Football: Solskjaer making best of handicap

The Old Trafford man is not a natural winger but is happy to play there in Norway's cause.
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The Independent Online
THE WORLD Cup is all about encountering unfamiliar opposition and dealing with fresh challenges. Usually. In Bordeaux today Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not take long to recognise one of the men pitted against him.

"I have pictures back home of Colin Hendry trying to strangle me," said Solskjaer after a Norwegian training session at their base near Nantes. Lest this be misconstrued, the photographs are from a Manchester United v Blackburn encounter early in Solskjaer's Premiership career, and he added hurriedly: "That is the name of the game. It didn't shock me, we don't play football with our hands in our pockets in Norway."

In Solskjaer's case they are making him play with one hand metaphorically tied behind his back. Due to Norway's rigid system, and Tore Andre Flo's form, he is being played on the left wing, a position ill-suited to his strengths, physique and experience. Yet his main criticism is reserved for himself.

"I missed a good chance against Morocco and I was unhappy with myself for doing so. I had a big chance to be a goalscorer in the World Cup. Hopefully I will get a few more."

But on the wing? "We have played 4-5-1 all the time and there is no point in us changing it now just because we did not play well in the first game. I have to settle for the left flank as Tore Andre is doing well for us in attack. I feel I should have another chance because my record [eight goals in 14 games] is OK, but I have to do the role he wants me to play.

"I will never get 100 per cent used to it but I am getting close. I have played there for Manchester United but I am not naturally left-sided and I like to be in front of goal to get chances so I suffer a little bit offensively."

This is a view shared by one of his house-mates (the Norwegians share a chalet between three), Thomas Myhre, the Everton goalkeeper. "He is more used to playing like a centre-forward with two up front. He's a goalscorer. He's not someone with great pace who runs behind the defence, nor is he good in the air, which can be a problem with the way we play, but he is a good footballer. As a goalkeeper he is the worst player to face on a one-on-one situation, he is quick in his head, always focussed on where the goalkeeper stands. He shoots when the goalkeeper doesn't expect it - in that he is like Robbie Fowler."

Solskjaer expects to play today, though the Norwegian press are less convinced as coach Egil Olsen is expected to make two or three changes. If he does not start, however, Solskjaer is still likely to finish. "The game is a very important and difficult one," he said. "We know all about Kevin Gallacher, Gordon Durie and [Darren] Jackson but must also be careful of players like Hendry at set-pieces."

Should Solskjaer score he may not be that popular at pre-season training. "I've not spoken to Alex Ferguson yet but I hope he's disappointed after the game. If I score an own goal he will be very happy. The best thing for him is if we lose 4-3 and the Manchester United players [Solskjaer, Henning Berg and Ronny Johnsen] score."

After an exceptional first season at Old Trafford Solskjaer had a disappointing time last campaign, squeezed out by Andy Cole's form, Teddy Sheringham's arrival and his own injuries. "It was frustrating but it has also been a learning experience. Before last season I had never been injured, I was always looking at the sky. This year I met the wall. It is not a problem, you have to take a step back to take three or four steps forward and that is what I am doing now. I am sure I will perform much better for Manchester United next season after what I have learned."

Norway have never lost with Solskjaer in the starting line-up, and only once when he has been involved. "We lost 3-2 to Trinidad and Tobago. It was my debut, I came on as sub.

"The Morocco game was disappointing as we wanted the three points. Now both teams have to go forward and try to win. I expect us to play much better than in the last game. Knowing so much about Scottish players will help us. They are more possession-orientated than Norwegian people think, which may suit us."