Molde’s business model making the most of special talent – ​​The Irish Times

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There’s something in the water in Molde, the modest municipality in the Norwegian county of Møre og Romsdal where, every 25 years or so, a world football superstar sprouts.

Until fairly recently, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the most famous name to wear the blue for Molde FK, a few years before scoring one of European football’s most iconic goals on a spring night in Barcelona in 1999. First as a player and then as a title-winning manager, he put Molde on the football map of Norway and, in terms of his legacy, the world.

For now, Solskjaer remains the most decorated export to have left the Aker Stadion for one of Europe’s big clubs.

But in 2019 another striker was sold by Molde, younger than Solskjaer when he started his career abroad and already struggling with the dim expectation that he could become Norway’s greatest ever player. .

That Erling Haaland eclipses Solskjaer’s goalscoring record – a very respectable 282 in 529 games – seems inevitable. One man knows the two legends of Norwegian football – one past, one future – better than anyone.

Current Molde boss Erling Moe was Solskjaer’s number two here from 2015 to 2018. For two of those years, Haaland led the team’s forward line, his first experience of top-flight football.

“It’s great for the club that we have guys like that who have played and managed here,” Moe said.

“Part of the secret is that we are not the biggest club, we are a city of 26,000 people, but there is nothing but football in this city. Everything is set up for young people to succeed here. They [Solskjaer and Haaland] were both extremely young when they came to us. They have time to develop properly in Molde.

Solskjaer first came here in 1995, snatched from tiny Clausenengen in the coastal town of Kristiansund. His strike rate there rivals that of Haaland at that age, averaging more than a goal per game in his five seasons at the club, but it was at Molde that he first came to international attention .

A Cup Winners’ Cup goal against Paris Saint Germain in 1995 was his first in Europe before Manchester United beat Hamburg and Cagliari to sign him a year later.

His return as manager 14 years later ushered in a whirlwind romance. Molde won a first-ever Eliteserien title in a year, followed by his second the following season.

The team he left behind made it three in four years after leaving for Cardiff City in 2014. Upon his return the following year, Moe was his number two until Manchester United called up in 2018 .

Haaland was a different kind of prospect. Arriving at the age of 16 from Bryne, he had scored 18 goals in his first 14 senior games while playing in Norway’s fourth tier. During his days at Molde, a dawning sense of a truly special talent, unique in a generation, began to emerge.

Whatever happens to the young players here, it happened, and it happened quickly. The goals came – 16 of them in 32 games in his second season, when he was just 18 – before an €8million transfer to Red Bull Salzburg in 2019, a staggering sum for a teenager whose only football experience had come in Norway’s lowly Eliteserien.

The gears that had eased Solskjaer towards his eventual status as one of Europe’s iconic strikers 25 years earlier were turning again.

“The only thing they have to worry about here is football,” Moe said. “It’s a very good environment to develop players, to take them to the next level. It’s hard to point fingers and say ‘this is how we produced two such incredible players’. But the environment of the city is conducive to this sort of thing.

“These two stand out, but there have been more. Last year we sold Marcus Holmgren Pedersen to Feyenoord, he did very well there and became a Norwegian international. Many of our players have left Molde and taken the step to the big world.

“Here, we don’t think primarily about formations and tactics. Our goal as a club is always the development of young players, preparing them to go abroad. We are a club that has to sell players to maintain balance. This is our business model. It’s our priority, to make people so good that we can make money and survive.

Moe’s current dilemma concerns overthrowing Molde’s less than spirited start to their Conference League campaign – the domestic title is all but over, with a 15-point lead over second-placed Bodo/Glimt.

After picking up just one point from the opening two games against Gent and Djurgardens, the fate of their European season will be dictated by the outcome of back-to-back games against Shamrock Rovers, starting tonight at the Aker Stadion.

“If we lose that, we’re in a really tough position,” Moe says. “We will have to win our last three which will be extremely difficult. Thursday is vital if we want to be in Europe after Christmas. We have to win these two games.

“But Irish football has come a long way. We had a real surprise when we played against Dundalk a few years ago. I think Shamrock plays in a much more European way, keeping the ball on the ground, looking to use the ball to play through opponents. Irish football has really changed course. There seems to be trust in trusting each other.

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