Solskjaer promises cult revival for Ferguson

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The Independent Football

Nearly 20 months after his previous game for Manchester United, in the FA Cup final defeat of Millwall, Solskjaer took a major step in his recovery from a career-threatening knee injury with a cameo role during the closing stages of Wednesday's 2-2 draw at Birmingham City.

A "delighted" Ferguson, drawing on the Take That songbook, said that he hoped the 32-year-old Norwegian was "back for good". Solskjaer himself admitted that he was still short of match fitness but added, with an eye on tomorrow's Old Trafford derby against Bolton Wanderers and Tuesday's visit to Arsenal, that he was now ready to play whenever called upon.

Talking to MUTV, Solskjaer said: "It was fantastic to be back against Birmingham. I proved to myself that I can be involved in a Premiership game again. But that was only a little bit of what I have been working towards. I've been working to get back into training, then to play, then to get into the first team on the bench. It's taking things step by step."

Solskjaer, a cult figure among supporters because of his European Cup-winning goal against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in 1999, said that he had drawn inspiration from the rapturous acclaim of the United contingent when he joined the fray at St Andrew's.

"Hearing the fans was fantastic. It's that feeling that has driven me on, which is why I went to wave to them at the end," Solskjaer said. "It has been a bit surreal, being injured for so long and still having everyone wanting you to get back. I'm going to take time to get match-fit, but it will come as long as I keep improving in training.

"I can do everything I want in training, which is the main thing. I don't think I'd have been on the bench if Louis Saha had been fit to play. But I'm part of the squad now and available whenever the gaffer needs me."

Ferguson, putting aside his irritation with the referee and his own defenders after a match in which United led twice, said: "I'm delighted for Ole and he did well. He was only on the pitch for eight or nine minutes but he showed a real enthusiasm to play and has had no ill effects. You have to remember how long he has been out, so you have to be pleased with that. Hopefully, that is him back for good."

United were always dangerous going forward against 19th-placed Birmingham, with Wayne Rooney and Ruud Van Nistelrooy going close to giving them a two-goal advantage. However, they paid for what Ferguson termed "very poor" defending by conceding a second equaliser to Walter Pandiani, making it clear why the United manager has agreed to pay Spartak Moscow £7m for a genuinely new player, the Serbia & Montenegro central defender Nemanja Vidic.

* In a transfer coup redolent of Manchester's big two, FC United of Manchester have signed the player-manager of Maine Road, Chris Simms, after he had played 500 games for them. FC United, formed by Old Trafford fans disillusioned by the Glazer family's take-over, play in a lower division of the Moore and Co Solicitors League, but their manager Karl Marginson said: "This has surprised a lot of people in local non-League circles, but Chris is a massive Manchester United fan and he's eager to be part of what we want to achieve here."