On Thursday, Norway’s Football Federation (NFF) announced that it has hired 59 year-old Even Pellerud as the new head coach of its Women’s National Team. This will mark his second stint as head coach of his native country’s WNT, having served in that position from 1989 to 1996, where he led the team to a Women’s World Cup trophy in 1995. Pellerud was also the head coach of two other women’s national teams: Canada, from late 1999 through the 2008 Olympics, and most recently, Trinidad and Tobago.
Pellerud is known to prefer a very direct long-ball style — most notably during his tenure as head coach of Canada (CONCACAF.com) — that is very much counter to the en vogue possession style, which makes his selection as Norway’s next head coach quite curious. However, the direct approached has been favored in Norway since the 1990s due to the coaching philosophy of Egil Olsen (Wikipedia) who led the Norwegian Men’s National Team to its only World Cup finals in 1994 and most famously in 1998 where Norway defeated reigning champion Brazil 2:1 in the group stage to make the round of 16. Coincidentally, Olsen is once again Norway’s MNT head coach, having been rehired in 2009, after stints managing professional clubs and the men’s national team of Iraq.
Norway’s head coaching position opened up in late October after the NFF decided not to renew Eli Landsem’s contract following a review process where Landsem essentially received a vote of no-confidence from her players (fotball.no, in Norwegian). Landsem became head coach of Norway in 2009 and led the team to the 2011 Women’s World Cup — where they failed to get out of their group, finishing third behind Brazil and Australia (FIFA.com) — along with qualifying for the 2013 Women’s Euro Championship.
The search for the new head coach was headed by the NFF’s technical director for soccer,* Nils Johan Semb (fotball.no, in Norwegian). He succeeded Egil Olsen as head coach of Norway’s MNT and led that team to its only European Championship in 2000 where Norway upset Spain 1:0 in their opening match (BBC Sport), but failed to get out of the group. Semb maintained the Norwegian MNT’s core style — direct play, zonal defending, 4-5-1 formation (SI.com) — so it is not that much of a surprise that Norway has decided to stay with the tried-and-true for its women’s team.
*”Toppfotballsjef” is his title in Norwegian, which translates directly as “top soccer chief.”
Pellerud’s first task will be to prepare Norway for the 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro which will be held in neighboring Sweden next July. Norway last won that tournament in 1993 when Pellerud was the head coach. And, that is also the last time a team other than Germany has claimed a Women’s Euro championship (Wikipedia).
At Pellerud’s disposal this time around will be a number of young stars, including two seventeen year-olds: 5’10” forward Ada Hegerberg, who very much fits into Pellerud’s style, and the 2012 NISO Women’s Player of the Year,** attacking midfielder Caroline Graham Hansen, whose dribbling skills and passing vision is almost antithetical to that style. If Pellerud can adapt and find a system that best exploits the talent at his disposal, then Norway could see renewed success. However, in many ways, this appears to be a step backward and could damage Norway’s WNT for years to come.
Norway’s first matches under Pellerud will be the 2013 Four Nations Tournament in China, where he will face his former squad of Canada, which had been transformed during the controversial tenure of his successor, Carolina Morace, and buoyed by their recent Olympic Bronze medal under current coach John Herdman. The other opponents in the tournament will be China and South Korea.
Pellerud was last with Trinidad and Tobago’s soccer association (the TTFF) where he was the head coach of that federation’s women’s senior and youth teams. Apparently Pellerud stepped down from that position sometime this summer or fall, as his former assistant, Marlon Charles, was quietly installed as head coach sometime after July and sometime before the T&T WNT’s recent pair of friendlies against Costa Rica in December.*** One issue that may have prompted Pellerud’s exit is that a number of the federation’s coaches, including him, had gone unpaid for some time due to ongoing financial and political issues with the TTFF and T&T’s Sports Ministry (Wired868.com). (Some of those issues relate to ex-FIFA Vice President Jack Warner.)
***The timeline is difficult to pin down as the TTFF federation has no news item regarding Pellerud leaving or Charles being named the new head coach. Nor have online searches proved helpful. The last TTFFonline.com news item mentioning Pellerud is a July 23rd post.
The return of Pellerud will add some interest to the USA-Norway rivalry, which after some classic matches in the 1991 and 1995 Women’s World Cups plus the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, has been been very one-sided in favor of the United States: Since a USA loss in 2002, the Americans have won 14 out of 15 matches, while Norway has only won once: the opening match of the 2008 Olympics.