Gary Hamilton, having gained a path into European football as a player thanks to one Norway-born hero from Manchester United’s 1999 treble-winning squad, will on Wednesday night face another as manager.
Gary Hamilton, having gained a path into European football as a player thanks to one Norway-born hero from Manchester United’s 1999 treble-winning squad, will tonight face another as manager.
Hamilton’s Glenavon host a Molde side managed by United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Mourneview Park in the Europa League first qualifying round.
The home leg of the tough tie completes something of a career circle for Hamilton following a loan move to Raufoss from Blackburn Rovers in 2001 before he returned home to win Irish League honours with both Portadown and Glentoran.
Henning Berg was key to Hamilton’s time at Raufoss, taking a keen interest in the striker’s development during his second spell at Rovers following a fine medal haul with United that included the 1999 Premier League, FA Cup and Champions’ League honours.
It is a campaign Solskjaer is happy to reminisce over - but the former striker’s clear goal remains continued progress with his current club.
“Scoring that goal was one of the best nights I’ve ever had, professionally and privately,” said Solskjaer of his Champions League final strike. “You realise the more time goes on just how important that goal was for United.
“It is just the first qualifying round but it is a big thing for the club to be back in Europe and we want to qualify for the group stages.
“We are the third youngest team in the Premier League in Norway and we have some exciting young players.
“The dream is always to be back at Manchester United but I would have to do a lot of great things before then.”
Hamilton is aware of the Molde strengths.
“I’ve watched the past seven or eight games and even in those fixtures they lost Molde dominated the ball,” said Hamilton. “The young lad Erling Braut Haland is flying, with six goals in two appearances, however there’s quality across the side.
“Molde have not played the same formation two games in a row from what we’ve seen, with the personnel also changing.
“That shows the depth of quality, how they can rotate players and positions.
“They’ve scored four and five times in the past two fixtures and come over here in the middle of a really good run.
“With Bobby Burns now at Hearts following his move from Glenavon we’ve been in touch to compare the fitness data between the clubs and our guys are in or around the full-time distances.
“It is a squad full of energy, with young and hungry players.
“The worst-case scenario for us is we come out of it with the benefits off two really good pre-season games, when the boys are going to have to run a lot and chase the ball.
“That alone will help our physical and mental preparations going into the domestic season.
“But the other side is they can go out and express themselves and our attitude at Glenavon will always be to go out to try and win every game of football.”
Glenavon’s Europa League tie will clash with the World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia - with Solskjaer aware of split family focus.
“My kids were all born in England so they will have their England shirts on,” he said. “My daughter has Kane on the back of her shirt, my youngest son has Rashford and the oldest one didn’t want a name but they’ll all have those shirts on at home.
“I believe England can win it and Gareth (Southgate) has created such a great spirit for his squad.
“He’s gelled them together and there are no cliques anymore, I heard all the stories down the years about Liverpool and United boys but it doesn’t look as though any of that is there now.”