjaer has more than a few points to prove.

For instance, many believe, with solid justification, that he has only been given the United job through his status as a player, not as a manager.

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This weekend, he can serve a rebuttal to the Cardiff City fans too. Solskjaer’s time there was less than impressive.

He led the Bluebirds to just three wins from 18 Premier League games, taking the club down to the Championship without much of a fight.

Over 25 total games (in all competitions), Cardiff conceded 51 goals – over two goals a game.

Solskjaer only lasted nine months as Cardiff manager.

Since then, Solskjaer has somewhat rehabilitated his managerial image by returning to Molde, establishing the Norwegian side as a force again. But, failure at Cardiff City stunted a career that looked set to take Solskjaer to the top.

Bigger and better things were expected of him as a manager.

Of course, some qualification is required for Solskjaer’s numbers at Cardiff City. They were hardly a stable club at the point he found himself there.

He was manager at the height of the turbulence around Vincent Tan, when the Malaysian businessman wanted to change the club’s colours from blue to red.

Just a few months before Solskjaer’s appointment, a 23-year-old friend of Tan’s son who’d been on work experience at Cardiff City, was hired as head of recruitment.

It’s true that Solskjaer struggled there, but he was chewed up and spat out by a club that few would have succeeded at.

Solskjaer’s time at Cardiff City was not a true reflection of his ability as a coach and a manager.

This is one of the many reasons the Man Utd job, even on an interim basis, will have appealed so much to the Norwegian.

This is a second chance. A fresh start and an opportunity to prove wrong those who believe him to be washed up.

Solskjaer will lift the mood around Old Trafford. As a character, he is a hub of positive energy. He will build up his players rather than break them down.

The United dressing room will notice a big difference. On the personality spectrum, Solskjaer sits on the opposite side of that to Mourinho.

What’s more, Solskjaer as a coach favours attack over defence.

There’s a clip that has bounced around social media since the Norwegian’s appointment at United which shows him berating his Molde players on the training ground for being too intricate in their approach play.

“Any f****** chance, anyone want to shoot?” he exclaims. “You’re 18-yards away from goal and you keep f****** passing it. Shoot! You won’t ever score a goal if you don’t shoot. Finish!”

That sort of advice will be music to ears of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and all the others who were suffocated by Mourinho’s toxic conservatism.

Solskjaer’s defensive record leaves much to be desired – in 183 games, Molde have conceded 222 times under his charge – so don’t expect Man Utd to become more solid between now and the end of the season, but nobody at Old Trafford craves defensive resolution.

The chants of ‘attack, attack, attack’ reflect what is really desired.

Nobody can argue that Solskjaer deserves the Man Utd job on managerial merit alone, but that’s because a true measure of his managerial merit, at least at Premier League level, is still to be taken.

On both the red and blue side, there will be plenty at the Cardiff City Stadium this weekend who remember Solskjaer, but for very different reasons.

What memory will he leave between now and the end of the season?

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