Changes make all the difference for Solskjaer

Honeymoon continues for Cardiff City's new manager
Cardiff City's Fraizer Campbell, right, scores the opening goal during the FA Cup fourth round match between Bolton and Cardiff City on Saturday. Andrew Yates / AFP
Cardiff City's Fraizer Campbell, right, scores the opening goal during the FA Cup fourth round match between Bolton and Cardiff City on Saturday. Andrew Yates / AFP

BOLTON // Sometimes sport’s plot lines would be deemed too improbable to feature in fiction. At others, they are simply too cheesy, too predictable or too repetitive.

And yet somehow that can make them more compelling. Take the case of a footballer who forged a career as an effective substitute turning to management and proving a dab hand at executing similarly catalytic changes. That is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose brief career at Cardiff City is notable for a familiar theme.

On Tuesday, Solskjaer can expect the warmest of welcomes as he returns to Manchester United, whose Uefa Champions League win in 1999 was a consequence of his priceless ability to alter games he began on the bench. Cardiff go there propping up the Premier League but, courtesy of Solskjaer’s alchemy, in the last 16 of the FA Cup.

He is a two-time winner of this competition and his reign in Wales started with the kind of immediate effect he trademarked as a player as he introduced not one, but two, scoring substitutes who transformed defeat into victory at Newcastle United.

When Craig Noone and Fraizer Campbell came on again at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, it was to secure a sequel.

Both had struck at St James’ Park in the third round. They combined for the crucial goal on Saturday. Five minutes after their twin arrivals, Noone crossed and Campbell spun to score.

“Good players make an effect and the two of them are good players,” Solskjaer said modestly. “It was an instinctive finish by Fraizer.”

Beforehand, however, goalkeeper Andy Lonergan spilt the ball obligingly at the striker’s feet.

“It was decided by a goalkeeping error,” Bolton manager Dougie Freedman said.

It was emblematic of his side’s self-destructive streak. Theirs has been a three-year decline from the upper half of the Premier League and the FA Cup semi-finals to 18th place in the Championship and a £163 million (Dh987.3m) debt.

If they are a salutary warning to the top flight’s imperilled clubs, Cardiff exude a confidence that this is the start of a bright new era.

The speed of change has been swift. Solskjaer’s pleasant manner serves as a mask for his ambition and he has been decisive. January has already seen three of his compatriots, all of whom served under him at Norwegian side Molde, join and Solskjaer eulogised about the teenage newcomer Mats Moller Daehli, who debuted with a cameo.

Cardiff are being reshaped and rebranded (or perhaps, as owner Vincent Tan has already changed their colours, further rebranded). Magnus Wolff Eikrem, the first of the Scandinavian signings, made his first start in midfield, although he did not return for the second half.

Neither did Andreas Cornelius, the £7.5m striker who never began a league game under previous manager Malky Mackay. A rare sighting of the lesser-spotted Dane was curtailed when Campbell was introduced. Cornelius, who has done nothing to justify his fee, nevertheless explained why Solskjaer is keen to strengthen his strike force.

The plan is to exchange Peter Odemwingie, who has made a negligible effect in his brief time in Wales, for Stoke City’s Kenwyne Jones.

“There is potentially a deal to be done, Peter going to them and Kenwyne coming to us,” Solskjaer said. “We are quite a long way down that road.”

Firepower is required as he has adopted a more attacking approach. His sacked predecessor Mackay tended to start with one forward and, albeit against Championship strugglers, Solskjaer selected two.

It will be more instructive if he is as bold at Old Trafford, where opponents have been rewarded for being positive this season, and David Moyes was at the Reebok Stadium on a scouting mission.

Not that he should have departed overly worried. The first half was mediocre, with a Lee Chung-yong shot that went narrowly wide the sole highlight. Thereafter, Solskjaer’s goalkeeper, David Marshall, had to make a fine save from Neil Danns’s drive while Kim Bo-kyung could have doubled Cardiff’s lead, but it was a largely uneventful occasion.

Tuesday evening ought to be altogether more memorable.

“I looked at it the day I got the job,” Solskjaer said. “When do we play Manchester United? It is a dream, but I just said to myself, enjoy management in Norway and see where it gets you.”

The answer, even if only for one day, is back to his spiritual home.

sports@thenational.ae

Published: January 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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