Fans of Cardiff City may be somewhat bewildered when they see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the opposition dugout when Manchester United visit the Welsh capital on Saturday.
The Norwegian has been handed the United reins until the end of the season following the sacking of Jose Mourinho and is tasked with steering the club into the Premier League’s top four.
Solskjaer’s appointment at one of the world’s biggest clubs comes despite the total failure of his last shot at management in England’s top flight, with Cardiff in 2013-14.
Cardiff had been guided to promotion from the Championship by Malky Mackay in the previous season but the Scot was sacked in December 2013 after a public falling out with eccentric owner Vincent Tan and with the club battling against the drop.
Tan, who had already controversially changed Cardiff’s shirt colour from the traditional blue to a red more akin to that worn by United, turned to an Old Trafford legend in a bid to secure Premier League safety.
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) 2 January 2014
Solskjaer had established himself as one of Europe’s more promising young coaching talents after taking Molde to Tippeligaen glory in 2011 and 2012 – the first league titles in the club’s history.
The former United striker has always spoken of an ambition to one day return to the club with whom he won the treble in 1999 as manager, and this opportunity in south Wales offered a significant step towards that goal.
Unfortunately for Solskjaer – and for Cardiff – his stint in charge could not have gone much worse.
Having taken over in January with the club sitting 17th, Solskjaer managed only three wins from the remaining 18 games of the season, going down as the Premier League’s bottom club.
Questionable signings, such as Norwegian trio Magnus Wolff Eikrem, Mats Moller Daehli and Jo Inge Berget and uncertainty over his best starting XI contributed to the club’s poor form, while results such as the 3-0 derby defeat at Swansea City and a 4-0 home defeat to Hull City did little to convince Bluebirds fans Solskjaer was up to the job.
And the stats do not stack up favourably for attack-minded Solskjaer either, with his Cardiff side conceding an average of 2.33 goals per game in the Premier League.
The 45-year-old’s top-flight win percentage of 16.7 is considerably worse than that of both Mackay (22.22) and current Cardiff boss Neil Warnock (23.53) and ranks him alongside the likes of Paolo Di Canio, Jim Jefferies and Brian Laws on the competition’s overall list of poorly performing managers.
Mike Phelan, who will assist Solskjaer at Old Trafford, is among a select band of managers to have endured a worse Premier League record than the new United boss, achieving victories in only 15 per cent of his matches in charge of Hull City.
We can confirm that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed as caretaker manager until the end of the 2018/19 season.
He will be joined by Mike Phelan as first-team coach, together with Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna. #MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 19, 2018
Things did not get much better for Solskjaer after falling into the Championship and he was ultimately dismissed in September 2014 with Cardiff 17th in the second tier.
His return to Molde a year later sparked a return to form as he set about rebuilding his reputation on familiar territory and he is likely to go back to the club once more when his temporary stint in charge of United comes to an end, although a strong performance at Old Trafford could see him in demand across Europe once more.
After having his fingers burned once by Premier League management, Solskjaer will need to put the lessons of past failings into practice if this chance at his dream job is to prove the making of him as a top-level coach.
And where better to begin demonstrating the fruit of his tough managerial education than back at the Cardiff City Stadium?
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