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Ståle Solbakken: what can Cologne’s fans expect?

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Ståle Solbakken, many German football fans might have heard the name of FC Copenhagen’s coach, but wouldn’t know what to expect from him. As it turns out, Ståle “Salvatore” Solbakken is amongst the most exciting coaches in Europe right now.

One of the hottest topics of today was FC Köln getting a new coach. As it stands, the honor of coaching the billy goats next season will fall to Norwegian coach Ståle Solbakken. The man who has said that his German is “as good as Trappatoni’s German”(which made him fluent in German according to Hamburg media outlet MoPo) is somebody German football fans have heard a lot about in the last few weeks, but many of them know very little about him.

This picture was taken in 1996. Back then Solbakken played for the Norwegian side Lillestrøm.

Long time followers of the Norwegian “Tippeligaen” will remember Solbakken for his efficient playing style in midfield, his vicious and clinical finishes during his time as a HamKam and Lillestrøm player.

The East-Norwegian’s playing days came to an unfortunate end, when his heart stopped for 7 minutes during a match that Solbakken played for FC Copenhagen on March 13th in 2001. The midfielder followed his doctors advice, and ended his playing career after this incidence.

Coaching days
Solbakken’s first station as a coach was HamKam in 2003, where he had played earlier and started his professional career as a footballer. Leading the team to promotion into the Tippeliga(the highest tier in Norwegian football) in his first season. Nine years after the club’s last season in the Tippeliga, HamKam managed to snatch a sensational fifth place finish in their first season in the league since 1995. After another season that ended with a 10th place finish, Solbakken left the club and returned to FC Copenhagen, this time as a coach.

Solbakken during a press conference before Copenhagen's away match against Chelsea.

During Solbakken’s tenure at the club Copenhagen have won the Danish championship each season with the exception of their third place finish in 2008. Furthermore, Solbakken was the first coach that has led the club into the Champions League. The best run in the team’s  history was achieved this season when the club reached the knock out phase of the competition. However, Copenhagen were knocked out of the Champions League immediately after meeting Chelsea.

Playing style
Solbakken’s teams usually play in a 4-4-2 formation when entering the pitch. However, what makes life difficult for the other team is how swiftly the sides Solbakken coaches can adapt, and change their formation in a heartbeat. The Norwegian’s game plan takes into consideration a number of possible events during a match, so FC Copenhagen have in the past changed from a 4-4-2, to a 4-2-2-2 and on some occasions even into a 4-5-1.

This in term has caused several coaches in the Danish Superligaen headaches, and breaking down FC Copenhagen has been almost impossible for several Danish sides, while defending against them for 90 minutes is even tougher. Even coaches of Pep Guardiola’s stature have had their trouble winning matches against FC Copenhagen, fielding a sides that were vastly superior to FCC on paper.

If everything had gone according to the Norwegian FA's plan, Solbakken would have taken over the Norwegian national team after Egil "Drillo" Olsen's term had been up.

All in all a promising signing by FC Köln in my book. Now that Norwegian players like Moa and Håvard Nordtveit have made an impact in the league, it is already time for a Norwegian coach to give it a go in Germany. All that is left to do before signing Solbakken, is to negotiate a fee for him with the Norwegian FA. The fact that Solbakken won’t coach the Norwegian national team might be a big loss for Norway, but in the end it might turn out to be a gain for the Bundesliga.

Read Tim Hill’s tactical analysis of FC Copenhagen to gain more insight into Ståle Solbakken’s playing style:øbenhavn-preview/ 

What do you think? What will Cologne look like under Ståle Solbakken? Leave a comment below.


About Niklas

Niklas Wildhagen has been following the Bundesliga for over 20 years and he is the editor in chief of the Bundesliga fanatic.

12 responses »

  1. Great story, Niklas. Thank you for keeping Bundesliga fans up to date on Koln’s coaching change.

  2. Ah, so that’s where this was Nik! Based on what you and Tim’s link indicate, Solbakken doesn’t mind shifting from the basic conservative 4-4-2 to one of the more risky formations in 4-2-2-2. Think the Billygoats’ current squad are up to that type of a transition if he’s calling for it? I’ve the Steve McClaren experiment with Wolfsburg in mind.

    • Well, Solbakken managed to turn the best team in Denmark into a team that was able to compete with the likes of Chelsea and Barcalona, only loosing narrowly over two legs(narrowly considering that we are talking about a relatively small club). Cologne have already a good defensive foundation, and Solbakken will probably get to sign a couple of players as well. So he might bring in a few players that can fill those requirements.

      When he was back at HamKam his team didn’t play the sort of football Copenhagen are playing these. The good thing about Solbakken is that he is a realist, and that he knows what a team can, and can not do. Something is telling me that the next season is going to be a brilliant one for Cologne. Maybe I am looking at this through rose colored glasses, because I really do like his coaching style and I love it when Norwegians go to the Bundesliga, but I am awfully optimistic about this move.

  3. Thanks for filling us in on your countryman Nik. 😀 Sounds like a really exciting addition to the Bundesliga, and a refreshing change from the game of musical chairs we’ve had where coaches just shuffle around within the league. I hope he’ll bring something fresh both to Köln and the league as a whole!

    Maybe Zdenek Pospech will be able to give Tuchel secret insider knowledge about Solbakken so we can beat Köln… hmmmmm. 😉

    • Pospech is an interesting addition to the league as well. Another low cost solution that makes a lot of sense for Mainz!

      I am very glad that the Bundesliga seems to have discovered the goldmine of talent that Scandinavian football is.

  4. @ Nik: Needs MOAR Viking!

    • Being a real VIKING(in other words not being Swedish or Danish) is the main purpose of any Norwegian currently in the Bundesliga;)

      And by that logic, supporting the Norwegian football team called Viking(my favorite team) is the reasonable thing to do;)

  5. Nik, just remembered something. I had done a post on HSV’s new youth policy back in October, and remember their focus was going to be on Asian, French, and Scandinavian players. Might we be seeing something of the same philosophy with Solbakken & Cologne you think?

    • Solbakken has been good with talents at Copenhagen. Wouldn’t surprise me if he looks towards Scandinavia for talent. He knows that market very well, the players come cheap, the culture is not all that different from the German culture, and most Scandinavians are quiet off the pitch as well. Additionally, it is rather easy for Scandinavians to grasp the German language and learn it.

      Side note: And besides the youth, even established players from the Scandinavian leagues come cheap. Hannover bought their strikers for roughly 1.8 million euros, and it has given them a 22 goal return so far this season. And Ya Konan scored another 9 goals last season.

      Btw Jason, do you have a link to that article?

      • I was trying to locate it and put in my original comment, but the link was switched a while back.

  6. Pingback: 1. F.C. Köln Season Preview 2011/12: A New Beginning | Bundesliga Fanatic



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