Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally bowed to the inevitable yesterday as the Norwegian was officially announced as the club’s permanent manager with the Old Trafford cult hero immediately issuing a warning to his players.
The former United striker signed a three-year contract as Jose Mourinho’s successor after an amazing caretaker spell in which he had led the side to success in 14 of 19 league and cup games.
Solskjaer, always a popular figure with supporters in his playing days, has been widely praised for his morale-boosting man-management techniques, lifting a squad that had been left in a psychologically low state under the Portuguese coach.
But as he seeks to end a wait for a league title that will run into seven seasons by the time Solskjaer’s first full campaign kicks off, the new United manager is clearly in no mood to accept excuses or a drop in standards.
“The players who get complacent, they never last at this club anyway,” he said. “I’m the same.
“I can’t be complacent and rest now I’ve got a job. That’s not me.
“We’re looking forward. We’ve got to work harder. I’ve got some targets.
“I wouldn’t want a Man Utd team that’s not one of the hardest working and fittest teams in the league. That then will bring results. The players know my expectations on the future.
“I’m just going to be myself as I’ve always been. I know the expectations and traditions of the club.
Of course I want us to be successful and to lift trophies. But I can’t wait to get on to the challenge of improving this great bunch of players, because it’s a squad full of potential.
“We have worked together for three months and the improvement is there to be seen, and we know there is so much more to come from them.
“We can see so much more improvement, because we see them every day in training and the attitude has been fantastic, but we know we’ve got a way to go.
“But lifting a trophy is the aim; I am sure we will be successful. We’ve got a chance [this season]. It’s a tough mountain to climb but we’ve climbed a few mountains before.”
United’s “tough mountain” remains the intriguing prospect of winning the Champions League, although a quarter-final meeting with Barcelona suggests that may be one step too far for Solskjaer.
Instead, a top-four finish appears the main prospect of ending his rookie season successfully although, beyond that, Solskjaer is clearly intent on launching a concerted bid to deliver a title last won under his mentor Alex Ferguson in 2013.
“To lift the Premier League trophy again is what we expect, what we’re used to, what we have done so many times,” said Solskjaer.
“We can’t wait too many years but we have to take it step by step.
“It’s not like it’s going to happen overnight, with us being 16, 17 points behind the top teams now.”
United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward used the down time offered by the international break to negotiate and agree the three-year deal with Solskjaer, worth a reported £7 million a year, although, in truth, it was the easiest decision he will ever have to make.
Wildly popular with supporters, Solskjaer emerged from the shadow cast by Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, the initial favourite to be appointed after Mourinho’s departure last December, to the point that it had long since been accepted as a case of when, not if, his post would be made permanent.
“It’s about putting a smile on people’s faces, whether you do that by winning games, or you speak to them or have meetings.” said Solskjaer of his winning approach to management.
It’s about creating an environment everyone wants to be part of, feeling that they can be their best self. I want to be the best Ole, that’s the best promise I can give.
“It’s giving everyone at the club a responsibility and the freedom to be their best selves. When you start winning games, everyone is happy.
“You know when people get a new job and say it’s a dream job, and that they’ve always dreamed about playing for that club or managing this club? That’s more true to me than to anyone.
“This has been my ultimate dream all the time, maybe a naïve dream but I’ve always had that dream in my mind to have this responsibility. It’s a huge fantastic family of a football club and I’m so honoured and privileged to have this fantastic opportunity to lead it forward.
“I don’t think proud is the right word. I’m happy. I’m honoured because it’s a fresh start. It’s the start of something new again. Now the hard work starts. It’s enjoyable work, but it’s not a moment to be proud.”