Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær discusses lucky numbers, hairdryers, never-say-die attitudes and Unai Emery.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar SolskjærUEFA via Getty Images
Let’s start with the number 26. Your birthday is 26 February, the ’99 final was 26 May, Sir Matt Busby was born on 26 May, this season’s final is on 26 May. Do you believe in destiny?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær: My wife’s birthday is on the 26th; we got married on the 26th, so I have to believe in destiny, or skjebne [in Norwegian]. It’s a special number for us, for my family as well. I’ve got to take this as a good omen. I’m not very superstitious but it looks like a good sign.
In the past two seasons, you’ve reached the Europa League semi-finals and now the final. What have you learned about this tournament?Volume 0% Road to the final: All Man. United’s goals
Solskjær: In the Europa League you play teams you don’t normally meet. There’s good talent and good teams out there, and you soon learn that the difference between the top teams and the second-best teams is not too big. You can’t switch off. This run has felt like a Champions League run. There have been Spanish teams, Italian teams, and we’ve really had to play our best football.
Is Edinson Cavani underestimated as a killer goalscorer? He has scored or assisted a goal every 31 minutes in this competition, it’s off the scale!
Solskjær: He was injured to start with, lacking match fitness. He’d been out for seven months before he signed for us in October. I’ve seen how meticulous he’s been, how professional he’s been, how focused he’s been.
We had a meeting a few months back. I got the feeling that he was down: not seeing his family, the pandemic. We had a nice chat and said: “Let’s focus on winning the Europa League, on finishing the league really strongly.”
He’s just grown more and more and more, and you can see the animal in him when it comes to these games. He’s been sensational. Against Roma, he got us through almost single-handedly.
What have you learned about Unai Emery facing him as Molde boss and when he was at Arsenal?Volume 0% Solskjær on 1999 final and Sir Alex
Solskjær: He’s a winner. I really like him as a human being. We’ve had some really good chats after games. Win or lose, he’s still so respectful and spends time with you, which I think is very important.
I remember the first meeting, of course, at Sevilla; they beat us [Molde] 3-0. We managed to beat them at home. With Arsenal, of course, it was a difficult period for him. The way he’s come back with Villarreal, you can see it’s his team again. A tight unit, a team that works for each other, with room for individual brilliance.
Marcus Rashford says that you’ve changed the mentality of the team, that you have consistently managed to make Manchester United come through adversity. Do you recognise that?
Solskjær: That’s what we – the staff, players and me – have been working on. We are open and honest enough with each other to see when we’re doing well and what we’re doing not so well. Once in a while, the hairdryer comes out. But most of the time I’m quite calm and composed.
Sometimes it’s up to us to say: “Come on, lads – just believe in yourselves and believe in what we want you to do, because that’s given us results.” Half-time at Roma, that was a big moment for us, but I felt very confident in the players.
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What will it be like when you head to Gdańsk for the final, with everybody in their blazers?
Solskjær: I’m not one to think about how proud I am, but of course it’s going to be a special moment. You’ve got to be proud to be able to lead a Manchester United team out to a final. It’s been a fantastic journey and, as we say in Norwegian, veien er målet (the goal is the journey). You’ve got to enjoy the journey.
This is just a step on the road to bringing our Man. United back. If you can win a trophy, fantastic, but either way I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m going to enjoy the night, but when the night is over, you sit back down, you travel back to Norway for a summer holiday and the mind has to switch to next season again. That’s just how it is.