National football coach finally quits

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UPDATED: Per-Mathias Høgmo’s days as coach of Norway’s national men’s football team were already numbered, after the team lost the match they had to win last weekend in order to qualify for the next World Cup in 2018. Losing 2-1 against the Czech Republic seemed to knock them out, and more than likely cost Høgmo his job. He claimed on Wednesday that he was taking the initiative himself to quit.

Per-Mathias Høgmo has been coaching what's widely viewed as the worst Norwegian national men's football team since the 1980s. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Kjetil Ree

Per-Mathias Høgmo has been coaching what’s widely viewed as the worst Norwegian national men’s football team since the 1980s. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Kjetil Ree

“It feels right that I pull back,” Høgmo said at a press conference in Oslo Wednesday morning. “Otherwise it would feel like I was placing myself above the team. In this situation, that would be wrong.”

Høgmo admitted himself that the pressure on him rose after the national team lost an important World Cup qualifier to Azerbaijan, and then the match against the Czech Republic. “Then it’s important for a top leader to evaluate their own position,” Høgmo said.

“He is history,” declared a sports commentator for newspaper Dagbladet on national radio Monday morning. Neither he nor most others thought Høgmo had a chance of continuing after a disappointing series of qualifiers so far.

“Norway had to win,” intoned Aftenposten the day after the match against the Czech Republic on Friday, “both to hang on in the fight for second place in their group (which included powerhouse Germany followed by Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic and San Marino) but also to keep some life in ‘Project Høgmo.'” The latter involved shaping a young, new national team for the next generation.

It didn’t happen. Czech players Tomás Horava and Jaromir Amrhal both scored, leaving Joshua King’s lone goal for Norway poor compensation just before the match ended. It was Høgmo’s 35th as national coach after controversially replacing the popular Egil “Drillo” Olsen in 2013 and Høgmo just couldn’t get the Norwegian team in sync after it went through a major generation shift that saw the departure of former top players. Høgmo failed to usher the squad to the European Championships earlier this year and its  World Cup qualifying round has been a major let-down.

Terje Svendsen, president of the national football federation, had asked for an evaluation of Høgmo’s performance, which hardly anyone though he’d survive. That evaluation was dropped with Høgmo’s resignation. Svendsen said Norwegian football officials were both “disappointed and sorry” regarding the results (of the match against the Czech Republic) and “the presentations of the past few matches.” The Norwegians finally won a match last month, against San Marino, but it would have been considered disastrous if they hadn’t. The loss to Azerbaijan a few days earlier had been disappointing, while they also lost to Germany and a “training match” against Belarus before that.

Høgmo had hung on and refused to comment on his position, which pays around NOK 3 million a year. The football federation reported that Høgmo will be paid through the end of his contract period, which ends next year, meaning he still stands to collect around NOK 4 million in what amounts to severance pay. If he gets another job within the sports bureaucracy, the payments will be pared accordingly.

Norwegian football coach Ståle Solbakken has been named most often as the top choice to replace Høgmo, but Solbakken’s current club, FC København, seems unlikely to let him go. It remained unclear Wednesday who will take over immediate head coaching duties for the national team, which is to due to play its last World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in late March.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund