New football boss keen for kick-off

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While Norway’s football bureaucrats search for a new coach for the national team, the head of Norwegian news bureau NTB is getting ready to take over as secretary general of the state football federation Norges Fotballforbund (NFF). Pål Bjerketvedt, age 56, is going from one crisis-branch to another.

Pål Bjerketvedt will take over as secretary general of Norway's football federation early next year, after many years of working in the media. PHOTO: NFF/Scanpix

Pål Bjerketvedt will take over as secretary general of Norway’s football federation early next year, after many years of working in the media. PHOTO: NFF/Scanpix

Bjerketvedt, who will replace the often controversial Kjetil Siem, told newspaper Dagsavisen this week that he wants to “open up” the powerful organization that has controlled Norwegian football for years. “I want NFF to create enthusiasm and practice more openness,” Bjerketvedt said, “and avoid having NFF portrayed as closed and defensive.”

That’s been at the core of all the criticism around Norwegian football and Norway’s sports hierarchy in general of late. Football especially has been viewed as being run by middle-aged men earning high salaries who don’t want to disclose their expense accounts or other aspects of their decision-making processes. It all led to a public reprimand from Norway’s government minister in charge of sports and culture, Linda Hofstad Helleland, who this week also cut state budget allocations to the state athletics federation’s central operations. More money will be channeled to actual athletic activity nationwide at the grass roots level, and less to the administration and men at the top of the hierarchy.

“We have seen a large increase in the sports bureaucracy in recent years, and we (Norway’s conservative government coalition) see opportunities for more efficiency,” Helleland said. NFF President Terje Svendsen said a few days later that NFF will practice “moderation” after all the criticism over leaders’ pay, but hasn’t put any limits on what the next head coach of the national men’s football team will be offered. Outgoing coach Per-Mathias Høgmo was paid around NOK 4 million a year, and stepped down recently after the team performed poorly in last year’s World Cup qualifiers. Høgmo’s salary, and his severance package, caught flak as well.

Bjerketvedt will get less than half Høgmo’s pay when he begins in his new post February 1, a reflection of changing times in the football world. Svendsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Bjerketvedt represents “the renewal we want,” not least since the former NTB boss is coming from outside the sports world. “His good communication skills will be important in developing NFF as an open and transparent organization,” Svendsen added.

Bjerkevedt also wants to look for “improvement potential” in NFF’s organizational structure. He doesn’t think NFF is in any real crisis but said “we have a reputation to improve.” He said his first job will be “to speak with very many people, first and foremost.”

He is not involved in the search for a new national coach. Top candidates so far include Ståle Solbakken of FCK in Copenhagen and Swedish coaches Erik Hamrén and Lars Lagerbäck. The team’s next qualifying match is against Northern Ireland at the end of March.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund