Solskjaer poised for Premier League return

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a young, progressive manager. His stock is rising almost by the day after an impressive start to his coaching career.

Courted by Aston Villa, the 39-year-old is poised for a Premier League return - a stage he lit up for 11 years as a player with Manchester United between 1996 and 2007, scoring 126 goals in 366 appearances.

The 'baby faced assassin' as he was affectionately nicknamed by the Old Trafford faithful, was always destined for great things, according to his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

When Solskjaer was forced into an early retirement in 2008, the Red Devils boss wasted little time in offering him a role within his backroom staff. And so it began, his first step on the ladder. The pupil learning from the professor.

Solskjaer worked first with United's strikers, and eventually with the reserves, helping develop the likes of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley during his two-and-a-half-years in the position, before returning to his native Norway to take over the manager's job at Molde last January.

Ferguson always knew Solskjaer would make a good manager. During his playing days, he often remarked about the forward's uncanny ability to read the game from the bench, making him instantly ready to have an impact.

It's a quality that earned him the 'super sub' tag, and helped Solskjaer confirm his place among an esteemed list of cult heroes at Old Trafford, when he scored an injury-time winner in United's dramatic Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich in 1999.

His ability to regularly influence games within the blink of an eye, through remarkable examination of match situations and close attention to detail, is a skill that few players possess, and even fewer have emulated on the pitch. Such shrewd analysis will naturally suit management.

In October, Solskjaer guided Molde to their first Norwegian league title in 100 years, marking an incredible end to his debut campaign in charge. And, with the club lying second in the league this year after nine games, the rookie boss is looking to juggle both domestic success with the challenge of Champions League football in 2012-13.

"If you go to a club in Norway that have never won the league in their history and you win that league, then you have to have something about you," said Ferguson, in reaction to the United favourite's recent title triumph.

Solskjaer is also proving himself a fine man-manager, an alchemist in the dressing-room. If success in his new profession is partly about mollifying players not selected, and on the fringes of a squad, he certainly has experience in that department.

But, despite his unrivalled achievement, there have still been some suggestions that Solskjaer is not yet ready for a big job in the Premier League. Detractors will point to the fact that Molde won only 17 of their 30 league games last season, and have already lost three of nine this term.

The season before he took over, Molde finished 11th out of 16 sides, in a division that has had five different winners in the last seven years. It's clearly a very tight league, so while the jump is impressive, it's not incredible, particularly when you consider the fact the club finished runners up in 2009.

That has done little to deter Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner, though. The American owner is looking for a replacement for Alex McLeish, who was sacked on Monday after just 11 months in charge at Villa Park.

After first failing with Gerard Houllier and then McLeish in the wake of Martin O'Neill's departure in August 2010, Lerner has recognised the need to appoint a man "who sees the club's potential and embraces its collective expectations".

Under McLeish, he said, the team lacked "compelling play and results", after the Scot presided over a season in which Villa managed a club record low of four home wins, accumulating a points tally of 38 - their lowest for 42 years - and an eventual 16th-place finish in the Premier League, which was their worst in six seasons.

Lerner flew to the UK on Wednesday to begin the search for a successor in earnest, and Solskjaer is already on his way to England for talks, having been flown in on the Villa chief's private jet, which arrived in his hometown of Kristiansund yesterday.

"Molde Football Club is aware of interest and contact from Aston Villa, and is aware that Aston Villa and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are talking together," confirmed a statement on the club's website this morning.

However, his prospective appointment will be far from straightforward. Solskjaer is just one year into a four-year contract with Molde, which is believed to contain a substantial buy-out clause.

There are doubts in Norway as to whether he would be receptive to an approach from Villa at this stage of his career, and there is a sense that he would prefer to see out the remainder of that deal before taking a job overseas.

Having said that, the lure of Premier League football should not be underestimated, and neither should the prospect of Solskjaer going head to head with his old club and mentor in United and Ferguson.

If offered, and then accepted, his first job will be to revive Villa's hopes after a woeful season. Noted for timing his runs well as a player, Solskjaer must pick the right club in England, at the right time. There is a case to suggest that neither party has anything to lose.

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European News
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Premier League
Aston Villa

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