CARDIFF, Wales — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the ultimate super-sub in his 11 years at Manchester United, his lethal finishing snatching priceless league points and famously winning his team the Champions League in 1999.
Now, he is back in the Premier League and on a very different kind of rescue mission — saving Cardiff from relegation.
The 40-year-old Solskjaer was hired as Cardiff’s new manager on Thursday, swapping job security at Molde and a settled family life in his native Norway for the high-pressure world of football’s richest league.
“I felt I needed to be back here,” Solskjaer said of his return to the Premier League.
“I wish I was 25 again and playing in the Premier League,” he added. “Time ticks for everyone, so I can’t — now I’m a lucky man to be a manager in the Premier League.”
Nicknamed the “baby-faced assassin” during his time at United from 1996-2007, it was a gray-haired Solskjaer who was presented at Cardiff City Stadium as the replacement for Malky Mackay, who was fired last week after losing a power struggle with the Welsh club’s Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan.
Solskjaer has signed a rolling, season-by-season contract, with his first task to ensure Cardiff retains its Premier League status following its return to England’s top flight for the first time in 51 years. Cardiff is 17th in the 20-team Premier League — a point and a place above the relegation zone after 20 games.
If he achieves that, his next aim will be to establish the team from the Welsh capital as a force in the division. And he is pledging to do so by playing an attacking brand of football modeled on the sides of Alex Ferguson, who was his manager at United in that trophy-laden decade when Solskjaer won six league titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League.
Naturally, Solskjaer spoke to Ferguson before accepting the job at Cardiff, which is increasingly perceived in Britain as a tough role because of Tan’s reported meddling in team affairs.
“When there’s a big decision to make, you rely on certain people you trust,” Solskjaer said. “I trusted him with my football career, to manage my career, and I trust him now as well.”
Solskjaer’s career, which reached its peak when he diverted home United’s injury-time winner in a 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich in that most dramatic of Champions League finals, ended in 2007 after he failed to recover from a serious knee injury. He remained at United in a coaching and ambassadorial role, however, and went on to become the club’s reserve-team manager.
He coached Molde — his former club — from 2011, winning back-to-back titles in his first two seasons and then the Norwegian Cup in his third.
Solskjaer was always tipped to make a return to the Premier League sooner rather than later, and he was linked with vacant roles at Aston Villa and Blackburn only to stay in Norway for family reasons.
He was immediately installed as favorite to succeed Mackay after the Scot was fired on Friday and held talks with Tan and chairman Mehmet Dalman at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Wednesday before the team’s match against the Premier League leaders.
Dalman said Solskjaer’s name was the “only one name in my head from the very beginning.”
“He is coming here to prove something to himself and to Cardiff,” Dalman said. “I had no doubts from day one, so I do feel like the cat that got the cream.”
Working under Tan may prove to be challenging, with Mackay barely communicating with his owner by the end of his time in charge. Since buying Cardiff in 2010, Tan has alienated some supporters by changing the club’s colors from blue to red, adopting a new crest and then removing Mackay, who had guided the team to a League Cup final in 2012 and the Premier League a year later.
“When I went to Manchester United, it was a new experience for me. When I went back to Molde with the English influence I had, that was a cultural difference for people back in Norway,” Solskjaer said. “Now when I come here, I want to create a culture here too. The communication between me and Mehmet and me and the owner will be crucial. Communication and dialogue is the key in any organization.”
Solskjaer’s first game in charge is against Newcastle in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday. He will return to Old Trafford on Jan. 28 for a league match against United.