Our European guru educates and enlightens
I was going to write about the magic of the FA Cup – specifically about how the magic of the FA Cup will, if it keeps producing semi-finals containing the likes of Barnsley, Cardiff, Portsmouth and West Brom, destroy the magic of the FA Cup – but this seemed a bit churlish.Then I was going to suggest that Gary Megson should be locked in a bedsit, forced to sit on the floor, with a single dingy lightbulb swinging above his head and told he will not be released until he has read the whole of Hunter Davies’ The Glory Game, can recite the Danny Blanchflower remark that football is about doing something with style and has admitted that, even as Bolton manager, he should aspire to higher things than 17th in the Premiership.
But it’s always rash to encourage hostage taking, even in jest; Megson does have a face like a potato, has already been chastised in the Daily Mail and, besides, the second leg of Bolton v Sporting Lisbon in the UEFA Cup did wonders for my insomnia.No, the big news is that Flonaldo has finally hung up his boots. Tore Andre Flo is still only 34 but after enough injuries to keep Holby’s A&E department busy for an entire episode, the lanky, nomadic striker has had enough.It’s a sad moment for a quite remarkable football family – the Flos are Norway’s most astonishing football dynasty – and for the Norwegian game, still concussed after narrowly missing out on Euro 2008.Tore – nicknamed Ronaldo because he outshone the Brazilian legend in Norway’s 2-1 win over the seleção at France 1998 – is the best known football Flo. But there was Tore’s big brother Jostein who, as the central midfielder and/or striker in Egil Olsen’s long ball 4-5-1 formation, had the mobility of a lighthouse.
If I had a kroner for every time I saw a Norwegian international pick the ball up just before the halfway line and hit a long diagonal pass in Jostein’s general direction in the 1990s, I’d be able to afford a round of drinks in Oslo. Almost.Jarle, six years younger than Jostein and four older than Tore, was a tall central defender while their cousin Havard Flo, another striker, scored at France 98 against Scotland. Havard’s nephew Per Egil has just emerged from the Sogndal youth team.Olsen’s long bore game has shaped our perceptions of Norwegian football but the dominant style of play in the Tippeligaen owes more to the fluent, possession-minded counter-attacking football Rosenborg played in their golden era (1988 to 2002) under coach Nils Arne Eggen. Unfortunately, under Norwich City old boy Age Hareide (one of the 11 who humbled England in the “Maggie Thatcher hell of a beating” game), Norway have not really excelled at either the Eggen or the Olsen style.
And the general malaise has begun to effect Rosenborg who, despite their excellent form against Valencia in the UEFA Champions League, were mired in mid-table domestically and have asked Swedish manager Erik Hamren, who has impressed at Aalborg in Denmark, to lead them next season.Rosenborg’s pain has been SK Brann’s gain. The boys from Bergen won their first title for 44 years last November. Brann are cherished by trivia fans because they were relegated or promoted for eight seasons in a row between 1979 and 1986 and can this claim to be the yo-yoingest football club in the world.The fact that the Tippeligaen has actually been competitive since 2003 has sent attendances soaring – up to 1,899,834 in 2007, 700,000 higher than in 2003 – and made the TV deal more lucrative. But Hareide is having trouble finding talent, especially upfront where strikers John Carew and Steffen Iversen are getting a bit long in the tooth and Morton Gamst Pedersen is averaging less than a goal every four games.
The valiant John Arne Riise isn’t even 28 but, of late, his positional sense has left him looking distinctly rusty. The great hope, the talented youngster Daniel Braaten, has proved more useful in the Championship Manager game than he has for Bolton Wanderers this season.Hareide – who bears a curious resemblance to Ken Barlow in Coronation Street – slammed Carew’s agent Per A Flod when he declared, last summer, that Norwegian football was on the rocks and foreign clubs didn’t want to buy Norwegian players anymore.
But the muted reaction to Norway’s failure to reach Euro 2008 – after defeat against Turkey in Oslo – suggests that Flod may have a point.
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