Village beckons for Champions League winner
After a dream is realised, and the initial elation subsides, a nagging question can often emerge. ‘Where do I go from here?’
For Colin Bell, this was a dilemma that consumed him after he led Frankfurt to UEFA Women’s Champions League glory last May. And of all the options swirling, staying put seemed the least appealing.
“I knew even then that it was time to go, that I fancied a change,” he told FIFA.com. “I’d had a fantastic time at Frankfurt, which I’ll always be grateful for, but I felt the time had come for a new challenge – preferably in a different country.”
Even then, the question of where loomed large. Obvious destinations, especially in the wake of such a high-profile triumph, would have been USA’s star-studded NWSL or a return to Bell’s native England. A move into international football also seemed a logical step. As it was, this pursuit of a fresh challenge took the 54-year-old on an unlikely path, from Frankfurt and the European champions to a tiny Norwegian village.
Avaldsnes, with a population of less than 3,000, is now Bell’s home following a surprise move to the ambitious local team, Avaldsnes IF. And while this little Norwegian outpost is not one of the beautiful game’s great heartlands, he is relishing the task of putting it on the football map.
“I actually lived about 170km from Frankfurt in a very small place with only about 200 people, so it won’t be as big a culture-shock as you might think,” he explained. “In fact, Avaldsnes will probably be a bit busier than I’m used to! I also know that the village is very invested in the team and that the girls are really loved there. So I’m really open and excited about it all.
“I wanted this not only to be a sporting challenge, but a cultural one too in terms learning a new way of life and language. The fact that Norway is a beautiful country and that women’s football is so high-profile and respected meant that everything came together when Avaldsnes came in for me. I’ve already been studying the language for a couple of months now, so I’m getting there with the basics and football terminology. I know people in Norway all speak English anyway but I’d like to show the girls that I’m really into it and that I will put my heart and soul into this project.
“I want to achieve and win things here. The club is definitely ambitious and wants to do everything it can to get past Lillestrom, who’ve been Norway’s dominant force over recent years. Avaldsnes also qualified for the Champions League last season, and that was a big incentive. That’s a competition that, for me, is giving women’s football a real added edge at club level – and that’s where our game still has to develop.”
I’ve had lows too and they’ve included going to the unemployment exchange, not knowing what’s going to come up and worrying about things like feeding my family.
Given his views on the Champions League, it is no surprise that he considers winning this tournament to be the greatest achievement of a long and varied football career. “I’ve been in the game a long time now – since I was 16 – and this is my 26th year as a coach,” said Bell, who left England for Germany at just 20, having failed to make the grade at Leicester City.
“I think all that experience made winning the Champions League all the sweeter. If I’d won a big title like that earlier in my career, I don’t think I would have appreciated it to the same extent. But having worked in so many different areas of the game, at all different levels – from men’s Bundesliga to U-19s and U-23s, playing on hard pitches and getting changed in tiny dressing rooms – I feel like I’ve been through it all.”
It is this breadth of football and life experience that also ensures Bell will not be fretting if his Norwegian adventure does not turn out as planned. “I don’t feel uneasy or stressed about this move at all because the time feels right and I know that in the worst case – things don’t work out – I can just go back home. I’ve had highs in football and life but I’ve had lows too and they’ve included going to the unemployment exchange, not knowing what’s going to come up and worrying about things like feeding my family. It’s those kind of moments that form your personality and it’s because of them that I’m starting this new chapter very happy and very grateful to be in such a wonderful position in this great game of ours.
“After so long in Germany, I’m just really looking forward to trying something new. Also, if I stay in women’s football, one of my ambitions is to become a national team coach, and I think going abroad and working in a different league will help me achieve that.”
That ambition, too, poses a question of ‘Where?’ Would Bell’s preference, for example, be the nation in which he was born, the one in which he spent the last 34 years or, perhaps, the country he has just begun to call home?
“Oh, I’m very open-minded about that and wouldn’t be so presumptuous to say, ‘I’d like this job’,” he said. “But it’s important to have ambitions and dreams in life; something to work towards and aim for. And if that dream doesn’t happen, so be it. But I’ll keep on looking for new challenges and ways to bring out the very best in myself.”