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Great Britain

Rio Ferdinand: Solskjaer wasn’t a big voice at Man Utd but he could be cutting

IT FEELS as though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has got through the rehearsals without a hitch and now we’ve reached the big day.

Spurs away is where the critics will really be judging whether he is cut out to be Man United boss.

There aren’t many tougher games on the fixture list but I don’t think he’ll be worried about it — my old United team-mate is on a mission to give chief Ed Woodward a headache.

He’s playing this for keeps, this is dreamland for him. He wants the United job and a victory over the manager who United have put at the top of their list, Mauricio Pochettino, will do him no harm.

I don’t think a win over Poch will be enough to persuade United to appoint him though. It’s too early to say, but the clamour to give him the job will get louder.

For me he has to get in the top four and maybe win a trophy to have any chance. If he misses out on the top four it will be the end of the conversation.

Ole’s first five fixtures were ones he would have expected to win, but this is different. If Man U win this game the momentum will be swinging his way.

When they first announced Ole was coming in to replace Jose Mourinho, I was surprised. But, after a couple of days, I realised it made sense.

It would’ve been impossible to get Pochettino at this stage of the season and it was hard to see who else they could go for.

Ole made a great move in bringing back Mike Phelan. He should never have been let go in the first place.

He was very important as a coach during Sir Alex Ferguson’s days when I was playing there and Ole knew it. Mike is a fantastic football man.

Ole has restored confidence and it seems like an enjoyable place to play again. Players have found an extra yard and have a renewed spring in their step.

Paul Pogba is getting back to the world-class player we were told he was.

We can see at last why the club gambled on signing Anthony Martial, we know why Marcus Rashford at the age of 21 is one of the most exciting youngsters around and that Jesse Lingard, one of the few who thrived under Mourinho, will be a key player.

They now have the freedom to express themselves as they want to.

Ole still has work to do with the defence. There were mistakes in the FA Cup win against Reading which could have resulted in two or three goals if their opponents had been sharper with the finishing.

When I first met Ole after I signed for Manchester United I would never have had him down as a manager.

Everyone knows he had the nickname of the Baby Faced Assassin because of his youthful looks and finishing ability and I thought he was just a nice guy who got on with his job.

Yet as I got to know him, I realised there was a lot more to him than that.

There was a steely determination about him which I hadn’t realised.

You have to be a real thinker about the game to be successful the way he was.

Many of his appearances were from off the bench but he invariably made an instant impact.

That was because, unlike a lot of players, he used his time studying the match, working out where the weaknesses of the opposition were and then as soon as he came on he was ready to exploit them.

He was a real student of the game.

Sir Alex always used to start him against Ashley Cole, who was England’s best left-back at the time, because Ole knew how to pull him around the field.

He could take him inside if necessary or go short and drag him out of position.

He didn’t have the pace to beat him but was always asking questions and often got the upper hand.
He was the only player I ever saw who could do that to Ashley.

He also showed Wayne Rooney how to hit a ball back between a defender’s legs when shooting on goal.

Many players would try to curl it round the defender but Ole was different and it made it harder for the keeper who would see it late when it came through a defender.

When I see Wayne doing that I think of Ole.

He didn’t smash it either.

Many strikers do and just hit it without aiming anywhere in particular but Ole was more precise and he was equally adept with either foot.

He wasn’t one of the big voices in the dressing room when he was a player but when he spoke he could be cutting.

He was very strong on opposing players and telling you if he thought they were rubbish and also whether he thought a new signing of ours was any good or not.

Towards the end of his playing career at United you could tell he was studying the coaching staff and the manager and paying particular attention to how they went about their work.

I’ve been watching and listening to him and the way he speaks, there is so much that has been influenced by Ferguson and helped him to become the manager he is.

He had a tough time when he went to Cardiff but he returned to Norway and did good things at Molde and has hit the ground running since coming into United.

He is respectful of the club’s history which is so refreshing because we’ve been through more than five years of change and pain at a club which no longer felt like Man United.

In one fell swoop he’s restored the faith of the fans who want United to be about entertainment and taking risks.

But he still has a strong will to win. To be honest I thought Mourinho was the right appointment when he came in.

He was a manager of stature and a winner and had the presence to deal with big players. I wouldn’t have picked anyone else.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out because he made a rod for his own back with the way he conducted himself. It was his own fault.

There isn’t a man on earth who wouldn’t want to manage Man United. Mourinho wanted it and got his wish but he blew it.

Ole couldn’t have done any more than he’s done so far. I just hope he hasn’t inflicted his horrendous taste in music on the players!

When we played together he was really into heavy metal and would put on the most appalling stuff.

Don’t ask me to name it, I couldn’t, all I do know is you wanted to stick your fingers very firmly in your ears.

You can be sure they won’t be doing that when he gives his team-talk. This is a side which believes it can beat anyone now.

RIO FERDINAND was talking to the Sun’s Head of Sport, SHAUN CUSTIS

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