Football: Olsen keeps the long-ball faith

Wimbledon's new manager will stand by the principles he followed as Norway's national coach.
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THE NEW sponsors, unveiled alongside the new manager, were called Tiny, but while the name may have once been appropriate to Wimbledon's size it was clear yesterday that every club is a big club in the Premiership. Despite it being early July, the temperature 25 degrees and with many of the summer's main sporting excitements - Open golf, Silverstone and the Lord's Test - still to come, the arrival of an eccentric Norwegian drew 75 media folk to a converted transport caff in south-west London.

In the absence of a ground to call their own, the former truckers' stop on the A3 is now Wimbledon's home, and as he sat beneath an Uncle Bulgaria Womble doll, Egil Olsen did his best to fit in. On the superficial level he certainly meets the zany requirements of a "Crazy Gang" leader. He frequently takes training in wellies, has a pig named after him at Glasgow Zoo, is nicknamed Drillo and has shelved plans to stand as a Marxist councillor in order to manage Wimbledon. He was also rash enough to tell the press yesterday that he intends to make Wimbledon "more crazy and more aggressive".

Delve a little deeper, however, and Olsen is clearly no fool. The Wellingtons are a result of his arthritis (he cannot afford to get his feet wet); the pig is a stranger to him, if not Wimbledon's press office; his nickname stems from his penchant for dribbling as a Norwegian international in the sixties and seventies; and his Marxism has been a long-held belief. Olsen also has a formidable record as a coach: he managed Norway's Olympic, A, Under-21 and national sides, leading the latter to two World Cup tournaments and a 47-16 win-loss ratio in 89 matches, and has eagerly harnessed the best technical and medical knowledge he can find.

As for making Wimbledon more crazy, he says he meant taking more risks on the pitch and playing more aggressively.

Which brought us to Olsen's real eccentricity: he is the last fully paid- up member of the direct play methods which made Wimbledon famous and scarred the English football landscape in the 1980s. Olsen prefers to call it "penetrative play", and yesterday he rehearsed the usual arguments in its favour.

"Possession is not so important - scoring goals is. I want skilful players, but I want them playing the ball forward. If you never lose possession in your own half you reduce the goals scored against you. If you don't play the ball through midfield you can't lose it there."

Though teams playing this way have won few major trophies there is a certain logic to it, not least given Olsen's likely resources.

Sam Hamman, the club's part-owner - together with some low-profile Norwegians - outlined the realities of Wimbledon's finances. "Since signing Michael Hughes [in September 1997] we have spent pounds 16.8m and brought in [prior to Chris Perry's recent pounds 4.5m transfer] pounds 750,000. Egil unfortunately has to face the consequences. Normally you give a new manager a boost by giving him pounds 5m to spend. Egil has to bring in money. In addition our performances in the last two years show we should be strengthening. It will be tough but I am full of confidence in him."

Will "Drillo" succeed? Wimbledon will be difficult to play against and may pick up enough wins to survive, but it is hard to see them making any impact on the upper half of the division. And if Olsen's introduction of overseas players - two have been signed already - dilutes the team spirit of the most English club in the Premiership, they could do a lot worse.