‘An honour’ to take over national team

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Norwegian football star Ståle Solbakken called it “an honour” to become the new head coach of Norway’s men’s national football team known as landslaget. He thinks it’s probably “the biggest job” in Norwegian athletics.

Ståle Solbakken featured heavily in Norway’s national news on Thursday, after he’d been named to take over as head coach of the men’s national football team. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“Being able in the course of a coaching career to lead the Norwegian national football team is an honour,” Solbakken said after Norway’s football federation NFF announced that the 52-year-old Solbakken had been hired to take over from the 72-year-old Lars Lagerbäck. He’ll start right away, on Monday, after a few weeks of discussions with NFF.

It’s not the first time Solbakken was a candidate to be head coach for Norway. The native of the small community of Kirkenær in Grue, not far from Kongsvinger, was tipped back in 2017, when Per-Mathias Høgmo’s time was over, but he declined and Lagerbäck got the job instead. Solbakken had even signed to take over in 2012, but opted to accept highly paid another offer to coach the German club Köln.

Home from Copenhagen
He’s spent the past several years coaching the football club in Copenhagen (FC København), for which he played from 2000-2011 until he collapsed on the field from heart failure. After successful surgery his brilliant career as a high-scoring player for Grue, HamKam, Lillestrøm, Wimbledon, Aalborg and FC København ended and his coaching career began, back at HamKam in Norway, at Köln and Wolverhampton plus two terms at FC Københaven, from 2006-2011 and then from 2013 until he was surprisingly fired earlier this year, allegedly for sagging results. Not even the Norwegian head of Denmark’s national team at the time, Åge Hareide, could understand why FCK canned Solbakken, but Norwegian football leaders finally saw their chance.

Norway’s national team, which features some of the best young players in years, also was suddenly troubled, climaxing in a spectacular loss to Serbia that knocked Norway out of the running for a spot in the European Championships. The loss led to lots of criticism of the team’s management, both among players and officials, and a highly public quarrel broke out between Coach Lagerbäck and player Alexander Sørloth, a tall striker who plays for the German club RB Leipzig. They reportedly settled their differences, but when the Corona crisis ended up grounding the team on its way to new matches Romania and Austria last month, the team all but disbanded, with Lagerbäck heading home to Sweden.

Lagerbäck stays in Sweden
Speculation swirled over whether he’d come back, even though his contract ran through next year. Now Lagerbäck claims he was fired but acknowledged that NFF “wanted a long-term solution in advance of the upcoming World Cup and the European Championships after that.”

That meant new blood, and NFF officials let Lagerbäck know that they were talking with Solbakken. NFF President Terje Svendsen said it was important to make the best use of the lapse between this year’s Euro2020 (postponed until next summer) and the next qualifying rounds, with an eye to Euro2024.

Solbakken praised the job Lagerbäck and his assistant Perry Hansen have done. Now he’ll study their matches and become better acquainted with Norway’s players, who include the young superstars Martin Ødegard at Real Madrid, Erling Haaland at Dortmund and Jens Petter Hauge at Milan.

Football commentators in Norway, players and even Norway’s legendary coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen all hailed NFF’s choice of Solbakken as new head coach. “He should have been the national team’s coach long ago,” Olsen said on NRK’s nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen. “He takes out the right players and plans play in a matter that’s in line with the opponents. And he has a football philosophy that’s very similar to my own.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund