Calls were going out on Tuesday for the resignation of Nils Johan Semb, a former coach of Norway’s national football team who’s held the title of “top football chief” in the country’s national football federation NFF since 2009. With both the women’s and men’s teams in crisis after a string of poor performances and internal drama, many think Semb’s tenure has run well beyond overtime, but Semb says he has no intention of quitting.
Asked by TV2 Tuesday afternoon whether he’d “evaluate his position,” Semb answered simply “No.” Asked why not, Semb said he felt he retained the “strong confidence” of his own leaders at NFF and within “the professional football milieu that I lead.” His evaluation came even after Norway’s men’s national team was humiliated in Monday night’s World Cup qualifier against Germany.
“I must tolerate criticism,” Semb told TV2, but added that “I won’t run away from my responsibility.” He noted that he’s “stood through this for many years” and that he knows more criticism will come, “but I tackle it.” He won’t resign voluntarily.
“There has to be a limit to this pain,” wrote Leif Welhaven, sports commentator in newspaper VG, before Semb traveled home from Germany. The national team for which Semb is responsible chalked up a record-poor 6-0 loss, the proverbial last straw in what Welhaven called problems “that have built up over time.”
Huge fall in the rankings during Semb’s tenure
Norway’s men’s team is now a lowly 85th in the FIFA rankings of the world’s national football teams, right behind Libya and in line with Mauritania and Curacao. That marks a fall of 54 places since Semb became “top football chief” eight years ago.
He’s not the only football boss catching flak, and there are many of them. Norway has a large, sometimes confusing array of sports bureaucrats holding privileged and powerful positions in a country where sports and athletic competition has high priority and receives lots of both taxpayer and volunteer support. With titles like “secretary general, president” and “chiefs,” in organizations and federations that run the gamut from track and field to skiing and football, the mostly men holding them have also been accused of arrogance and cronyism, and of conducting themselves like a clique that rubs elbows and seeks favour from top politicians. The current president of Norway’s national athletics federation NIF (Norges Idrettsforbund), Tom Tvedt, has long had ties to the Labour Party, for example. Tvedt recently bowed to pressure to finally release expense accounts for all the sports bosses who went to the last two Olympics. NIF’s secretary general Inge Andersen was pressured to quit earlier this year, largely beause of perceived arrogance and his refusal to turn over receipts.
‘Deep black hole’
There’s been drama around the ski teams as well, not least after star Norwegian skiers wound up facing doping charges, and now football seems stuck in what many call a “deep black hole.” Unrest has been building for years, based on poor results and culminating in the firing of popular men’s coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen in 2013. That ultimately led to some forced apologies and resignations as well.
Semb survived but quickly ran into more trouble as results under Olsen’s replacement went into a downward spiral and then the women started to fail as well. There was a glimmer of hope when famed Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck agreed to take over the men’s team last winter, but that faded in Stuttgart Monday night.
Velhaven admits it’s “much too easy” to put all the blame on Semb, and that perhaps Semb should be allowed more time with his “Lagerbäck project.” But he points out that Semb “is 58 years old and unusually well-paid to create something that hasn’t been delivered.” VG‘s commentator doesn’t think Semb should be allowed to keep his job through to retirement age, especially if Norway continues to fall in the international rankings.
Not ‘showing the way’
Semb has also been caught up in the conflict around star player Ada Hegerberg, who withdrew from the women’s national team last week, complaining about communication, evaluations and poor results including what Velhaven called the “gruesome” Euro2017 qualifiers that ended for Norway with no goals at all.
Commentator Ola Bernhus in newspaper Aftenposten called on Semb to “show us the way” out of all the trouble last summer and now Velhaven of VG wants to show Semb the door.
“An important leadership trait is to understand when it’s time to step aside,” Velhaven wrote on Tuesday. He thinks the job should be held for a limited period. The person holding it is always measured by results. Velhaven argues the job is therefore not suited to be a full-time position. The bottom line, he claims, is that those in leadership roles need to take the consequences: “If Semb doesn’t see that himself, top leaders at NFF should be able to tell him”