Solskjaer plots a Rapid advance

Simon Turnbull talks to a Norwegian whose protege is impressing at United
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The Independent Online
THE LAST player who scored for Manchester United in Europe was Scandinavian. The form book suggests the next one might be too, though not the Danish goalkeeper who headed an 89th minute equaliser against Rotor Volgograd in the Uefa Cup 12 months ago.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has scored twice in the 104 minutes he has played at Old Trafford: as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers and as a full- debutant against Nottingham Forest. Last season he did what Rapid Vienna, who provide the Champions' League opposition at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, failed to achieve in the Cup-Winners' Cup final. He scored against Paris Saint-Germain.

Premiership-watchers are scratching heads, wondering precisely whence this 5ft 9ins cherub-cheeked assassin has come. The answer is heavy with irony: from under the wing of a former Manchester City player who helped to inflict one of the most painful wounds English football pride has endured.

Aage Hareide ought to have beaten Ray Clemence with a first-half header in Oslo's Ullevaal Stadium on the night of 9 September, 1981. If he had, Maggie Thatcher's "boys", managed by Ron Greenwood, would have suffered even more than the 2-1 "hell of a beating" the now-departed Norwegian television commentator Bjorge Lillelien so famously trumpeted to the world. "I remember getting a hell of a bollocking when I got back to Maine Road," Hareide recalled. "John Bond wasn't too pleased. The Scottish players stood up and cheered when I walked in the dressing room, though."

Hareide spent two years on the sky blue side of Manchester and two seasons at Norwich before returning to Molde, known in Norway as "the town of roses" but which has become a notable nursery on the European football map. As coach of Molde's premier division club, the former left-back-cum- midfielder nurtured Kjetel Rekdal, who scored Norway's equaliser in the fateful World Cup qualifier at Wembley in 1992, Wimbledon's Oyvind Leonhardsen and ex-Sheffield United striker Jostein Flo. In January last year, Hareide unearthed Solskjaer from Clausenengen, a Norwegian third division club.

In 18 months his shrewd pounds 15,000 investment multiplied 1,000-fold in value. Manchester United were not the only club willing to pay pounds 1.5m. Cagliari and SV Hamburg also wanted the 23-year-old whose 26 goals last season included two for Molde in the Cup-Winners' Cup and four in his first six games for Norway.

Hareide, who recalls a "lung bursting afternoon" marking Bryan Robson in an Old Trafford derby, advised Solskjaer to go to United. "I was surprised when Manchester United came in," he said. "They had enough money to buy Boksic or Shearer but Alex Ferguson has got this policy of buying good players for not that much and developing them. I think he is surprised that Ole Gunnar has done well quickly."

Solskjaer's home town is Kristiansund, which has a monument of cannons commemorating the repulse of an English attack in 1808. Old Trafford's Gunnar is content to keep his head down, waiting for his next chance in the firing line. "I hope that I can keep scoring when I am given the chance to play," he said. The next opportunity is likely to come in Wednesday's Champions' League fixture, in which United will defend their 55-game unbeaten home record in European competition. That would pit Solskjaer against the third man at the centre of the Rapid Vienna defence, not Harry Lime but the werewolfish Bulgarian, Trifon Ivanov.

"Ole Gunnar has got an innocent look," Hareide said. "But on the pitch he's like a cobra snake. He strikes so quickly. We had a player like him at City." Mention Hareide to Trevor Francis and he will doubtless recall the night England got stung by Norway rather than their time together at Maine Road. He was one of the boys who took that hell of a beating in Oslo.