Ole Gunnar Solskjaer exclusive: Manchester United caretaker manager shows calm character
Watch Man Utd vs Liverpool on Renault Super Sunday at 2.05pm on Sky Sports Premier League
By Patrick Davison
Last Updated: 24/02/19 2:40pm
Pat Davison's account of his interview with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer delves into the caretaker Manchester United boss' calm character.
You wondered if the smile might finally be about to fade. It was only just gone 9am and this was his sixth interview of the morning.
Having worked his way through a main press conference, a chat with the Sunday papers, Norwegian TV, Swedish TV and an interview with the Premier League's own reporter, it was time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to sit down with us.
I don't think I'm revealing much of a trade secret if I tell you his predecessor would have been at the end of his tether. Jose Mourinho gave us many great moments as an interviewee but he made it abundantly, increasingly and publicly clear that he didn't like them. Those moments waiting for the camera to start rolling were usually filled with awkward silences and puffing of the cheeks. I didn't quite expect that from Solskjaer but nor did I expect a man quite as fresh and seemingly happy to be there as he was.
"I don't mind these things at all," he said, before looking out the window at the sun shining down on the Carrington training pitches. "How can you not enjoy being at the Manchester United training ground on a morning like this?"
Then, still relaxed, it was onto Liverpool. The game and the rivalry that has always meant more to him than any other.
"It's the big game, the one you look forward to. Liverpool has always been the one. The rivalry between the clubs, the manager's job description to 'knock them off their perch'. We sensed in him straight away that Liverpool was special, whether that was in the reserves, U18s, first team - it doesn't matter, it was big game for everyone at this club. By their own merits and rights, we've been the two most successful clubs in the country."
For Solskjaer, one game between the two stands out. January 1999, FA Cup fourth round. A game in which Liverpool scored early.
"We were behind the whole game, Michael Owen scored early on. We had so many chances, Roy Keane hit the post, Giggs had chances and then Dwight Yorke scored.
"I was thinking it would go to a replay until Jaap Stam throws the ball up, Scholes controlled it, I nicked it off him and I scored. I had three touches in that game, one to stop it, one to touch it to the side and one to put it through Jamie Carragher's legs. I was strangled more or less in the celebrations, I couldn't breathe at all. I tried to kiss the badge, but everyone was on top of me."
I'm pretty sure he knows it was Carragher's legs it went through because Gary Neville has reminded him. The rest of it is his own memory. Other United vs Liverpool games, even ones after he retired, seem just as fresh in his mind.
"There weren't that many games I came over from Norway to watch but I managed to get to see the game in 2015 [a 3-1 United win at Old Trafford]. David [De Gea] was fantastic that day."
He'd also been at Old Trafford 18 months earlier, primarily on a scouting mission but also on a day when, as a United fan, there was very little to smile about.
"In 2014 I was the Cardiff manager, so I watched that one. Liverpool were going for the title and they won 3-0 that day. Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish were sat in front of me, they had big grins and I wasn't very pleased. I thought I saw some weakness in Liverpool before our game the week after, but they were a good side."
Cardiff were hammered 6-3 the following week and after the game Solskjaer was asked if he thought Liverpool could win the title. "I couldn't care less," came the reply.
"I remember the interview," he says, five years on. "What I said was true!"
After Cardiff, the emotion the Liverpool rivalry stirs in him was apparent from his Twitter account. His background picture is of himself, Ryan Giggs and Diego Forlan celebrating a famous Anfield win in 2002. This March, after United had beaten Liverpool at Old Trafford, he tweeted a picture of Marcus Rashford celebrating on his TV, with his daughter's replica Rashford shirt draped over the television.
Now, though, he has to take the emotion out of it. He says he'll be less nervous on Sunday as manager than when he watched in March as a fan.
"I'm more focused on my job, controlled. As a supporter you are more emotional because you cannot do anything about it. Now it is work mode, so less nervy.
"It's 20 to 18 [in league titles] and you never want your rivals to surpass you. But it's not about that for us. As a supporter yes, of course, that is a big thing, but as a manager I have to make sure we focus on doing a favour for ourselves, not stopping anyone, we do it for ourselves."
And with that, he was off to do his job. With a smile, of course.