Ole Selnaes, like thousands of other Norwegians, is a Manchester United fan – but this one can’t wait for the chance to shoot down his idols at Old Trafford on Thursday.
An intelligent midfielder, the 22-year-old is an important cog in the St Etienne side that this Thursday faces United in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 clash.
Selnaes has become a growing influence with Les Verts since leaving hometown club Rosenborg at the start of last year in order to pit his wits against Ligue 1’s best.
The defensive-minded player is loving life at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and the opportunities it affords him, such as Thursday’s trip to Old Trafford.
“English football and Manchester United is really, really big in Norway,” Selnaes said.
“The Premier League is by far the most popular league in Norway and when I grew up we had some Norwegians at Manchester United, so obviously I followed them totally.
“I have been to some games when I was a little kid, but that’s a long time ago now.
“Of course it is going to be a special moment. It’s one of the most special stadiums in the world – a great history, a special stadium.”
Ronny Johnsen and Henning Berg were among the Norwegians to enjoy success at Old Trafford, but for a young boy called Ole his favourite United player was obvious.
“One of my favourites was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer,” Selnaes said.
“When I grew up, he was maybe in his prime and did really well. He was maybe the greatest player in Norway at that time.”
Such stars are lacking from the national side nowadays, but the current crop are beginning to again play regularly at a higher level.
Selnaes – currently unavailable for his country due to a FIFA ban for insulting a match official – has certainly enjoyed the challenges presented by moving to St Etienne, with his transition to life in France aided by Rosenborg team-mate Alexander Soderlund joining around the same time.
The pair spend a lot of time together away from the pitch and embrace life in a city where the club is core to people’s identity.
“We have fantastic fans, a great atmosphere,” Selnaes said. “I feel like the football and the club is really, really important in the city.
“If you win and do well, everyone in the city is happy and if you don’t do well it sucks a bit.
“It’s very important here and I think when you live in St Etienne, you have a relationship to the club and understand that the club is really important there. It’s a special city.”
St Etienne are not the force they once were, but remain one of France’s grandest clubs, having won 10 league titles and finished runners-up in the 1976 European Cup.
The team currently sit fifth in Ligue 1 – a point off bitter rivals Lyon despite beating them at the start of February – as they enjoy a decent season under long-serving manager Christophe Galtier.
St Etienne certainly look likely to prove tougher opponents than odds of 9-2 on their progress suggest, especially as Jose Mourinho’s side head to the intimidating Stade Geoffroy-Guichard for the second leg.
“I think we have the best fans in France and have fans all over the country,” Selnaes said. “I can feel it’s a big club.
“I think it’s good for us to start away and finish at home.
“Obviously it’s going to be a really tough match, but for sure I know that the atmosphere is going to be very, very good every time we play at home.
“We will try to play our way. We have to try to respect their strengths and everything, but we’re not that kind of team who just plays defensively 90 minutes.”
Selnaes on Pogba brother battle
It will be a special tie for Selnaes and several others, no more so than the Pogba brothers, Paul and Florentin, as they prepare to face one another.
“I think he thinks it’s fun,” Selnaes said. “I talked to Florentin a little bit and he said, ‘It’s once in a lifetime to play against your brother’.
“It’s a fun thing. I can imagine if I was playing my brother in a big game, of course it’s a funny thing.
“When the game starts, maybe they forget about it. Afterwards, they will remember it for a long time.”
It is unlikely Selnaes will forget the tie against United any time soon either.