Inside Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s spat with Robin van Persie with both refusing to back down

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as Manchester United boss didn’t end well, but it was a defeat midway through his tenure that ignited a feud between him and Robin van Persie

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer apologised for smiling in his final press conference as Manchester United boss – but years earlier had defended his tendency to smirk when he was attacked by Robin van Persie.

The Red Devils boss lasted three years at Old Trafford with varying degrees of success that ultimately yielded no trophy. It was a defeat at Arsenal just over a year into his tenure that proved to be the catalyst for a war of words with the Dutchman, who previously wore Solskjaer’s number in Manchester.

United were making little impact come January in the 2019/20 season. Defeat at the Emirates, which was Mikel Arteta’s first win as Arsenal boss, on New Year’s Day left United in fifth. Five points off the top four, more than twenty points off the top spot meant Solskjaer’s side had won four of their last nine league games.

Yet the Norwegian found the time to smile. Rarely, if ever, did he cut an animated figure on the touchline. His rants, if they existed at all, were kept private but Van Persie, who remains the man to fire United to their last league title in 2013, wanted to see more from the manager.


He said: “I would like to see him more mean at times, just be angry. I see him smiling after a game like that. This is not the moment to smile.”

Solskjaer certainly didn’t rule with an iron fist, unlike the man who managed him during his United playing days. Instead, his arm round-the-shoulder approach sat well with some of his players, albeit others felt he opted against making difficult decisions, especially towards the end of his tenure.

The United boss felt inclined to directly address the man who had called him out and joked that the only thing they would ever share was a squad number.

“I don’t know Robin and Robin doesn’t know me,” said Solskjaer. “He probably doesn’t have a right to criticise my management style and I won’t change. That’s definite. He took my No 20 shirt and that’s probably all he’s going to take from me because I’m not in medieval times [so don’t need to have an angry modus operandi].”



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