Solbakken arrives at Wolves – well schooled in dealing with turmoil

 

Alcohol, relegation, defensive chaos and boardroom confusion: Stale Solbakken will not be too worried by the situation at Wolverhampton Wanderers, because he has experienced it all and worse this season at Cologne.

Solbakken inherited a mess at Cologne last summer, arriving after notable successes in Norway and Denmark. But, by November, club president Wolfgang Overath had quit, and he was not replaced for months, as Solbakken feuded with sporting director Volker Finke. Many of his players' over-exuberant social lives caused problems, and by the time Solbakken was dismissed last month Cologne were just as downwardly mobile as Wolves. Like Solbakken's new club, they will be playing second-tier football next season.

But for all the crises that went on around him in Cologne, Solbakken could not be accused of passivity. "He took a big decision," Ian Holyman, Bundesliga commentator for Eurosport, told The Independent. "He took the captaincy from Lukas Podolski to Pedro Geromel. It was a massive decision, Podoslki was known as 'Prince Poldi', he was the king of Cologne. It was always going to be an unpopular decision."

There was a similar issue with style of play. "Solbakken introduced a new zonal concept to defending," Holyman said. "The team never got their heads round it: they conceded 75 goals, the worst in the division."

His system served him well in Norway and Denmark. Solbakken won five titles in six years in Copenhagen, with a well-drilled approach that owes something to Roy Hodgson, under whom Solbakken played in 2000-01. "He plays a 4-4-2 formation with every player covering for each other," German football journalist Ben Gladwell says.

The most important thing about that season under Hodgson, though, was what happened to Solbakken in March 2001. He survived a heart attack, after which he was pronounced clinically dead. After overcoming that, he knows that there are more important things than football. "He uses this ethos to motivate his team and does not take anything too seriously," Gladwell said.

Solbakken's relaxed approach was certainly tested, though, by the conduct of some of his Cologne players. Miso Brecko crashed his car while drunk. Kevin Pezzoni got his nose broken in February. Slawomir Peszko got in a fight with a taxi driver last month. "The problems were already there before Solbakken came in," Holyman said.

It is little surprise he could not turn it around. "He was adjusting from a low-key league where he was allowed to work in peace and quiet to one of the most controversial clubs in one of the biggest leagues in Europe," Gladwell explained.

Solbakken might not get much peace and quiet at Molineux, with restive fans, an unpopular boardroom and the misconduct of Roger Johnson. But he cannot say he is unprepared.

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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