Never go back. Those three words have become enshrined in accepted football wisdom, with coaches in particular cautioned against returning to the scene of former glories. Yet while there are countless examples to support such advice, exceptions also emerge - and Even Pellerud is a prime example.
The Norway coach had plenty to live up to from his first spell in charge, the high point of which arrived in 1995 with victory at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™. A year later, he stepped down, beginning a 16-year exile that included spells in charge of Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, and men’s club sides Lillestrom and Ikast.
Then, in 2012, with his 60th birthday approaching and to widespread surprise, Pellerud was back. And though he was returning to an old job, the landscape of women’s football had changed almost beyond recognition during his years away.
“I was contemplating going back [to Norway], but more in a technical director-type role,” Pellerud told FIFA.com. “But the coach at that time had to leave, so the position became open and I felt I had the motivation to take it on again. Right from the start, it felt really good and it still feels that way. I loved this job first time around and we had some amazing results, but there’s no doubt that women’s football has moved on massively since then.
“Back then, we really didn’t take teams like Spain, Switzerland, Holland and Scotland very seriously. Now they’re all very strong, and there are many other examples. There is also much more technical and tactical sophistication to women’s football these days. The Norway team has changed too: they’re still fit, strong and have a good attitude, but they have way more technical skills and tactical understanding than before.”
And just as Norway’s national side and the women’s game have evolved, so too has Pellerud. As he explained: “I don’t know if I’m a better coach than when I was first here but I think I’m better on the management side, organising the people around me. I also think I’m calmer and more patient with players and staff. My role has changed from the ‘90s, when I wanted to be in control of everything. I’m much looser now and I trust my staff and players with a lot, and encourage them to bring their opinions forward.”
Fortunately for Norway, their coach’s new, more relaxed and inclusive approach is proving just as effective as the fiery style that inspired their ‘90s zenith. Indeed, Pellerud’s team emerged as the sensation of this year’s UEFA Women’s EURO, beating Germany en route to the final and only losing out to the holders in the rematch thanks to two trophy-winning penalty saves by Nadine Angerer. “The public were very sceptical and didn’t have much confidence before that tournament,” said Pellerud, “but the players showed they could match even the very best. I was extremely proud.”
Norway have maintained those standards in the months since, kicking off their Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign with three straight victories, including a precious away win in the Netherlands. Pellerud, wary of Belgium and the Dutch, insists that the group remains wide open, but it would now be a major surprise if his team fail to take their place at Canada 2015.
And should Norway clinch their place, their coach is assured of the warmest of welcomes. Pellerud, after all, spent close to a decade as Canada coach, and his years in charge are fondly remembered by current icons such as Christine Sinclair, who described the Norwegian as having “changed all our lives”.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Pellerud said of his Canadian adventure. “It was a big job, building a program almost from scratch, but it has proved very successful and I’m happy when I look back on those nine years. With the likes of Christine, I took them on as kids and, for a while, we lost, lost and lost again. But then we started to draw games and then the wins started to come, and all the while you could see these girls growing as footballers. It was a big process but it’s great to see how their careers have developed.”
Nor has Pellerud himself completely severed links with Canada. Indeed, it was from Vancouver that he chatted to FIFA.com, explaining that next year’s Women’s World Cup will, if his side qualify, represent another kind of homecoming.
He said: “My wife and two daughters still live here; my girls are finishing high school before moving to Norway next summer. Canada is a special place to my family and, of course, I hope to spend a little time here the year after next. And I think it will be a great World Cup because Canada has some good experience hosting such big tournaments, and hosting them well. I’m sure it will be fantastic, and hopefully Norway can play our part.”