MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is on another rescue mission at Manchester United, this time as manager.
The former striker who became a United great by conjuring up important goals typically as a substitute — most famously an injury-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final — was picked as the man to bring stability to the English club after the tumultuous 2½-year tenure of Jose Mourinho.
Solskjaer was hired as manager until the end of the season on Wednesday in a sentimental choice likely to prove popular with United’s increasingly disillusioned fan base.
His task: To resuscitate United after its worst start to a league season in 28 years, prompting Mourinho’s departure on Tuesday. The team is in sixth place in the Premier League, 19 points behind first-place Liverpool and 11 behind fourth-place Chelsea.
“Manchester United is in my heart,” said Solskjaer, who played for United from 1996-2007 and scored 126 goals in 366 appearances, “and it’s brilliant to be coming back in this role. I’m really looking forward to working with the very talented squad we have, the staff and everyone at the club.”
Solskjaer had been coaching Norwegian team Molde, who said it had agreed to “lend” him to United to “help to put Molde further on the football map.” He recently signed a three-year deal with the team.
“In football, you never know what can happen,” Solskjaer said. “We get proof of (it) time after time. This is an opportunity I had to take.”
The arrival of Solskjaer did not come as a surprise.
Late Tuesday, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg appeared to confirm Solskjaer was moving to United by writing on Twitter it was a “great day for Norwegian football” and wishing him “good luck keeping control of the Red Devils.” It was later deleted.
Minutes after Solberg’s tweet, a page was published on United’s official website containing a video of Solskjaer celebrating United’s 2-1 victory in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in which he scored the winning goal in the third minute of stoppage time. Under that, a post read: “Solskjaer becomes our interim manager, 20 seasons after clinching the Treble with THAT goal at Camp Nou . . .” That page also was later deleted.
The 45-year-old Solskjaer will surely have the backing of fans, who fondly nicknamed him the “Baby-Faced Assassin” when he was a player because of his boyish looks and lethal finishing.
He likes to play an attacking brand of soccer modeled on the sides of Alex Ferguson, who was his manager at United in that trophy-laden decade when the Norwegian won six league titles, two F.A. Cups and the Champions League. He has said on a number of occasions that coaching United was his dream job.
“Good luck Ole,” former United midfielder David Beckham wrote on Instagram Wednesday, above a photo of Solskjaer in the 1999 Champions League final.
Solskjaer’s appointment is a gamble, however. His only previous experience of Premier League management was with Cardiff in the second half of the 2013-14 season, and he could not prevent the Welsh team from getting relegated. He was fired a few months later, ending his spell with a record of only five wins from 30 games.
In a coincidence, Solskjaer’s first game in charge of United will be at Cardiff on Saturday.
Solskjaer’s playing career ended in 2007 after he failed to recover from a serious knee injury. He remained at United in a coaching and ambassadorial role, and went on to become its reserve-team manager from 2008-10.
He coached Molde — his former club — from 2011, winning back-to-back titles in his first two seasons and then the Norwegian Cup in his third. He returned there after his nine-month stint at Cardiff.
“Ole is a club legend with huge experience, both on the pitch and in coaching roles,” United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said. “His history at Manchester United means he lives and breathes the culture here and everyone at the club is delighted to have him and (assistant) Mike Phelan back.
“We are confident they will unite the players and the fans as we head into the second half of the season.”
United has said it will look to hire a permanent replacement for Mourinho at the end of the season. Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is among those linked with the position.