On the surface it looks quite a bizarre decision, Ståle Solbakken, who has just overseen Koln’s latest relegation from the Bundesliga has been identified as the man to lead Wolves out of the Championship next season and back to the Premier league promised land. He was relieved of his duties as Koln coach a month ago, ending an unhappy eleven month period in charge of one of Germany’s most tumultuous clubs.
The Billy Goats have been relegated five times in fifteen years and rarely did he look capable of preventing another embarrassing slide to the German second tier. His tactics were constantly questioned and his break down in relations with the sporting director did little to help steady the ship. In the end both were fired but the damage was already done. Frank Schaefer could do little as interim manager but watch it all go up in smoke, literally, as the Koln fans set fire to their own stadium after the 4-1 loss at home to Bayern which cemented their fate.
Solbakken, a midfielder of some standing back in his homeland and part of Norway’s 1998 World Cup squad had his career cut short at the age of 30, after suffering a cardiac arrest during a training session in 2001. His heart had stopped beating for seven minutes before being revived in the ambulance.
Koln fans set fire to their own stadium after the 4-1 loss at home to Bayern which cemented their relegation fate
His experience of the English game is limited to his time as a Wimbledon player in the late 90’s where his well publicised rift with then-coach Joe Kinnear forced his early return to Scandinavian football, where he would remain until 2011. Despite his German nightmare Solbakken’s unbridled success in charge of FC Copenhagen, winning five Danish Superliga titles in five years and reaching the Champions League group stage on two occasions, has kept his reputation intact outside Germany.
The decision both by Wolves and Solbakken, who is still seen in Norway as the man to lead the National team to their first major championship since Euro 2000, is as surprising as it is bold. Wolves' catastrophic decision to fire Mick McCarthy and replace him with his assistant Terry Connor, who failed to win in 12 games obviously convinced them to look further afield.
Solbakken, in taking the job has put his reputation on the line further, with the Championship being a notoriously gruelling and difficult league to get out of. The Norwegian’s radical zonal marking tactics which he honed in Denmark to great success never received the backing from anyone in Koln, including his players. How his insistence on these methods will work in the Championship will possibly make or break his time there.
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