Lagerbäck takes over

Norway’s new head coach loses debut but has everything to gain for Team Norway

Lars Lagerbäck at a press conference

Photo: Olav Olsen / Aftenposten
Lars Lagerbäck at the press conference announcing him as the Norwegian team’s new coach in January of this year. He faces an uphill battle in turning the team’s performance around.

Jo Christian Weldingh
Oslo, Norway

Lars Lagerbäck had a brutal start to his career as head coach for the men’s Norwegian soccer team when Norway lost 2-0 against Northern Ireland in Belfast on March 26. “It’s my responsibility,” a humble Lagerbäck said to the press after a match that in all likelihood was the final nail in the coffin for Norway’s chances to participate in the 2018 World Cup.

Lagerbäck was hired earlier this year when former coach Per-Mathias Høgmo was sacked due to poor results in the ongoing World Cup qualifiers. The signing was praised by most of the Norwegian media as Lagerbäck has had amazing results with countries of a similar size in the past. Last summer, for example, he brought Iceland all the way to the quarter final in the European Championship, beating England in the round of 16. For a nation with around 330,000 inhabitants, that is nothing less than sensational. It was described as the biggest upset in English soccer history by the British media.

Being the head coach of Norway’s national team is no easy task, however. The team has failed to reach a playoff since the year 2000, and when they lost against the Czech Republic last fall—a loss that cost Per Mathias Høgmo his job—it was the ninth defeat in 13 games. Norway is currently ranked as number 86 on the FIFA World Ranking, which is an all-time low.

On the bright side, Lagerbäck has everything to gain. With the state Norwegian soccer is in at the moment, few believed that Lagerbäck would come in and miraculously turn everything around overnight. Even with a victory in Belfast, the chances for qualifying would have been slim to none. If he is given time to rebuild the team from the ground up, he might have a chance to do what he is actually hired to do—take the team to the European Championship in 2020.

Many claim that this is actually an ideal time to take over the team, as there are no expectations, and he probably won’t be blamed if the team doesn’t start winning right away. And since the chance of qualifying for the World Cup is gone, he will be able to use the remaining qualifying matches to figure out which players to use and how to play. No matter what, most Norwegian soccer pundits agree that it can’t get much worse.

Norway has participated in the FIFA World Cup three times (1938, 1994, and 1998), and once in the UEFA European Championship (2000). Norway had its most successful period from 1990 to 1998 under the legendary coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen. At its height in the mid-90s, the team was ranked as high as second on the FIFA World Rankings.

Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, but is currently living in Oslo. He has a BA in Archaeology from The University of Oslo and a BA in Business Administration from BI Norwegian Business School.

This article originally appeared in the May 19, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.