Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted some words from another former Manchester United hero helped breathe new life into a stagnating club on Saturday as the caretaker manager celebrated their throwback 5-1 triumph at Cardiff City. The 45-year-old Norwegian could not stop beaming as he explained how, following his temporary appointment following Jose Mourinho’s midweek sacking, a few words of encouragement from Wayne Rooney had also helped inspire him.
“I arrived on Wednesday night and only had Thursday and Friday with the players. Wayne Rooney texted me and gave me some advice — so it must be down to him!” laughed the Norwegian.
“He told me to make them play football, enjoy themselves and be Manchester United.”
And good to Rooney’s words, Solskjaer did find a way to enable players who had looked shackled and careworn under Mourinho to feel liberated enough to attack with pace and score five in a league match for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge in 2013.
After trouncing an admittedly poor Cardiff — the club where Solskjaer had struggled in his only previous Premier League managerial spell — United’s current team and ex-players like Rooney himself all clamoured to celebrate this new free-spirited feel.
“It’s a fantastic day for the club,” Rooney, who had watched the match from the BT Sport studio, said.
“Manchester United’s a big part of my life and it was never nice watching what was going on. Once Ole got the job, I thought I’d give him a message of congratulations,” added the club’s record scorer.
“The players obviously looked a bit restricted (under Mourinho). The players have ability and today we’ve seen that.
“A lot of things were happening around the team and around the manager, which isn’t good. Ole’s given them that freedom.”
It was evident from Rooney’s comments that he had been led to believe there had been a very different atmosphere in the later, increasingly problematic days of Mourinho’s two-and-a-half year reign.
“Everyone from the staff to the kitmen, they weren’t enjoying it. You can see the staff are happy today and the players are too,” he said.
That was certainly evident from the comments of United’s rejuvenated young players on Saturday, who were not shy in noting how Solskjaer had given them far more licence to express themselves.
Jesse Lingard, who scored twice after the break, to add to first-half goals from Marcus Rashford, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial, said: “The lads played with a lot of energy, enjoyment and excitement.
“When you’ve got confidence, you put yourselves in positions to score goals. That’s what we did. We were playing higher and the full-backs were higher. We pinned them back and created a lot of chances.”
Rashford, who set the ball rolling with his third minute free kick, was full of praise for Solskajer’s instant impact.
“He wants us to be positive on the ball and always look for the gaps. That was just the start. We’re going to improve and get better at it,” said the striker.
Rooney had quickly spotted a very different tactical approach under Solskjaer.
“The positions that the full backs, Luke Shaw and in particular Ashley Young, take up when United have the ball is something you’ve never seen under Mourinho,” he said.
Michael Owen, the former United and England striker, added on BT Sport that United would not have been so positive in their three-goal first half had Mourinho still been in charge. (Reporting by Ian Chadband; editing by Martyn Herman)
Solskjaer looks to United of old to inspire climb up the table
Manchester United interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is confident his side can make up the gap with the top four in the Premier League, drawing on his own experience in a side where he used to come to the rescue off the bench late on. The Norwegian enjoyed a dream start as caretaker boss after succeeding the sacked Jose Mourinho this week as United thrashed his former club Cardiff City 5-1 on Saturday.
The result, coupled with defeat for fourth-placed Chelsea, means that United sit eight points off the top four in sixth. While the gloom under Mourinho this season meant United were drifting out of contention for a Champions League place, their emphatic win in Wales has started to bring them back in.
“We take one game at a time now. We’ve caught up eight or nine points before but we’ve got to go one step at a time,” said Solskjaer, who memorably came off the bench to score a late winner for United in the 1999 Champions League final. “I was proud and humble at the reception from the fans, it has been an emotional week. But it’s a start and we move on.”
Mourinho’s tenure was latterly dominated by rows with midfielder Paul Pogba, who arrived from Juventus for a club-record 89 million pounds ($112.6 million) in 2016. The mercurial Frenchman had been left out of the starting lineup in the Portuguese’s final games but was restored to the centre of the pitch by Solskjaer and repaid his new manager’s faith by creating two of the goals in a dominant performance.
“I think he (Pogba) brings what he can, he’s a quality player,” Solskjaer said. “But that’s the same with all of them. I’ve worked with Paul before and enjoyed the two days we’ve had and will enjoy working with him and the rest of them in the next four or five months.”
With United hitting five goals for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge, a 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion in May 2013, supporters will be excited to see what the players can do at Old Trafford against Huddersfield Town on Wednesday. Solskjaer, however, was keeping his feet on the ground.
“It’s a great start and we are going to enjoy the next couple of days but Boxing Day is coming and nothing in history is quicker than a football game, so there are still things to work on but they (the squad) grasped some of the ideas very quickly,” he added.
“We’ll take it one game at a time but I’ll enjoy tonight.”