‘Sometimes you have to roll the dice’ said Tom, one of the candidates on this year’s version of the apprentice last Wednesday.
When Wolverhampton Wanderers chief executive, Jez Moxey, confirmed that they would be appointing the former FC Kӧln Head Coach Stale Solbakken, that was the first thought that crossed through my head. It is certainly not a safe or stale pick to appoint the Norwegian whose first name is actually pronounced ‘Stohl-er’ (which will henceforth end the stale jokes).
For Wolves fans, they will look at the relegation of the cathedral city club in his only season in charge, a season he was not allowed to complete, as a number one reason why he is the wrong man for the job. Relegation plus Relegation normally does not equal success. It is an understandable viewpoint, particularly as a fan of a side that has been relegated in the benign fashion that Wolves have done when it becomes very easy to become pessimistic about everything in relation to your club.
While there were undoubtedly mistakes during his short-lived reign in the city of Cologne, like ripping the captaincy off of Lukas Podolski without being sure the man he chose to replace him would actually accept the job, the real reason the club saw themselves relegated comes from having big visions of returning to the glory days without the finances to back it up. This has caused havoc around the club as I discussed in an earlier article, here.
Solbakken, came across very well with the local media in Germany, who like the fans in Cologne, have ideas for the club above their station and as a result, are probably the most aggressive in the whole of the country. The Norwegian immediately impressed the locals by speaking German from the start and coming across as very open, with great humour throughout. He even once joked when his phone rang that it was his wife calling to ask if he had been sacked yet!
I am sure that Wolves fans are more interested in things that happen on the pitch and for that we have to move to the reason he got the FC Kӧln job in the first place, which was his impressive stint at FC Copenhagen. Under his predecessors, Kent Karlsson and Roy Hodgson – who Solbakken played for before suffering a career-ending heart attack – the club had won three of the previous four national league titles. Therefore, Solbakken came into a very stable situation, but still excelled in the job.
How? By winning five of the next six championships and turning Copenhagen into consistently the best Scandinavian team in Europe. Despite accusations of turning the club into a one team behemoth within the domestic league without real competition, not only did they regularly achieve a place in the group stages of either the Champions League or UEFA Cup but by 2009 they started to make the knockout stages, losing to Manchester City, Olympique Marseilles and then Chelsea in last season’s Champions League.
It was a run that forced interest from several places, not just FC Kӧln, with Solbakken signing a letter of intent with his native Norwegian national team, before pulling out to go south to Germany.
A somewhat impressive résumé, albeit one that may well be better suited for Celtic if Rangers do indeed go bust, than for Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Championship. His biggest problem may well be winning his new team over, as Roger Johnson announced shortly after hearing the news of Solbaaken’s appointment: “I don’t know who the guy is?”
His view will be very similar to a lot of those in the Molineux dressing room, a very overwhelmingly (in modern terms) British one.
British football isn’t entirely a new entity for Solbakken who on these shores before, experiencing six Premier League games and one goal for Joe Kinnear’s Wimbledon side in the late nineties.
However, the majority of the players will simply not know who Solbakken is and even if he was to get his medals out and show the players, the low standing of the Danish Superliga may well put him in a position where he will find it very difficult to garner the respect of the team.
Should the Norwegian find his authority undermined then the Wolves players can be forewarned to expect an authority-stamping move similar to the decision to take the captaincy off of Podolski. Although experience may tell the new Wolves boss that something similar at another relatively unstable club may cause ructions.
One thing is true though, the pressure of managing the club will not overwhelm Solbakken, even if things struggle to begin with. As he has mentioned in many interviews, being clinically dead for several minutes, as he was in that aforementioned heart attack in a training session in 2001, changes his perception on life and will not let problems at Wolves overtake is life;
“Something like that definitely changes some things,” Solbakken said in a 2006 interview. “When I go into a training session or a game you don’t think about it; you are just completely focused on what you are doing and want to win at every cost. I guess it is afterwards, when things have calmed down, that it has helped me differentiate between what is really important in life and what isn’t.”
Wolves fans will be hoping that a swift return to the Premier League is on that ‘important’ list.
Tags: FC Copenhagen, FC Koln, Premier League, Roy Hodgson, Stale Solbakken, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wolves