Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is taking his baby steps in football management and seems to be doing an excellent job so far. A magnificent 2-1 win at Valerenga in mid-week put them top of the table and though others have games in hand, Molde are showing the mental toughness required to be genuine title challengers.
The club may now be regular competitors in the top flight having only missed out for a couple of seasons since 1983 but producing actual success has proved altogether more difficult. They have only two Norwegian Cups to their name and although a quirk of history awards the cup winners with the title of national champions, they have not yet won the league title which would give them this accolade for real.
In 2009 they produced a superb league campaign and finished runners-up to a magnificent Rosenborg team who lost just once all year – and that when the championship was already in the bag. However, it was the cup which proved even more traumatic for Molde as they lost in the final to local rivals Aalesund in a penalty shoot-out – despite leading twice and playing against ten men for a huge chunk of the game.
The team failed to recover in 2010 and only a managerial change in autumn which saw the appointment of Uwe Rosler moved the club away from a messy battle against relegation. Rosler then left and the board turned to former player and hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the start of the 2011 season.
Solskjaer may have been well-educated by managerial legend Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United but his first number one post initially seemed a step too far – his team were humbled 3-0 at newly promoted Sarpsborg on the opening day. Consecutive draws in the next two games left the team with just a couple of points from the first three matches and few would have predicted what happened next.
A magnificent run of eight wins from 11 games sent the club shooting up the table to their current lofty position. And while things still have a tendency to go spectacularly wrong when they don’t go right – witness a 5-0 thumping at Haugesund in May – the team has recovered from each of their recent three defeats with an excellent win in their next outing.
As with most top teams they are backed by a magnificent goalkeeper, in this case Espen Pettersen, who played through a bad ankle injury to produce a man of the match performance in the win at Valerenga. There are plenty of goals at the other end with Davy Claude Angan being a magnificent winter addition from relegated Honefoss while Pape Pate Diouf is no stranger to scoring either.
The midfield trio is a fine combination of grit and skill with few teams elsewhere being able to match the likes of Daniel Haestad and Makhtar Thioune even before the beautiful creativity of Magne Hoseth is taken into consideration. The defence is perhaps the weakness – they have conceded notably more than anyone else in the top five despite the best efforts of Pettersen – and it is worth questioning if the attack is continually able to make up for this shortfall.
The Molde fans may simply be pleased to be competitive again after a miserable 2010, even if they are still wondering just how far this team can go. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a winning mentality from his time and Old Trafford though and his eyes, quite rightly, will already be set on the ultimate prize.