The new Swedish coach of Norway’s national men’s football team was widely viewed as the best man capable of turning his young Norwegians into a dream team. He got off to a nightmare start on Sunday night, with a 2-0 loss in Belfast against Northern Ireland, but he was stoically positive the morning after.
“We must not look only negatively at this, even though we didn’t play a good match,” Lagerbäck told reporters as he and his players headed home on Monday. He had some encouraging comments for those who met up at the airport in Belfast.
The 68-year-old Lagerbäck, who took Iceland’s national team to the quarter-finals at last summer’s European Championships and got a hero’s welcome in Oslo when he took over as the Norwegian team’s coach earlier this year, indicated he just needs more time with his new players. “What we need now are more training sessions and more matches,” he said. “Now we have to start a combination, between winning matches at the same time we maintain a long-term perspective.”
He noted that even though Northern Ireland’s team was better than Norway’s on Sunday, “we were considerably more on their half of the field” after half-time. He claimed that apart from their two goals, Northern Ireland creates hardly any chances for others.
Lagerbäck also noted that he has, in fact, never won his first match with a new national team. So he didn’t seem to mind the Norwegians’ loss as much as others did.
With Norway’s team now ranked next to the bottom, ahead of only San Marino in its qualifier group for the next World Cup, no one disagrees that the Norwegians simply have to improve. “Now we have a new coach and we have to put in place the play he wants,” said Stefan Johansen, captain of the Norwegian national team that’s been through a major generation shift the past two years.
Lagerbäck also has a track record to defend. He led his native Sweden’s team to international finals six times in a row. As newspaper Aftenposten recalled over the weekend, he “shocked” European football by first getting Iceland into the European Championships and then going far as well after five years as head coach. Now he’s charged with rescuing Norwegian football, and when asked whether he already has any regrets he said “no.” He seems to thrive on the challenge of turning Norway’s losing streak around.
‘Lasse’ from Ovansjö
His own football career started in the small community of Alby in central Sweden, where he’s still known as “Lasse,” around 60 years ago. He grew up on timber property in Ovansjö, not far from Alby where he played his first A-team match at the age of 15. The area is located midway between Östersund and Sundsvall, with a population of around 600.
He took over the family’s timber property, which Aftenposten estimated covers around the size of 500 football fields. “I grew up in a fantastic environment,” he told Aftenposten, adding that he still managed to return around once a month when he coached both Sweden’s and Iceland’s national teams, preferably during the week before he met the players and staff and started preparing for the next match.
“I could sit there (in Ovansjö) and be all on my own, I could prepare theory and training, I could plan,” Lagerbäck told Aftenposten. “Nobody cares about who I am there, and I could work in peace and quiet.”
He may well return there now, to plot strategy for his new charges. He has until June 10 to prepare for the next World Cup qualifier, against the Czech Republic. Then there will be a training match against Sweden on June 13, followed by more qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Germany in September, San Marino and Northern Ireland again in October.