Woodson Comes to Football*

Old and Busted. (credit: teletext.co.uk)

About a month ago, the BBC announced that Ceefax, its text-only, real-time news channel, would be shut down in all markets except for Tyneside, Kent and Northern Ireland as the UK moves to an all-digital television signal.  The passing of the service was met largely with a whiff of nostalgia by a lot of observers, perhaps none moreso than football fans.   For a time, Ceefax was the top source of transfer news as it broke, and match updates for those whose clubs received no television coverage over the BBC airwaves.

Over the past week, Aston Villa saw its move for Molde Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær dissolve, with the Manchester United legend yesterday announcing that he would be remaining with the defending Tippeligaen champions to keep his family in Norway, after being whisked away to Birmingham for surprise talks with Villa Chairman Randy Lerner.

So, you’re probably thinking, how are these two stories related?  Well, the latter is an example of how the speed of information today has rendered the former obsolete, and how, in a Ceefax world, I might be a very happy chappy with my club’s managerial appointment.

Let’s begin with the timeline of events, shall we?

New Hotness. (credit: Twitter)

14 May 2012: Villa begin their managerial search in earnest with the sacking of Alex McLeish, citing “[the absence of] compelling play and results” as the reason for dismissal in their official statement.  The Guardian runs a shortlist of likely candidates for the vacancy, which includes Paul Lambert, Chris Hughton, Roberto Martinez, Alan Curbishley, and FourFiveTwo.com and Unprofessional Foul favorite HUH Bob Bradley

16 May 2012: Reports emerge that Randy Lerner will be arriving in Birmingham to open interviews for the managerial vacancy.

17 May 2012: Solskjær emerges as a contender for the Villa job, with an airport worker in Birmingham who posts on VillaTalk as “thetrees” alerting Villa supporters that Lerner’s private jet would be landing at BHX and then heading on to Kristiansund airport in Norway.  It’s worth noting that this same source alerted supporters to the jet’s move to Corsica for Lerner to meet with Gerard Houllier in the late Summer of 2010 just before the Frenchman became Villa’s manager.

18 May 2012: The Birmingham Express and Star‘s Timothy Abraham joins in the planespotting fun, tweeting photos of the Lernerjet arriving at BHX and Solskjær disembarking.  Solskjær holds talks with Randy Lerner, after which Lerner returns to the States and Solskjær to Norway to prepare for the club’s next match. Kjell Røkke, the Molde chairman, is reported to be so angry with Solskjær potentially leaving that he threatens to pull his investment from the club.

19 May 2012: Solskjær holds his usual pre-game presser, and delivers professional answers to questions regarding the Villa job, mostly along the lines of “I’m still the contracted manager of Molde, and am not actively looking for another job.” Sky Sports and other outlets take this to mean that he will not be joining Villa, while Norwegian papers suggest that the Molde gaffer is likely to make the move.  Speculation now turns to whether the next day’s match will be his last, or if he will continue to guide Molde until the Tippeligaen breaks for Euro 2012.

Additionally, reports of a “list of three questions” that Rokke asked of Solskjaer before his departure for Birmingham make the rounds, about which Solskjaer is reported to be quite upset.

20 May 2012: Solskjær manages Molde to a  2-0 away victory over Sandnes Ulf.  At full-time, Solskjær is reported to hug each of his Molde players on their way off the pitch before clapping the visiting supporters. Solskjær remains coy on his position at Molde, and whether he intends to stay or go. He does, however, reveal that he has a clause in his contract that allows his release to a Premier League club for no fee.

21 May 2012:  Røkke sends HIS private jet to Kristiansund, where it picks up the Solskjærs for a dinner meeting at the chairman’s home outside of Oslo.

22 May 2012: The Birmingham Mail‘s Mat Kendrick reports that Solskjær is expected to remove himself from contention for the Villa job.  Solskjær is asked by a reporter for the Norwegian newspaper TidensKrav why he said no to Villa, to which Solskjær replied “let’s talk tomorrow after training.”

23 May 2012: Solskjær holds a press conference with Røkke in which he announces his intentions to stay at Molde, wishing to no longer be considered for the Villa job, and having not been formally offered it. Future 5P subject Stan Collymore, who ran with the early Sky story despite the fact that Solskjær hadn’t actually made his decision until the 21st, delivers a victory lap tweet, claiming “this is why news sources are news sources and gossip is gossip.”

Not Gunnar Work Here. . . (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Credit: Express and Star)

And all of this done in a week.  Watching the story unfold in real time was rather remarkable, with new bits of information and twists to the story emerging every day (as you can see).  Basically, a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.

Special recognition, in addition to Abraham and Kendrick for their work trying to piece together the story from the Villa side, should go to Andreas Meier Eide for handling a lot of translation duties on a pro-bono basis.  Eide, Peter StempelMads Hasle, and Preben Walle all, in fact, were instrumental in filtering the Norwegian media to English-speaking shores, while Ian Robo of the blog Aston Villa Views served as the AFP for those and other Norwegian sources, updating multiple times a day on both his blog and Twitter feed.  Eide’s Twitter bio says that he’s a “journalist in the making,” and quite honestly, he did some excellent reporting with very little official access.

Now that you’re up to speed, back to the question at hand: without the rapid influx of information advancing this story at the rate it did, would Villa have been able to more easily poach OGS from Molde?  I asked Eide and Stempel that very question on Twitter.  Both said that the business relationship between Solskjær and Røkke was much more complicated than the normal Chairman/Manager relationship, and that Røkke would have likely acted on Solskjær flying to Birmingham whether or not it was reported.  On top of that, Røkke has a history of threatening clubs before, as he owned Wimbledon FC and was involved in their transformation to MK Dons before bailing.

*The headline of this post refers to an early song  from Manhattan, Kansas’s own The Get Up Kids, in which the chorus goes “Build me up/Break me down/And I take it.”  Even if there were even a minimally greater chance that Villa would have hired a rising young star in football management, I wouldn’t trade Twitter for Ceefax.  The last week alone was more exciting than Villa’s entire last season, and information updated much more quickly than a Ceefax refresh. And for all of the crap the football community gives ITKs, there’s something fun about seeing them congregate in one location rather than hearing the rumors a week late from a mother’s uncle’s neighbor’s coworker.  Besides, which other club in the world of football can say they have a dedicated team of planespotters?

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3 responses to “Woodson Comes to Football*

  1. Nice work, Keith! Especially the Get Up Kids reference – my wife was a huge fan back in the day and I always love some Sunflower State pride!

  2. Thanks, Gunner! Did you guys get the chance to see them on their comeback tour last year?

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