Just as Norway’s national football team prepares for its last two World Cup qualifiers, the wife of the team’s fired but legendary coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen is firing off some shots of her own. Sigrun Vedelden is furious with Norway’s football federation (Norges Fotballforbund, NFF) over what she believes was disrespectful and dishonest dealing on their part, and now NFF’s board wants some answers as well.
“Is it strange that I’m provoked?” Vedelden wrote in a letter to newspaper VG this week. “The top football chief (Nils Johan Semb, another former national men’s football coach) had NOT been informed that Egil would be fired. To the contrary, he had been given the message from the administrative leadership of NFF that Egil wanted to resign!”
Vedelden,who’s been married to Olsen since 1998 and often traveled with her husband and the national team, believes her husband was pressured to go along with NFF’s decision to hire Per Mathias Høgmo as his immediate replacement two weeks ago, even though the 71-year-old Olsen only had two more matches to coach (Friday’s and Tuesday’s final World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Iceland) before he planned to retire anyway.
His supportive wife was so angry over what she considered the disrepectful treatment of her husband that she personally confronted the president of NFF, Yngve Hallén, in his office to speak her mind. She also accused NFF’s secretary general, Kjetil Siem, of suggesting to Olsen that he should tell reporters that it was his own idea to resign early as national football coach.
“Both of these actions by top leaders of NFF violate one of the fundamental values in Norwegian athletics: HONESTY,” Vedelden wrote in her letter to VG.
On Thursday, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that several board members of NFF now have some questions for both Hallén and Siem, and wonder whether the two top football bureaucrats exceeded their authority in arranging Høgmo’s immediate replacement of Olsen.
The board members, who didn’t want to be named, confirmed that the board unanimously supported hiring Høgmo and asked Hallén and Siem to talk with Olsen about whether he wanted to finish out the World Cup qualifying round. The board made it clear, however, that Olsen mustn’t feel pressured to quit if he wanted to coach the last two World Cup qualifiers.
‘Mind of her own’
Olsen himself claims he hasn’t had anything to do with his wife’s letter-writing. “She’s got a mind of her own and this is her thing,” Olsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday. “She was provoked by something she saw on TV, and after she’d written the letter, I was told about it.”
Siem told VG that he dislikes the criticism from Vedelden, popularly known as “Siggen,” and denies that he suggested Olsen should say it was his own idea to quit. “I said the opposite,” Siem told VG after landing in Slovenia Wednesday night before Friday’s match.
“Egil would never have resigned if he hadn’t agreed to,” Siem told VG. “I told him, ‘Egil, if you say ‘no’ (to Høgmo’s immediate hiring) it will stop.’ And Per Mathias (Høgmo) was crystal clear about the same thing. Egil was surprised, felt both fired and not fired, but understood the decision.”
Asked for his reaction to Vedelden’s letter and public criticism of NFF, Siem said “I think it’s directly inappropriate to come with this now. When she’s married to a national coach who’s been part of so much for so many years, and we’re on our way to a match that Drillo still has had a lot to do with, I don’t understand her motivation. Especially when she’s expressing opinions about a meeting she wasn’t part of.”
Hallén, however, admitted to VG that Semb wasn’t informed about the NFF board’s decision to replace Olsen until after they’d voted on the matter. He said Semb was on “a private trip” to the US at the time. Semb has confirmed he was surprised by the news of Drillo’s departure, saying that as chief for top men’s football, it would have been “natural” that he be informed, “but I was in New York on holiday.”
Hallén said he think it’s “very sad” that Drillo’s wife is so upset. “We must be generous enough that when Sigrun thinks things aren’t as they should be, and she wants to share her frustration, that must be her choice,” Hallén said, adding that it wouldn’t affect his relations with Drillo.
Meanwhile, NFF was also caught in a conflict this week with TV2 over the commercial television station’s decision not to air Tuesday’s final World Cup qualifying match against Iceland on its main channel but on its “Zebra” channel instead. TV2 cited low viewership for the national team’s matches, but NFF called it a “clear violation” of its media agreement with TV2.
The national team hasn’t performed as hoped in the run-up to the World Cup and can only qualify for it if it beats both Slovenia on Friday night and Iceland on Tuesday night. Even then, Norway’s participation hinges on results from other qualifying groups.
Høgmo is thus under pressure as he makes his national coach debut, while many football fans have already written off Norway’s World Cup chances and are looking instead to participation in the European Championship in 2016.