LONDON • Shortly after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was announced as Manchester United's permanent manager yesterday, the British media reported that many of his players were already informed of the decision a day earlier.
None of them leaked the news but, for someone who had spent 11 seasons at Old Trafford as a player and has exceeded expectations as a caretaker manager the past few months, it was no surprise that Solskjaer would eventually return to a place he calls "home" for good.
The 46-year-old Norwegian, who has guided United to 14 wins in 19 matches in all competitions since replacing the sacked Jose Mourinho in December, was appointed yesterday on a three-year contract.
"This is the job that I always dreamt of doing and I'm beyond excited to have the chance to lead the club long-term and, hopefully, deliver the continued success that our amazing fans deserve," said Solskjaer in a club statement.
"From the first day I arrived, I felt at home at this special club. It was an honour to be a Manchester United player, and then to start my coaching career here."
Initially viewed as purely a stop-gap option while the club searched for an established manager, with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino widely reported to be their target in the summer, the former United striker has thoroughly impressed with his attacking brand of football and now has his reward.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment at United in December, the Red Devils have won more points than any other Premier League team. They have 32 points from 13 matches, ahead of Liverpool (31 from 14).
After instantly turning around United's form - they have won 10 of their 13 Premier League games under him - he sealed his job with the dramatic comeback win at Paris Saint-Germain which earned the club a Champions League quarter-final clash with Barcelona.
His positive, inclusive approach to the players, supported by Alex Ferguson's former assistant Mike Phelan, transformed the mood in the club, a stark contrast to the atmosphere in the latter stages of Mourinho's reign, where fans had grown weary of the Portuguese's squabbles and defensive football.
That was one of the main reasons that United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward had chosen the Norwegian to be the caretaker.
Solskjaer's to-do list
Key contract decisions
Besides getting goalkeeper David de Gea to pen a deal extension, Manchester United's new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must also turn his attention to Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, whose deals expire in the summer. Herrera, 29, has been a crucial player in defensive midfield under Solskjaer and, with French champions Paris Saint-Germain lurking, the United boss must convince the Spaniard to stay.
With Antonio Valencia, 33, set to leave, United need a new right-back, especially since Ashley Young is nearing 34. Centre-backs Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling have been rejuvenated under Solskjaer but a central defensive recruit is needed. Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, Inter Milan's Milan Skriniar and Tottenham's Toby Alderweireld have all been linked with the club.
Solskjaer has continued United's proud tradition of promoting their talented academy players and he must do the same next season. Angel Gomes (18), James Garner (18), Tahith Chong (19) and Mason Greenwood (17) have played under Solskjaer in the absence of injured first-team players, after not playing at all under Jose Mourinho.
Solskjaer, who scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United, also restore a winning mentality at England's most successful club with a record 20 domestic titles.
"Since coming in as caretaker manager in December, the results Ole has delivered speak for themselves," said Woodward. "More than just performances and results, Ole brings a wealth of experience, both as a player and as a coach, coupled with a desire to give young players their chance and a deep understanding of the culture of the club."
The news of Solskjaer's appointment took social media by storm, with former and current United players all showing their support.
Former defender and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said: "We've had a lot of change at the club in the last four or five years with different managers and it hasn't worked. Ole has brought a level of happiness and excitement back to the fans.
"There is a lot of hard work still to do in the coming months and years to get Man United back to where they were before.
"I saw Louis van Gaal the other day say that Solskjaer's football is like Mourinho's but winning. Van Gaal's football at United was the worst I've ever seen and Mourinho's was far better, even though it wasn't acceptable in terms of what the fans want to see."
Ex-goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, part of the 1999 treble-winning team with Solskjaer, added: "I have to credit the club for the timing and also the bravery for doing this.
"I think it's a fantastic appointment and it's a great opportunity to bring a lot of Manchester United back to Manchester United."
Current players like Chris Smalling and Marcus Rashford also expressed their delight on social media, saying "Ole's at the wheel, congrats boss!" and "Congrats boss (fist bump emoji)" respectively.
While the future of Phelan - who is contracted to Australian club Central Coast Mariners as their sporting director - is still up in the air, another of Ferguson's former assistants believes that Solskjaer has what it takes to achieve success.
"I've been impressed with Ole in press conferences. He's never on the defensive, never looks for excuses and he also addresses the things he is not happy about," Rene Meulensteen told Sky Sports.
"But the most important thing is he knows the club, he knows the DNA of the club he was part of."
Fifth-placed United, who are locked in a battle for Champions League qualification spots with Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, host Watford in the league tomorrow.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS