In an exclusive extract from Jamie Jackson’s new book on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he speaks to Big Ben Turner, who makes some startling claims relating to the Norwegian’s time in charge and how he feels his tenure was hampered by interference.
“In an echo of the questions Ole Gunnar had to field on being appointed, Ben Turner, one of his defenders, claims that OGS was not always able to select the team on merit. Having started his career at Coventry City, Cardiff was Turner’s fourth club when he joined in August 2011, having previously had loan spells at Peterborough United and Oldham Athletic. Turner was a mainstay of the Cardiff side that won promotion as Championship champions the season before Ole took over.
Yet Solskjær had some disturbing news when informing him he had been dropped after playing in a 0-0 home draw with Aston Villa on 11 February 2014, a Tuesday. The next league game was also at Cardiff City Stadium, against Hull City on Saturday 22 February and ended – with no Turner in the XI – in a 4-0 hiding from Steve Bruce’s side.
‘I know he wasn’t given the full sort of trust to manage the club in his own way without any interference,’ says Turner. ‘There were boys, including myself, who were called in and told we weren’t playing and it really wasn’t his decision – that it was coming from above.
‘Obviously that wasn’t helping anyone. If there was anyone at the whole club who was not understanding football, it was the people who weren’t involved in the football. Unfortunately, there were people being picked or dropped, or both, based on what was being told from above – certain players were being dropped on that basis.
‘At the time, it was bothering me on a personal level. As an example, we were in a relegation dogfight, and had Aston Villa at home midweek, I think it was a BT Sport game, and we drew 0-0. So we got a clean sheet and I honestly wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said it’s probably the best I’ve ever played in a game in my whole entire life. Then on Saturday we played Hull at home and three of the back four that started against Villa and got the clean sheet were dropped.’
These were Turner, Gary Medel and Kévin Théophile-Catherine, with only Declan John, a wing-back, making the bench for Hull’s visit. Solskjær, true to type, was straight with Turner. ‘I was told I was dropped for Juan Cala because he – Ole – was told from above that he had to play and that’s why he was leaving me out. Ole told me this to my face – I was told that I was being dropped through no fault of my own – it was coming from above,’ Turner recalls. ‘And Hull beat us 4-0.’
This is a fresh perspective on the mistakes OGS says he made at Cardiff. The chief one may have been actually accepting the post. Turner continues: ‘Ole said: “I know we got a clean sheet against Villa, but I’ve been told that I have to play Juan Cala.”
‘Cala was a signing that was brought in, a Spanish centre-back. No one really knew who brought him in. It didn’t appear that it was from the football staff, as it were. He was brought in and it was kind of like, this is the player we brought in for you through agents and whatnot.
‘I was told I wasn’t playing because we wanted to try and pass the ball out more from the back. They told him – Ole – that on that basis Juan had to play, because he’s a Spanish centre-back and that was one of the reasons he was brought in. Well, it was a disaster on the Saturday because Juan and Steven Caulker didn’t get on, one single bit, and they were the centre-backs. It was a concern because it was new to me and what player wants to hear they’re dropped because it’s coming from the owner? The way I looked at it was this: the owner’s got all the money in the world. He’s running a football club essentially as a side hobby and he’s got new toys and the new toy that week was Juan Cala. This isn’t me and sour grapes: I’ve been dropped as much as the next. But you want to be dropped for the right reasons.
‘I had no reason to doubt what the gaffer was saying to me, that it’d come from above. He was an honest, genuine guy as far as I was concerned. Fair enough, we got relegated but he always had integrity. He was always straight with people in that respect and how straight can you be with a player just to tell him that you’ve been dropped because of what’s coming from above.’
If a manager does not always have full control of team matters then he is seriously hamstrung and cannot, truly, be held wholly responsible for results. Turner believes Cardiff was a bad fit for Solskjær. ‘You couldn’t say he was anything but a gentleman, a nice person, a passionate football man and about how it should be played,’ he says. ‘And, being brutally honest, it was probably the wrong club for him at the time.
‘At Cardiff, with everything that was going on and the fact that we were in deep trouble when he actually got there, it was probably the wrong place. But I’m sure he learned a lot from being there. The club was not harmonious – between the fans, players and owners. It was more than just trying to manage a football team.’
Nils Johan Semb, who managed Solskjær at Norway Under-21 and senior level, believes Ole Gunnar’s experience in South Wales was invaluable. ‘He had a tough period in Cardiff and of course he was not happy with that – but I think that maybe was the best experience for him, ahead of going into Manchester United,’ Semb says. ‘You can say that he made some mistakes in Cardiff, because he was very inexperienced.’”
The Red Apprentice: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: The Making of Manchester United’s Great Hope by Jamie Jackson is released by Simon & Schuster UK and available now.