Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes his momentous winner for Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final proves that ‘anything can happen at any time’ in football as he tries to confound the odds on his return to the Nou Camp on Tuesday night.
Two decades on, United are up against it again after losing the first leg of their quarter-final 1-0 against favourites Barcelona at Old Trafford last week.
But Solskjaer tried to plant a seed of doubt in the Spaniards’ minds as he raised the prospect of set-pieces and injury-time goals.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes his goal in 1999 will prove to his players comebacks are possible
Solskjaer’s Manchester United play against Barcelona 1-0 down on aggregate after first leg
In ’99 United struck twice in quick succession from David Beckham corners with Teddy Sheringham and Solskjaer scoring to complete an epic comeback against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
‘I was a player back then, but in football anything can happen at any time,’ said Solskjaer.
‘We can still be in this tie in the 93rd minute. We can get a set-piece we are physically taller than them.
‘It’s about the quality but going forward we need to score and I don’t mind if it’s in the 93rd-minute because. If we get to injury-time we are a fit team. We’re getting fitter and fitter.
Solskjaer scored against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in Champions League final in 1999
it has become one of the most iconic moments in United’s history as they claimed the Treble
‘Physically we’re ready. We can deal with that and I expect my players to be ready. You mobilise. You’re going to play at Camp Nou and I know they’re going to play until the cramp takes them.
‘We have to use set-pieces and qualities in our team. You have to use it better than last week. We put many many crosses in against Barca but Gerard (Piquet) and Lengelet defended really well. Sometimes it’s counter, sometimes quick play. We have to be the best we can be. We are playing against a fantastic team and have to be realistic enough to see how to perform.’
Solskjaer phoned a friend at home in Norway before the ’99 final to tell him to tune in because something special was going to happen. Asked if he believes in fate, the United manager replied: ‘I believe you get what you deserve in sports – that if you put your life and effort and determination into it, you get exactly what you deserve.
‘Sometimes people say it has to be our year because it was 20 years ago, I used to play with the No.20 and we’re back at Camp Nou, but we have to deserve it. We can’t just rely on fate, no.’
Solskjaer said he did not believe in fate, but insisted teams ‘get what they deserve’ in sport
Solskjaer poses for a photo on the Nou Camp turf with co-owners Joel Glazer and Avram Glazer
Solskjaer hasn’t been back on the pitch here since that night. He brought his son Noah to a game in 2016 and was accompanied by his assistant Mick Phelan on a scouting mission earlier in the month.
‘Many emotions,’ he replied when asked to reflect on his finest hour. ‘It’s a fantastic memory for me. The last time I was on the pitch was the only time. I’ve been in the stands, brought my son in a Clasico in 2016, high up in the stands and I was here 10 days ago.
‘But I don’t look back on that night too often. I’m focused on tomorrow and a better performance. We need to play better – that’s my job now.’
Solskjaer will draw on a more recent achievement as he tries to replicate the stunning comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the last round after United lost the first leg 2-0.
Manchester United players get used to their surroundings at the Nou Camp on Monday
United’s Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez attempts to avoid the sprinkler which has gone off
‘Of course, that memory from PSG will help the players and us a as a team. We know we can turn things around,’ he added. ‘Barca at the Nou Camp is a different prospect but the memory from that night will live with the players. It’s not that long ago and we’re one goal better off.
‘Belief is massive. Everyone’s got talent and a certain ability to play, but we’ve seen ourselves against PSG to get back against a fantastic team. Historically Barca are the best in the last 10 years. It’s will need a massive effort but the players have shown before that if we give our all and have a little bit of concentration … we just switched off and (Sergio) Busquets played that pass for (Lionel) Messi. Belief is one thing and concentration is another.’
Solskjaer acknowledged that United need to sharpen up in attack after failing to register a single shot on target in the first leg for the only time since Opta stats began in 2005.
Asked why United’s scoring has dropped off in recent games, he said: ‘That’s the 100million-dollar question, who can score them? That’s why the best strikers are the most expensive ones. We had a couple of decent chances but when you can’t work the goalkeeper you can’t score. We know we’ll create chances. We have a goal threat. It’s about taking a deep breath and taking those chances.
‘We need to score goals and if it’s Rom (Lukaku), Jesse (Lingard), Alexis (Sanchez) or Marcus (Rashford), we need big performances. We have to defend well and have that little bit extra to score goals against teams like this. Whoever starts tomorrow, when they’re on the pitch we want to see some good form. We weren’t good enough against them.
‘We didn’t stamp our authority on the game at home. We didn’t keep the ball as well we should have and didn’t create enough chances. If you give their players time on the ball and too many chances to create you’ll suffer. I hope we are not just going to be camped outside our own box.
‘It’s in the DNA of players to dominate and control games and we are the same. If we can control and dominate, we’ll take it. I can’t see them giving us easy possession to counter. We expect to come here and have to use it really well.’
United train under the backdrop of the words ‘more than a club’ at Barcelona’s stadium
Juan Mata and Marcos Rojo take in their surroundings during Monday afternoon’s session
England international Jesse Lingard limbers up on the pitch as United train in Barcelona
Nemanja Matic could start after missing the last three games through illness and Alexis Sanchez has travelled after recovering from a knee injury that has kept him out for the last six weeks.
Sanchez is likely to be on the bench and Solskjaer hopes the former Barca star can produce against his old club to make up for a poor season if he gets on.
‘Alexis has been here and played, and when he’s on the pitch he wants to prove a point for us as well,’ he said. ‘He’s been injured and not had a fantastic season so far. Let’s hope he can end the season great.
‘We’re in the business end, playing games Manchester United are used to playing. We’re challenging for a semi-final, and let’s hope Alexis when he’s on the pitch he can be happy with his performance.’