Egil “Drillo” Olsen’s disputed departure as popular head coach of Norway’s national men’s football team has set off a drama that now may climax with the firings of the country’s top football bosses. Drillo himself is still so upset that he didn’t even attend Tuesday night’s final World Cup qualifying match against Iceland, which played out before lots of empty seats and ended in a 1-1 tie.
The chill over Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo reflected the icy relations within Norway’s national football association (NFF, Norges fotballforbund) at present, and the freeze in relations with fans. The only folks who seemed happy during and after the match were the Icelandic players and fans, who managed to secure a play-off spot in the World Cup for the first time.
Otherwise, as newspaper Aftenposten reported, less than 7,000 spectators showed up in a stadium that can seat 25,000, and even the security guards seemed more interested in their mobile phones than in the action on the field. The match should have been a huge folkefest, as the Norwegians call a public party, and a fitting send-off for the popular 71-year-old Olsen, who has taken Norway to the World Cup before and who was due to retire at the end of the season.
Instead, his abrupt replacement with just two matches left in the World Cup run-up has set off a rising storm of protest against the NFF men who orchestrated it, secretary general Kjetil Siem and president Yngve Hallén. They claim it was all a misunderstanding that that Olsen could have played out the season if he wanted. Olsen believes he was fired, as do many others, and there’s little disagreement that he deserved better treatment.
Bosses responsible under pressure
Speculation is now rising, not least among Olsen’s many supporters, that Siem’s and Hallén’s days as the country’s top football bureaucrats may be numbered. The sport is in a shambles, after a string of scandals, financial woes and poor results. Public interest is at perhaps its lowest point in years, and the way Siem and Hallén replaced Olsen with new national football coach Per Mathias Høgmo has kicked up a huge fuss. Even NFF’s own ethics committee, made up an impressive roster of members from the head of the Norwegian Red Cross to the director of the Nobel Peace Center, has criticized Siem’s and Hallén’s personnel management.
After intially being defensive, both have begun apologizing for how they handled not just Olsen but also their own football chief Nils Johan Semb, a former national coach himself who wasn’t even informed that Olsen was going to be asked to step down and make room for Høgmo with just two World Cup qualifiers left. Several top football coaches have wondered whether Semb will want to continue in his post, when he was frozen out of such a major decision himself.
Siem said on Tuesday that he feels badly that Olsen himself feels so badly treated, but also over how the issue has escalated over the past week. He and Hallén had a meeting with Olsen at his home on Tuesday, to try to smooth things over, but it was only marginally successful. There’s been no real reconciliation, according to all of the media reports that continue to get prominent play.
Lesson in respect
If the NFF ethics committee concludes that Siem and Hallén have broken ethical rules, they’ll risk being fired. Both already are suffering a massive loss of confidence within the football world, and may conclude themselves that they should resign.
Erlend Nesje, commentator in Aftenposten, wrote that perhaps they and others in NFF will at least have learned something about the need for respect. Most agree that the end of Olsen’s long football career both in Norway and abroad lacked the dignity and respect he deserved. There’s been an outpouring of respect and admiration for Olsen from former top players and coaches, who’ve rallied to his support. Siem and Hallén are the targets of anger and ridicule.
Meanwhile, the man they hired, new football coach Høgmo, continues to believe that he thought Olsen was willing to turn over his coaching spot to him before the season ended, just like Siem and Hallén have said. Høgmo also claims he hasn’t been professionally affected by all the Drillo drama, and was ready to lead the squad Tuesday night and build it up in time for the European Championships. Given the dominating coverage of the Drillo drama over the game itself, his biggest professional challenge now is that not many seem to care.