UPDATED: On the very day that another Norwegian football coach won the top job at Manchester United, Kjetil Rekdal was stunned by an immediate suspension of his coaching duties for the pro-football club Start in Kristiansand. On Friday, Rekdal’s attorney said he’d be coaching the team this weekend after all, leading to what commentators called “full chaos” on the eve of the national top league’s season openers.
Rekdal wasn’t on the field coaching Start’s players on either Thursday or Friday, after Start’s management sent out an announcement that he’d been relieved of all duties pending investigation of a so-called “personnel case.” No details were revealed about what kinds of complaints apparently had been lodged against Rekdal.
He claimed he had no idea what was going on either: “The message came like lightning out of a clear sky,” Rekdal wrote in a press release of his own. “I was told that I have been relieved of all duties as head coach for IK Start … with no advance notice, neither written or oral.” He wrote that he was “shocked” by the message, and went on to claim he had no knowledge of any complaints being filed against him. He asked the media to respect that he neither could nor would comment further.
It didn’t take long for Rekdal to get a lawyer, and a few hours later Rekdal issued another statement that he was very unhappy about how the football club was handling the situation, just before the team was due to kick off the football season.
‘Suspension not valid’
On Friday afternoon, state broadcaster NRK reported that Rekdal’s lawyer Erik Flågan had issued a new press release, saying that Rekdal would be leading the team in its opening match against Ålesund on Saturday after all.
“We have received a better overview of the case and have informed the board (of Start) that there was no valid suspension on the table,” Flågan wrote. According to Norwegian labour law, Flågan claimed, the terms necessary for a valid suspension had not been met.
Start’s players were left in the dark, with assistant coach Joey Hardarson leading Friday’s training session before the opening match. Various players told reporters they had no conflicts with Rekdal and Hardarson himself said he cooperated well with Rekdal, a former professional player himself who’s best known for scoring a winning goal over Brazil in World Cup play in 1998. Rekdal played for such clubs as Hertha Berlin, Rennes, Molde and Vålerenga, and has coached Vålerenga, Lierse, Kaiserslautern and Aalesund.
Rekdal did indeed show up on Saturday prior to kick-off, went into the players’ locker room and ended up coaching the match. Start lost 1-0 against Ålesund in a match described as “surreal” by several involved.
When it was over, Start’s players and coaching staff were shielded from reporters, while Rekdal himself drove off with speaking with journalists trying to follow the bizarre situation. Only Monica Grimstad, leader of Start’s board, and owners’ representative Christopher Langeland, ended up meeting reporters. Grimstad said the players would have a day off from training on Sunday and that coaching on Monday would be handled by assistant coaches Hardarson and Andreas Jensen.
Grimstad had indicated on Thursday that there were multiple complaints against Rekdal that had to be dealt with confidentially and in a serious manner. She said she was unable to go into any further detail. She said after the “surreal” match on Saturday that club management would have a meeting with Rekdal on Monday.
Rekdal and his lawyer defied his suspension, leaving Start’s players confused and with a far from ideal run-up to the season opener. On Monday, Rekdal won support from the professional organization representing football coaches in Norway, Norsk fotballtrenerforeningen.
“He’s fighting on behalf of all other football coaches who are entitled to respect and a professional follow-up from their employers,” the organzation’s leader Teddy Moen stated on Monday. “I encourage all coaching colleagues to give him some credit.”
“This is a crisis for the club, so close to the start of league play,” said NRK’s football commentator Carl-Erik Torp, who predicted it would be “almost comical” if Rekdal showed up “to quarrel over who will lead the team.” There was no visible quarrel – Rekdal simply coached as scheduled. The contrast to the spectacular news earlier in the week, that Rekdal’s former fellow Norwegian team player and coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær had been hired as full-time manager for Manchester United, could not have been greater.