Eggen's crusade against greed coach deliver a cautionary tale

Phil Gordon hears Rosenborg
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The Independent Online

Nils Arne Eggen does not look a revolutionary. At 58, the ruddy-cheeked and bespectacled Norwegian seems a little too avuncular to be joining the rioters on the streets of Seattle: Eggen, though, is simply too immersed in his own battle against the rich to notice.

Nils Arne Eggen does not look a revolutionary. At 58, the ruddy-cheeked and bespectacled Norwegian seems a little too avuncular to be joining the rioters on the streets of Seattle: Eggen, though, is simply too immersed in his own battle against the rich to notice.

The man who talks of "the money-changers" who run European football will get his chance on Tuesday night to chase a few false idols from the game's temple, the Bernabeu Stadium. Once it was home to the spirit of the beautiful game, now it is merely a monument to Mammon, where a club with almost £100m of debt continues to spend obscene amounts oblivious to its problems.

Ironically, Real Madrid and Eggen's Rosenborg sit next to each other in the official Champions' League handbook, but they could not be further apart in philosophy. While the Spanish giants squander £23m on Nicolas Anelka and pay Steve McManaman £60,000 a week, Eggen believes that greed is killing the game and warns of serious consequences, particularly for English football.

In the meantime, the continent's shrewdest coach continues to use its showpiece event as a vehicle for proving that the rich do not always triumph: Eggen has bloodied expensive noses from Milan to Blackburn. It's the equivalent of the World Trade Organisation asking Che Guevara to lunch.

"There are too few taking too much from the game," says Eggen sagely. "Football should be about developing talent, but everyone else seems just to want to go out and buy stars."

Rosenborg, unlike Real, are very much in the black, largely thanks to Eggen's phenomenal success story which has put the little fishing port of Trondheim on the map. Even Franz Beckenbauer, Bayern Munich's president, was forced a fortnight ago to eat humble pie for remarks he had made when Rosenborg gatecrashed the Champions' League top table four years ago - describing them as "unsuitable" - and the Kaiser got his apology in just in time, as the Norwegians held last season's finalists to a 1-1 draw in the Lerkendal Stadium.

Whereas Chelsea, Lazio and Real scour all four corners of the globe to find talent to put into shirt, Rosenborg are 100 per cent Norwegian. And what's more, Eggen's boys wear their shirts with pride. "Rosenborg is the team of Trondheim and the players understand that they are playing for their own people," explained the veteran coach. "The player is a product of the team and the team creates good players - as soon they start acting like individuals, it all breaks down."

Some of those individuals, though, became prized. Liverpool, Spurs and Celtic spent millions on Veggard Heggem, Steffen Iversen and Harald Brattbakk, respectively, after Eggen guided Rosenborg to the Champions' League quarter-finals in 1997. He has simply replaced them with bright-eyed youngsters from the club's youth academy or down-to-earth bank clerks and surveyors who prefer the part-time life of a Scandinavian footballer.

Eggen's philosophy meant that Brattbakk went with his blessing, because the striker had repaid Rosenborg with service, whereas Heggem was castigated for taking the money and running at just 23. "I think my players are willing to do something for the club they play for, whereas English football, for example, is losing its identity.

"Every Premiership team has nearly 90 per cent foreign players. I cannot understand that thinking. What future does England have this way? What about the young talent from home? "I prefer to mould players. If they have the talent, and the right attitude for football, they can be made into a good team. That is the main reason for our success - there is a group of people at Rosenborg who are concerned with helping young people, not exploiting them."

While Rosenborg's successes - they have beaten every top club to visit their frozen tundra, including Real Madrid in 1997-98, and, famously, Milan on their own patch the season before - have ensured that everyone now knows their name, few outside of Norway had heard of them almost 30 years ago when Eggen began the first of his four coaching stints at the team he played for.

He took a year's sabbatical in 1998 and mulled over lucrative offers to manage clubs around Europe, before deciding to stay put. "My wife and I thought we would be better staying in Norway," he insists. "Anyway, I like being a football teacher."

This season, Eggen taught Borussia Dortmund a lesson, putting the 3-0 away win on a par with that night in the San Siro, but he concedes it is "more and more difficult" to uncover new talent. However, he insists Rosenborg will never join Real and the rest in paying inflated wages and transfer fees in the pursuit of silverware. "It would never happen," he snorts. "At Rosenborg, we own ourselves. We have no business interests to tell us what to do. Rosenborg don't even sign players from the Norwegian national team because of the salaries they make in Britain. Our aim is to build for the future."

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