LONDON (Reuters) - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted some words from another former Manchester United hero helped breathe new life into a stagnating club on Saturday as the caretaker manager celebrated their throwback 5-1 triumph at Cardiff City.
The 45-year-old Norwegian could not stop beaming as he explained how, following his temporary appointment following Jose Mourinho’s midweek sacking, a few words of encouragement from Wayne Rooney had also helped inspire him.
“I arrived on Wednesday night and only had Thursday and Friday with the players. Wayne Rooney texted me and gave me some advice — so it must be down to him!” laughed the Norwegian.
“He told me to make them play football, enjoy themselves and be Manchester United.”
And good to Rooney’s words, Solskjaer did find a way to enable players who had looked shackled and careworn under Mourinho to feel liberated enough to attack with pace and score five in a league match for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge in 2013.
After trouncing an admittedly poor Cardiff — the club where Solskjaer had struggled in his only previous Premier League managerial spell — United’s current team and ex-players like Rooney himself all clamoured to celebrate this new free-spirited feel.
“It’s a fantastic day for the club,” Rooney, who had watched the match from the BT Sport studio, said.
“Manchester United’s a big part of my life and it was never nice watching what was going on. Once Ole got the job, I thought I’d give him a message of congratulations,” added the club’s record scorer.
“The players obviously looked a bit restricted (under Mourinho). The players have ability and today we’ve seen that.
“A lot of things were happening around the team and around the manager, which isn’t good. Ole’s given them that freedom.”
It was evident from Rooney’s comments that he had been led to believe there had been a very different atmosphere in the later, increasingly problematic days of Mourinho’s two-and-a-half year reign.
“Everyone from the staff to the kitmen, they weren’t enjoying it. You can see the staff are happy today and the players are too,” he said.
That was certainly evident from the comments of United’s rejuvenated young players on Saturday, who were not shy in noting how Solskjaer had given them far more licence to express themselves.
Jesse Lingard, who scored twice after the break, to add to first-half goals from Marcus Rashford, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial, said: “The lads played with a lot of energy, enjoyment and excitement.
“When you’ve got confidence, you put yourselves in positions to score goals. That’s what we did. We were playing higher and the full-backs were higher. We pinned them back and created a lot of chances.”
Rashford, who set the ball rolling with his third minute free kick, was full of praise for Solskajer’s instant impact.
“He wants us to be positive on the ball and always look for the gaps. That was just the start. We’re going to improve and get better at it,” said the striker.
Rooney had quickly spotted a very different tactical approach under Solskjaer.
“The positions that the full backs, Luke Shaw and in particular Ashley Young, take up when United have the ball is something you’ve never seen under Mourinho,” he said.
Michael Owen, the former United and England striker, added on BT Sport that United would not have been so positive in their three-goal first half had Mourinho still been in charge.
Reporting by Ian Chadband; editing by Martyn Herman