Our European guru educates and enlightens
You may be relieved, or disappointed, to discover that Monty Python and the controversial parrot have no place in this blog. The Norwegian Blue in question are Stabaek, surprise leaders of the Norwegian Tippeligaen.
Once chiefly famous for being monopolised by Rosenborg, the Tippeligaen is now as wide open as Dodge City before the gunfight at the OK Corral.
Three different teams – Valerenga, Rosenborg and Brann – have won it in the last three seasons and, with three rounds left, Stabaek are six points clear, poised to win their first league title after 96 years of trying.
If titles were won by popular acclaim, Stabaek would already be champions. They have averaged more than two goals a game, have a goal difference of +30 and played the most entertaining football in Norway.
(It’s probably worth noting here that Egil Olsen’s notorious long ball game does not – and never has – typified the Norwegian club game, which has always been subtler, more technical and strong on the counter-attack.)
Guided by a quiz show host, advertising guru and motivational speaker called Ingebrigt Steen Jensen, Stabaek have risen from fifth-division mediocrity 20 or so years ago.
They first made the top flight in 1995 (and in 1998 won the Norwegian Cup, their first and so far only piece of silverware) but were relegated in 2004.
Under new Swedish coach Jan Jonsson, the Blue’s recovery was aided by the prowess of 34-year-old Swedish striker Daniel Nannskog, whose goals powered them to second in the league in 2007.
Nannskog has scored 78 goals in his first 101 games for Stabaek, feeding brilliantly off Icelandic striker Veigar Pall Gunnarson – who, aside from being his partner’s provider in chief, averages a goal every other game.
Nannskog and Gunnarson have had some stellar support from Alanzinho, the Brazilian whose mazy dribbling has perplexed defences, midfielder Johan Andersson and versatile, enterprising 25-year-old centre-back Morton Skjonsberg who will surely soon make his full Norway debut.
Stabaek are based in Baerum, Oslo’s poshest suburb. If they do win the title, the triumph will provide a fitting farewell to the council-owned Nadderud stadium. From 2009, the club will play its games nearby at the new multi-purpose Telenor Arena, which many say will be the most spectacular football stadium in Norway.
There are two ways Stabaek’s dream move could turn into a nightmare. This season is remarkable because Rosenborg, Viking Stavanger, Lyn and Valerenga have all had off years. How often is that likely to happen?
Rosenborg had lost four games out of nine before their new coach, Erik Hamren (who won the Danish title with Aalborg), took over. They have looked steadier since and should seriously challenge next year.
The other risk is that Gunnarson and Alanzinho move on; the Brazilian has just extended his contract, though that’s no guarantee. The Icelandic striker, now 28, is said to be ready for a move.
And Nannskog, at 34, may not have many free-scoring seasons left. Rivals wonder if Stabaek have the strength in depth to cope with the loss of a few of their aces.
Supporters are looking on the bright side. As the Stabaek Support unofficial fansite says: “Football isn’t just about winning. The most important thing is partying, drinking, smoking, listening to rock and roll, f**king, fighting and watching football. We do this until we’re 90. And then we join the Aldermannsliga, the club for elderly supporters.”
They have no doubt their team will be champions. Even if they stumble, it won’t dent the fans’ belief. As they say on their website: “We could present tons of statistics proving that Stabaek are the best team in Norway in the 21st century, but we will not. Statistics attract nerds and we don’t want nerds around wasting our bandwidth.”
Fair enough. Besides, no matter what the future holds for Stabaek, it’s refreshing to see a team entertain its way to the brink of success.
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