Solskjaer gunning for glory

Guy Hodgson on Old Trafford's swaggering young Norwegian striker
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The Independent Online
It is a moot point whether Alex Ferguson knows the Norwegian word for robber but you suspect it is merely a matter of time. The chances are there will be a Scandinavian Joe Royle somewhere, ready to remind the Manchester United manager of his good judgement and fortune.

For years "robber" was the first word Royle would shout down a telephone line at Ferguson, the legacy of the dependable Denis Irwin's pounds 625,000 fee when he moved from Oldham Athletic to Old Trafford. That was for a full-back. How much more angst will be incurred by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who seems to possess the knack which is beyond price: scoring goals?

Five so far in four starts from a 23-year-old son of a Norwegian wrestling champion who United expected to be blooming six months after his pounds 1.5m move from Molde, and whose arrival has taken on an extra significance with Andy Cole's broken legs. If Ferguson looks like Christmas has arrived early, in a sense it has.

"He's one for the future," Ferguson growled as the raw Norwegian arrived, his protective arm already round a player whose inexperience - two years ago he was playing in the Norwegian Third Division - makes him less football wise than many of the younger players around him. The future would not wait, however.

Indeed Solskjaer was hammering on the door as soon as he put on the United shirt. In his first reserve game he scored twice and hit the bar; on his first-team debut as a substitute he claimed an equaliser against Blackburn Rovers; he has scored every time he has played at Old Trafford. As Ferguson puts it: "You just can't ignore him. He surprised us all."

Perhaps not everyone. The Norwegians had a sneaking suspicion that Ferguson, who picked up Peter Schmeichel for pounds 550,000 and Andre Kanchelskis for pounds 650,000, had secured another bargain from mainland Europe. The new Alan Shearer they call Solskjaer in Oslo, the result of 26 goals for Molde last season as well as four in his first six appearances for his country.

"He is a huge talent," Oyvind Leonhardsen, who comes from Solskjaer's home town of Kristiansun and who recommended him to his own club, Wimbledon, last season, said. "We used to train together at the same Norwegian club, Klaus Enengen, and although he was three years younger than me he stood out. He was small but had two very quick feet.

"Shearer is the only player I could compare him to. He might not be as strong yet, but Ole can score goals from any angle and distance with either foot. If he gets a chance then Ole will score."

Solskjaer's glaring misses against Rapid Vienna in the Champions' League exposed the exaggeration in Leonhardsen's words but you know what he means. As soon as he took the field in his first match he had the swagger that Shearer possesses and Cole does not. His goal was taken with a fierce volley, his desire to score unblunted by an initial save by Tim Flowers, but he also had three other shots in a 22-minute cameo that had the sharpness of a February wind.

His attitude, too, seems exemplary for a striker. If Cole had missed the two chances that Solskjaer blew against Rapid he would almost certainly have brooded. The Norwegian with a child's face seemed to discard them from his memory as soon as his expression of embarrassment disappeared. Instead he stressed the positive: "My first half was one of my best ever in football.

"I'm not really strong enough to keep away defenders with my back to goal so I have to move quickly. When I do, I don't think people can catch me. I think I've improved enormously since arriving in the summer. My confidence is much better."

In the context of Old Trafford, scoring sensations can come and go quickly, as Andy Ritchie and Mark Robins could testify, but Solskjaer looks an authentic article as his goals against Tottenham Hotspur in United's last game had natural running through them.

His feet are quick but his mind seems to work in the calculating way that makes Eric Cantona the outstanding creative force in the Premiership.

As Aage Hareide, Solskjaer's erstwhile coach at Molde, said last week: "If I'd known he was going to keep on scoring like this I'd have sold him for pounds 50m." The word robber seemed to be on the tip of his tongue.