Rousing welcome for new football coach

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Lars Lagerbäck, the Swedish football coach who carried Iceland to international fame in last year’s European Championships, got a hero’s welcome when he was presented on Wednesday as the new head coach for Norway’s beleaguered national men’s football team. Some commentators think Lagerbäck,who has led three national squads to championship finals, can finally end Norway’s losing streak.

Football federation president Terje Svendsen (left) was grinning from ear to ear when he presented Lars Lagerbäck as new head coach for Norway’s downtrodden men national football team on Wednesday. PHOTO: NFF/NTB Scanpix

As TV2 noted, Lagerbäck’s hiring was hailed nearly in unison by Norwegian football fans and experts. “This is an enormously happy day for Norwegian national football,” claimed Brede Hangeland, a former captain of the national men’s team. “This is a man I have deep, deep respect for.”

“It’s a good choice, and I have a lot of faith in it,” claimed Ståle Solbakken, the head coach for Copenhagen’s professional football who had turned down the position when offered it a few weeks ago. He decided to stay in Copenhagen, just like former Norwegian football sensation Ole Gunnar Solskjær did when he passed up the same offer to stay on as head coach in Molde.

Norway’s own national football federation, which has endured a storm of criticism in recent years on a variety of issues, was ecstatic. The poor performance of the national team under former coach Per-Mathias Høgmo, who had controversially replaced the much-loved Egil “Drillo” Olsen in 2013, was at the top of the football bureaucrats’ problem list. Now, after even their recruiting practice caught criticism and made it seem like no one wanted the job, they’re suddenly back in better graces themselves and insisted that Lagerbäck had been their first choice all along.

“He’s almost an expert on our national team’s job,” said Nils Johan Semb, a former national coach himself who’s now among the men with various top management titles at the football federation (NFF). “I’m incredibly glad and proud that we can present a man with seven championship finals and 18 years of experience as a national coach.”

NFF’s president, Terje Svendsen, noted that Lagerbäck had “repeatedly documented his ability to get the best out of his team in both qualifiers and final play. On behalf of the federation’s board and all of Norwegian football, I’m glad we have been able to attract a man with such capacity for the European Championship qualifiers in 2019.

The only people upset by his choice were Icelandic football fans and players. Lagerbäck had become a national hero in Iceland, where disappointment was enormous when their triumphant team’s coach had turned down an extension of his contract and moved home to Sweden, saying he wanted to retire. Now they feel a bit betrayed or, as one put it, like they’d been dumped by their sweetheart.

Lagerbäck, a 68-year-old Swede, called his new job in Norway “a challenge that really motivated me. Performance and results so far in the (current) World Cup qualifiers have not been good. We have to be honest about where we stand, at the same time I see potential in this team. Two extremely important and decisive matches remain. It will be tough, demanding and exciting.”

He’ll start in the job immediately, with the next World Cup qualifier scheduled against Northern Ireland on March 26. Berglund