Football: Norse saga with a moral for Britain

Norman Fox says Wimbledon may be setting a poor precedent
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The Independent Online
MUCH OF what has been said at Wimbledon football club over the past week does not add up. But it hardly takes a degree in accountancy to surmise that by putting forward the name of the Norwegian coach Egil Olsen as successor to Joe Kinnear, the club's owners, who also happen to be Norwegian, are aiming to attract ready-made Scandinavian players rather than develop talent here. The alarm bells should be ringing throughout British football.

Standing out from the mystery of why Kinnear's dedication to the Dons has turned to a sudden ambition to manage a bigger club is the fact that the Scandinavian directors had made it clear that they were unhappy with Wimbledon's flirtation with relegation after Kinnear suffered a heart attack last season. Quite what else they expected, as the amazingly resourceful and inspirational Kinnear is absolutely central to the extraordinary survival in the Premiership of a club with its roots still in the Southern League, who knows.

One result of bringing over the eccentric Marxist-Leninist Olsen would be access to the contacts he built up as Norway's coach. The board could hardly argue for his appointment on the basis of a club career never tested outside Norway. A flood of Scandinavians could well change the predominantly British-based Wimbledon squad, who until Kinnear's illness had not only brought security, but at times defied their reputation by playing attractively.

Kinnear's regular claim after his team beat or matched yet another far richer Premiership side that "we gave up kick and rush ages ago" was not entirely wishful thinking. Of course, Wimbledon's strength is the ability to be difficult to beat, but over the past few seasons they have often combined that with a passing game which might have Olsen fuming.

Olsen has already irritated Premiership managers by suggesting that the direct football his team, Valerenga, play in the Norwegian league would improve the game here. And his criticism of British clubs for trying to become too continental is dismissed as having total disregard for the fact that the British leagues are so full of foreign players (including nearly 30 Norwegians) that a blend of styles has become inevitable. His intention to continue spending hours deliberating over videos and computers before discussing each player's performance after every match also suggests that he has little idea of the pressures under which Premiership managers work.

Olsen's own remarks hardly clarify the issue. "I would like to prove wrong those who say that my methods work in Norway but would not in other countries," he said. "I would like to try them with more skilful players." At Wimbledon? Also, Olsen has always said that he would like to coach in the Premier League, "but only for one of the top clubs". His words are almost as confusing as Kinnear's claim that in spite of his heart attack he wants to take on an even more stressful job.

Most of the players who have worked with Olsen think his unusual, academic attitude (he has been working for the Norwegian University for Sport and Physical Recreation) is unusual but not a problem. Tore Andre Flo, the Chelsea striker coached by him as a Norwegian international, points out that Olsen's record of having taken Norway to two World Cups and guided Valerenga to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup (knocked out by Chelsea this season) commands respect.

Flo said: "He has a system and makes his players believe in it. He likes to play 4-5-1 but he will change his tactics if he thinks he has seen a weakness in the opposition. He's one of the best prepared coaches I have played with. Nothing is left to chance. When he sees something wrong he makes sure the same mistake doesn't happen again."

Much has been made of Olsen's nickname "Drillo", but that was attached to him years ago, and refers as much to his own serious, single-minded approach to the game as a player in Oslo as to his methods as a coach. Either way, the idea of his revelling in Wimbledon's Crazy Gang schoolboy pranks and humour is laughable in itself.