Examining the recent resurgence of Norwegian football, a sense of déjà vu is unavoidable. Indeed, with Egil Olsen revitalising the national team and Nils Arne Eggen presiding over an all-powerful Rosenborg side, it’s almost like being transported back to the 1990s. That, of course, was Norway’s golden era; a decade during which these two outstanding, if very different, coaches inspired unprecedented achievements in their respective arenas.
For Olsen, it was leading the national team to consecutive FIFA World Cups™ for the first time in their history, not to mention orchestrating a famous victory over Brazil en route to the Round of 16 in 1998. Now 68 years old, ‘Drillo’ is back at the helm, and Norway – having failed to reach a major tournament since his departure a decade ago – lead their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying section.
At the same time as Olsen was performing FIFA World Cup heroics, Eggen was responsible for a success story every bit as remarkable. Having returned to the club with which he had won the double in 1971, his first season as a coach, he established Rosenborg as a dominant force, moulding a team that went on to win 13 successive titles between 1992 and 2004. Not content with this domestic monopoly, the Trondheim outfit also established a record at the time by qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage eight years running, a halcyon period during which they beat AC Milan in the San Siro and inflicted a memorable 2-0 defeat on Real Madrid.
The coach of that humbled Real side, who incidentally went on to win the trophy, was Jupp Heynckes. So there is some irony in the fact that the German, now in charge of Bayer Leverkusen, will tonight welcome Rosenborg and his old nemesis for the sides’ opening UEFA Europa League fixture. That set of circumstances has been facilitated by the fact that Eggen, who turns 69 tomorrow, is back in charge of the Trondheim outfit. And while it remains to be seen whether his charges can shock their German rivals to revive memories of their 1990s heyday, this returning hero can already boast of having helped Rosenborg reassert their domestic superiority.
The club’s decline in the years after his departure was unmistakable, with a seventh-place finish in 2005 followed by back-to-back seasons (2007 and 2008) in which they finished fifth. Valerenga, Brann and Stabaek all profited from this fall from grace, but this trio’s time at the top was to be short-lived.
In June 2008, Rosenborg found themselves a saviour - and perhaps the only surprise was that it wasn’t Eggen himself. Instead, it was Erik Hamren who began the process of reviving the Troillongan, returning the club to the summit of Norwegian football thanks to a spectacular title-winning campaign in his first full term in charge. The Swede had made some key signings, most notably midfielder Anthony Annan - who would go on to star for Ghana at the FIFA World Cup - and his new-look team ended the season 13 points clear, with just one defeat to their name.
Hamren has since left to take charge of the Swedish national team, but with Eggen now overseeing the 2010 campaign, Rosenborg have simply gone from strength to strength. Indeed, that solitary loss – which came after the title had already been sewn up – stands as the club’s only defeat in their last 53 Tippeligaen fixtures. The result is that Rosenborg and their veteran coach are now protecting a 26-game unbeaten run, the longest active sequence in world football, and hold a seven-point advantage over closest challengers Valerenga.
Nonetheless, fresh challenges lie ahead, and not only in Leverkusen. Despite successfully fending off interest in their players from English Premier League giants during the last transfer window, Rosenborg are likely to find it near-impossible to retain Annan in January, with the midfielder admitting: "No-one would say no if a club like Manchester United or Chelsea came calling." The club will also be without its guiding light and greatest-ever coach, as Eggen prepares to step aside for the appointment of Stabaek coach Jan Jonsson at the turn of the year.
Rosenborg president Terje Svendsen has spoken of his conviction that Jonsson – who, like Hamren, is a Swede – will live up to the adventurous, attacking tradition fostered by the current, legendary incumbent. "Jonsson is kind of an atypical Swedish coach,” said Svendsen. “Swedish coaches have always focused on the defence but he is genuinely focused on attacking play. So he fits very well for us."
Jonsson may well have all the tools needed to keep the Rosenborg bandwagon rolling along, yet one can only wish him luck. He does, after all, have exceptionally big shoes to fill.