MANCHESTER, England — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told ESPN FC he wants to build a Manchester United team in the mould of his fellow 1999 Treble winners while adding he is not worried that Manchester City could surpass their achievement by winning the Quadruple.
Solskjaer is two weeks into his spell as permanent manager after penning a three-year deal to replace Jose Mourinho on a full-time basis.
The Norwegian has pressing short-term aims including finishing in the top four and Barcelona’s visit to Old Trafford in the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday — but is already looking further ahead and, 20 years on from United’s most successful season, the 46-year-old said he is aiming to build a team with the same fight and spirit.
“We challenged each other every day in training,” Solskjaer told ESPN FC. “There were fights and there was an inner justice that I’ve not seen in too many teams.
“We never, ever accepted anyone being below par in training. We kicked each other and we had to win every single day. That moved over into games and we never gave in. There was an unbelievable team spirit.
“I want my players to really push each other and demand 100 percent attitude from each other every single day. That’s the only way you can improve and it’s the only way you can win. We had something special.
“It’s a different group now and the challenge is: ‘How can I make these players winners as we were?'”
Solskjaer has signed up to play in a Treble reunion game with the entire cast of 1999 against Champions League opponents Bayern Munich at Old Trafford on May 26 — exactly 20 years on from his winner in the Camp Nou.
It is possible that by then City will be preparing for the last leg of an unprecedented Quadruple ahead of the Champions League final in Madrid on June 1.
United are still in the competition and face Barcelona in the quarterfinals but Solskjaer, who was at Camp Nou on Saturday night to watch the 2-0 victory over Atletico Madrid, said preserving the status of his Treble is the last thing on his mind.
“United fans want us to win it because they want to win it,” Solskjaer said. “I think we should look at what we can achieve and not what we can stop others achieving.”
Solskjaer is aware of the challenge he faces at Old Trafford after being named permanent boss. Over the summer, talk will turn from fourth-place finishes and Champions League quarterfinals to titles and finals but, even this early into his spell as manager, it is not something he wants to shy away from.
“You’ve got to aim high,” he said. “You cannot aim too low at this club. You’ve got to aim to win titles.
“When I came back here as the manager I thought a lot about what makes a winning team. What does it really take to win on the biggest stage? I’m not one to sit back, rest on my laurels and think: ‘That was a great time’ — it’s more thinking about what did we do to get there.
“What did the manager tell us? What kind of master team talks did he have? When did he speak to us? All these little things.”
As a player, Solskjaer was renowned for the way he prepared when he was a substitute and it is no coincidence that the 29 goals he scored from the bench — including his Champions League winner — is a club record.
He has put the same work into becoming a manager and now he is in his “dream job” his forward-thinking is paying off — especially when it comes to Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I’m quite lucky because I did write a few diaries,” he said. “I did think a lot about football so I do have vivid memories of things that happened and I’ve written some things down.
“Towards the end of my career I was more focused on what the manager said. You learn that there was a pattern to what he was saying. There’s a pattern to how he builds his team up to believe: ‘We are going to make this.’
“I’ve used some of his team talks. You’ve got to plan; you can’t just act on emotion. As I got to know him, I realised it’s not just emotion. When he went on one of his hairdryers or when he was hammering people, there was a reason behind what he did. He was maybe pointing at one player so that the 10 others would help him out.
“He would put his arm around someone or really go hard on someone to really get the best out of them. That’s what I learned from him the most — how he managed to get the best out of every single player.”
Solskjaer said his players have already seen his own version of Ferguson’s hairdryer. “Sometimes you’ve got to go strong,” he said. “You do it when you’re disappointed, definitely.
“If your kids disappoint you, you have to tell them off. If you can see they’re trying their utmost, they’re trying their best, I don’t think there’s any reason why you should scream and shout. Sometimes you talk sensibly and sometimes you have to raise your voice.”
He will hope it’s not needed in the home dressing room on Wednesday night when Old Trafford hosts its first Champions League quarterfinal since 2014.
“We’re playing against a good team but there is something special about this group of players,” Solskjaer said. “It will be fantastic.”
*Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be appearing in the Treble reunion match against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford on May 26. Tickets are available to all supporters here.