He’d claimed he had no intention of quitting, but after two disastrous results at the Women’s European Championships in England, head coach Martin Sjögren ended up being dismissed by Norway’s national football federation (NFF). Now he’s downplaying his departure while speculation over his replacement is flying.
“The terms before this championship were clear, and we had high ambitions,” Sjögren stated after NFF President Lise Klaveness confirmed that Sjögren would be stepping down a year before his contract expires. “When the results don’t match expectations, it was a natural solution that we go our separate ways.” He had earlier called quitting “cowardly.”
Sjögren, who’s Swedish, had taken over as head coach for Norway’s national women’s football team (landslaget) in 2016 and had a team of strong players, all of whom excel at their professional clubs. The challenge has been to get them to perform well together.
The last European Championships in 2018 also ended in catastrophe, and led to the angry withdrawal of star player Ada Hegerberg. She finally returned to the national team last year and spirits seemed high, especially after an opening 4-1 victory against Northern Ireland that was deemed as a great start. But then things went very bad with a humiliating 8-0 loss to England followed by another 1-0 loss to Austria. That knocked the women out of the championships, Sjögren out as head coach and Anders Jacobsen out as assistant coach.
“We were all disappointed over the summer’s European Championships presentation,” Klaveness told reporters. “We share responsibility for the downturn, and the way towards progress doesn’t lie with individuals. When we have nonetheless taken the initiative to end our cooperation with Martin and Anders, it’s a result of a broader and more long-term evaluation that we already discussed with them when their contracts were extended last year.” She claimed they had mutually “respectful” conversations and that they were parting as friends.
Speculation began immediately over who would replace Sjögren, not least since the team needs to play against both Belgium and Albania in the early rounds of World Cup qualifiers in September. Top candidates include Hege Riise, who played on Norwegian national teams that won both European- and World Championships and at the Olympics as well. The now-53-year-old Riise also has worked as an assistant coach for the US’ national team and led the English team for a short period last year. She’s also been head coach for Norwegian team LSK Kvinner, which topped their league three years in a row.
“It’s hard to see anyone better qualified,” said TV2 commentator Mina Finstad Berg, while Aftenposten’s football expert Lar Tjærnås noted that she “has experience in the role and documented compentence.”
Another top candidate is Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the former Manchester United football star and head coach. “He has a very strong profile,” said NRK’s commentator Carl-Erik Torp. Solskjær, age 49, has also shown strong interest in Norway’s national women’s football team and is currently in the market for a new post.
Other candidates include Monica Kundsen, who built up LSK Kvinner and rivalled Sjögren for the post back in 2016. She’s currently Riise’s assistant coach of the J19 national team, and may end up in that post if Riise is tapped as head coach.
Aftenposten also profiled Alexander Straus, who led the men’s club Brann to league gold last year, and Nils Lexerød, who led the J19 team to the European Championships in 2019. He took over Vålerenga’s women’s team in January, however, while Straus recently accepted a post with Bayern München, so neither may be available.