Posted by: Christian Wulff | September 20, 2012

The Men Behind Solskjær

Tonight Ole Gunnar Solskjær will lead his Molde team out against Scandinavian rivals FC Copenhagen in the Europa League. With him, as has been the case since he took over the job two years ago, will be his former Manchester United colleagues Mark Dempsey and Richard Hartis. In this article, which is an updated version of the one that originally appeared on the brilliant but now sadly defunct website Les Rosbifs in June last year, James Drobka looks at the background of the two English coaches so vital to Molde’s success under Solskjær. You can follow him on twitter @JamesDrobka

On the 9th of November 2010, Ole Gunnar Solskjær signed on the dotted line to become Molde’s new manager. It was a massive story, the former local hero returning to his old club after so many years and triumphs in his over 15 years at Manchester United. Less widely reported were the story about the two men he brought with him to form part of the club’s backroom staff, English coaches Mark Dempsey and Richard Hartis.

Mark Dempsey had been a youth player at Manchester United in the 1980s, getting only two appearances under Ron Atkinson. He got his debut in a Cup Winners Cup game against Spartak Trnava and got only one more game before 2-0 leaving for Sheffield United. He took his coaching badges during his playing career, something which facilitated a move back to United where he was given a position to coach the U13 – 16 youth teams. Dempsey spent nearly 10 years working within the youth set-up at the club, forming a very good relationship with Solskjær in the process. It was this relationship that provided him with the opportunity to further his career in Norway with top-flight team Tromsø. He moved in November 2009 to take up a first team coach position at the club, while also working with the clubs youth team and those of the neighbouring counties.

Sponsored by a local bank, it was a three year project with an aim of improving the quality of local players in the three northernmost counties in Norway, of which Tromsø is the leading club. It might have seemed like an odd career move to leave one of the world’s best teams and best youth academies to relative obscurity in northern Norway, but it was a role that Dempsey fulfilled to great acclaim and which would lead him to an even bigger opportunity the year after.

Solskjær had recommended Dempsey to the Tromsø as the man to head their project and when the former United legend was appointed as Molde manager the year after, his first move was to offer Dempsey the role as first team coach. While only spending a year with Tromsø, he was highly regarded for his work there and Solskjær was full of praise for his former colleague in United when he brought him to Molde. ‘He was an under-16s coach (at United) and he’s fantastic, a teaching coach and I know the Norwegian players will love his approach to training’

Dempsey’s high status in Molde is further reflected by the words of current player and former United trainee Magnus Wolff Eikrem when I asked him about the current training methods under Solskjær and Dempsey. Eikrem said they are currently training similarly to the way he was used to in Manchester with the player very much enjoying it, seeing a stark different compared to how they used to train before.

Before moving to Molde Richard Hartis was perhaps most famously known for being a key witness in the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ scuffle between Patrice Evra and a Chelsea groundsman. Hartis first worked outside England in the early 1990s when he moved to the United States to become the head coach of Mercyhurst Men’s Soccer Program in Erie. His work there was recognised in 1995, when he was voted the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Men’s Division II Coach of the Year.

Hartis left the US and returned back England, taking up roles as a goalkeeping coach at Sheffield United, Leeds and Leicester City. He then joined Manchester United as Director of Goalkeeping Development at the start of the last decade and most notably worked as a first team coach during United’s 2007/08 season, when they won the Premier League and beat Chelsea in Moscow to lift the Champions League trophy.

Hartis worked closely with Solskjær at United when the latter was the reserve team manager there and the Norwegian was never in doubt that he wanted Hartis to come with him to Molde. Solskjær said: ‘I’ve worked with Richard for three years as a coach and I just asked him if he’d be interested because we’ve got a good working relationship. I think his methods are very good and he’ll bring something to the keepers and the back four in relation to the keeper. I asked the gaffer (Alex Ferguson) if it was ok for him to come across and he agreed to it.’

When the three men were all presented to the media after agreeing to take on the Molde job, Solskjær said he wanted to have his two new coaches alongside him to show a statement of intent. Two years later they have already achieved history, guiding Molde to their first ever league championship in 2011 and in a strong position to defend the title this season. After being only an injury time penalty miss away from progressing in the Championship League qualifying stages, tonight they lead Molde in the club’s first ever Europa League group stage tie against Scandinavian rivals FC Copenhagen.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær will happily acknowledge that Dempsey and Hartis’ expertise and experience has been a major contributing factor to how far Molde have come since that October day two years ago.

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