Lars Lagerbäck, head coach of Norway’s men’s national football team, seems to have won a highly public dispute with player Alexander Sørloth. After making headlines for days on end, the National Football Federation (NFF) announced that Sørloth has apologized.
It all started after Norway’s crushing defeat to Serbia on October 8, which dashed Norway’s hopes of playing in the European Championships. That was followed by a series of “group meetings” where everyone was supposed to discuss what went wrong and boost their spirits.
Sørloth, who plays professionally for RB Leipzig, reportedly wound up in a major quarrel with the team’s leadership, where he also allegedly claimed that both Lagerbäck and other coaches were “incompetent.” Someone leaked news of the quarrel to Norwegian media and it all led Lagerbäck to publicly claim that he’d never experienced such bad behaviour from a player.
Sørloth denied he’d used the word “incompetent,” issuing a statement late last week that “I have never said that anyone in the coaching team is incompetent, never. I have, after we players were asked for feedback, said that I was very critical to how we prepared ourselves for the match against Serbia. Also to the tactical evaluations that were made during the match.”
He was responding to Lagerbäck’s and NFF’s version of events released on Thursday, in which Lagerbäck claimed he could “well tolerate disagreement on professional football issues. Alexander came, however, with several accusations that weren’t about how we play football, but that (assistant coach) Per Joar Hansen and I were incompetent as coaches in terms of both leadership and (knowledge) of football.”
The dispute thus continued through the weekend even though Sørloth claimed late Thursday that he thought he was finished with it. “We had shaken hands and looked one another in the eye,” he told news bureau NTB. “That’s how I like handling things. There must be room for criticism and disappointment on a team, just like there’s room for cheering and praise.”
He was upset, though, that Lagerbäck’s comments came after their alleged truce. Then NFF fired back: “For four days we’d given Alexander the opportunity to comment on what happened and end the dispute after he’d begged pardon for his behaviour,” media chief Svein Graff told both newspaper VG and TV2.
By Saturday, commentators were claiming that the two needed to settle their differences before the next team is selected for some final matches in November. NFF secretary general Pål Bjerketvedt agreed, telling NTB that “this is no fortunate situation we’ve landed in. It’s received so much attention, just like such conflicts usually do.” Others raised issues of loyalty.
On Sunday Sørloth and Lagerbäck had another “dialog meeting” where it was decided that everyone now needs to move forward. A press release from NFF claimed that “Alexander has understood that (his) communication form was wrong, for which he’s sorry, and we agree on what guidelines apply to the national team. In the aftermath of the Serbia match there was some heated discussion … this time the temperature was too high, and discussions went too far on both sides.”
Everyone has now reportedly had their say and wants to put the conflict behind them, to concentrate on the upcoming matches. Norway will meet Israel on November 11 in Oslo, followed by matches against Romania on November 15 in Bucharest and against Austria in Vienna on November 18.