HENNING Berg may find himself operating at the other end of the football spectrum to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer these days but the respective tasks both men – former Manchester United and Norway team-mates together in the 90s and noughties – have embraced share a striking resemblance.

Berg, now 51, is happily ensconced as the head coach of Omonia Nicosia, arguably the Manchester United of Cyprus. On Friday, Berg’s side were matched with PSV Eindhoven, PAOK and Granada in Europa League Group E for their debut in the group stage of a competition that was rebranded in 1999. If that gives some indication of how long Omonia have been in the wilderness, then it is equally clear they are a force again following their performances in Champions League qualifying. They beat Red Star Belgrade and Legia Warsaw, another of Berg’s old clubs, in qualifying before succumbing to tournament regulars Olympiacos 2-0 on aggregate. The passion inside Omonia’s GSP Stadium during that run was reminiscent of Old Trafford in its heyday under Sir Alex Ferguson.

“When we beat Red Star [Belgrade] we could not get out of the stadium,” says Berg. “It was mental. To see the joy on our supporters’ faces, now that Omonia is back where it used to be, it was fantastic. I am very, very happy here. Omonia is the biggest club in Cyprus, we are the most popular club, we are the working-class people’s club.

“The fans are demanding so there is nobody who can come here and think you are going to have an easy life. The passion for the game is so much more than many other places I have been to. It’s unbelievable. They live and breathe for the club. It’s not like they just support the club, they are the club.”

The similarities with United don’t end there. Omonia were starved of success prior to Berg’s arrival having gone 10 years without a league title; only the coronavirus outbreak put paid to hopes of a domestic double when the cup competition was scrapped with Omonia in the semi-finals.

United’s barren period has been almost as long. It is seven years since Sir Alex Ferguson guided the Red Devils to their last Premier League crown but with fan frustration growing – over a perceived stasis in their transfer activity – some of the spotlight is now starting to reflect on Solskjaer, not helped by losing to Crystal Palace in the first match of the season and the manner of their VAR-assisted win at Brighton last weekend. On the face of it, Solskjaer seems to be under pressure through no fault of his own. Ed Woodward has been the least visible chief executive among United’s top-six rivals with the protracted effort to bring Jadon Sancho to the club dominating the narrative around Old Trafford this summer. To date, Donny van de Beek is United’s only signing of the transfer window and the impression is that tomorrow will bring a last-minute scramble to fill some of the gaps in Solskjaer’s squad.

Berg, much like he played the game, offers quiet assurance and believes the club is in safe hands under his compatriot.

“I don’t know in detail what is happening at United, I can only look from outside. I can see that they have made good progress in the time that Solskjaer has been there. Of course when you are at Manchester United you are expected to compete at the top end of the table and, if you don’t win a game or two, then for sure there will be many people who will demand change. This is how football works. I think they are developing, I think they are improving; they have made good progress since Ole came and I think that they will continue to make progress.”

If Berg’s support could be construed as unwavering loyalty to a former team-mate, he says it is backed up by what he has seen with his own eyes. He was not surprised when United turned to Solskjaer to replace Jose Mourinho.

“He was always into football,” he says. “He was always curious. Even when he was a sub, he was always analysing the defenders before he came on to find ways of how he could score goals and he always had this interest in tactics and what you can do with the game. He was a model professional himself in terms of training and development and his mentality so I am not surprised. I was not surprised when he got the job at United either. I think it has been the right decision for the club.”

This afternoon, United face their former manager Mourinho for the third time since Solskjaer succeeded the Portuguese, with the latter yet to record a victory over his former side after a 2-1 defeat last December and a 1-1 draw in June. Berg expects another close contest today.

“They are two very good teams,” he says. “There’s not going to be much in it, there will be some emotions before the match because of Mourinho’s time [at United]. I’d be surprised if one team is going to run away with it. United got the win against Brighton which they needed to do without playing fantastically so they should be looking to get back to the level that they had at the end of last season.”

Should today’s game go the wrong way, the clamour for United to dip into the market will intensify. Deals for Edinson Cavani and Ousmane Dembele have been mooted while the consensus is that United will make one last attempt to prise Sancho from Borussia Dortmund before the deadline expires. Berg says he believes United can close the gap to Liverpool, if – and it is a big if – they bring in reinforcements.

“I’m sure they would love to do that,” he says with a chuckle. “I don’t think they are the finished article. I am sure there are positions they are looking to strengthen, that is for sure, and if they can do they will be closer to Liverpool this year and, if not, it is going to be another transitional period. But they are going in the right direction and, for me, that is the most important thing. I think if you look at the recruitment of the players, the players that he has brought in, they have been good players who fit the profile and the DNA of Manchester United and I think they are doing the right things.”

The club hierarchy hasn’t always made the correct decisions, though. They were suitors for Pep Guardiola prior to the Catalan’s appointment at Manchester City before United eventually opted for Jose Mourinho. Berg, who served United for three years, winning two league titles and a Champions League medal in 1999, is full of praise for the Portuguese coach but believes his old side should have gone for Pep instead.

“It is not easy to follow when one manager like Sir Alex has been so good and so dominant for so many years and has his own way of working and doing things and been so successful. When you have success in one way, and somebody else is trying to do it differently the margins for error are less because people will start to doubt because they know what brought success before – and if you don’t have immediate success after, there will be big questions. I think that has been the biggest issue for United after Sir Alex. You needed somebody special to take over from Sir Alex. If they had Guardiola or [Jurgen] Klopp to take over I think it would have been more possible to make this transition and continue to be a top, top team.”

So does he have any hopes of emulating Solskjaer and returning to the league where he made his name as a player? The 51-year-old, who also had a successful reign at Hungarian side Videoton following a short-lived, ill-fated spell at Blackburn Rovers, has more interest in finding job satisfaction these days.

He laughs as he says: “I don’t make long-term plans. As a coach, it is not possible. The most important thing for me is to be happy where I am and I was fortunate as a player to play for some big clubs. United, Rangers, Blackburn – winning a lot of things. I played with some big players and for some big managers but I also know that the grass is not always greener on the other side and for me it is much more important to be able to work the way that I want to work, together with people that I like to work with. That is much more important, than which level I am working at.”