Posted by: Christian Wulff | April 4, 2012

Musings on Round 2

The Ronny Deila Appreciation Society

If the name Strømsgodset sounds vaguely familiar to the few people out there who don’t intently follow Norwegian football, it’s probably because the team from Drammen is a footnote in the history books of a much more famous club. In 1974 they visited Anfield for the first round of the Cup Winners Cup and their 11-0 defeat is still Liverpool’s largest win in any competition. When your 15 minutes of international football fame is based on shipping eleven goals, you would expect a club ripe for mockery. Drammen itself has always, undeservedly, been one of the most ridiculed towns in Norway. Its proximity to Oslo often leading the capital to turn its collective noses up when it’s mentioned, its inhabitants now used to being the butt of the joke. Drammen has for a long time been to Oslo what Paisley is to Glasgow. So is Strømsgodset the St. Mirren of Norway? Although it’s a pretty good season that now is coming to an end at St. Mirren Park,  it’s eclipsed by the project developing  in Drammen. A rejuvenated and increasingly vibrant town is now seeing something of a quiet football revolution unfolding within their beloved local team.

As they have increasingly been put under financial pressure the last few years, Norwegian clubs have been forced to concentrate on developing their own players and give young talents more opportunities than at any time in recent history. Strømsgodset have been at the forefront of this development, with undoubtedly the most coherent and committed youth policy among all Tippeligaen sides. Jostein Flo, the former Sheffied United player who has been the club’s sporting director for the last eight years, has been the steady hand overseeing Strømsgodset transformation. However, it is the man he hired as head coach that truly embodies the policy.

Ronny Deila is still only 36, but this is his fifth season in charge of the club. A qualified teacher, his main coaching philosophy is based around excellent man management. Looking to develop and grow the personal side of his players, he works towards creating a group mentality where they feel safe, trusted and respected, but at the same time are challenged to achieve and perform. Deila also has an unashamedly offensive outlook in terms of tactics, with a focus on quick transitions and aggressive pressing, especially at home. While Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the more famous name, Deila’s potential as a coach is just as impressive, the two of them currently the two most exciting coaches under 40 in Norway.

Deila’s four seasons at Strømsgodset shows league positions of 11th, 12th, 7th and 8th. However, last season the margins were so small that at one point during their last game they were in 3rd place. In addition, they won the cup in 2010, which is still truly a ‘Big Deal’ in Norway. It is one of, if not the most, coveted domestic cup competition in Europe in terms of national prestige and tradition and for Strømsgodset it was only their second trophy in over 40 years. Deila has achieved this with a squad of predominately young players, and without having an exceptional generation of talent at his disposal. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some excellent prospects in the Strømsgodset side over the last few years. Marcus Pedersen left the club to join Vitesse Arnheim in the summer of 2010. He is now back in Tippeligaen on loan with Vålerenga, but the 21 year striker still has immense potential wrapped in an aggressive and ambitious playing style. Adam Larsen Kwarasey, born in Oslo to a Norwegian mother and Ghanaian father has now established himself as Ghana’s no. 1 goalkeeper at the age of 24, and have also taken over the captain’s armband at Strømsgodset with Alexander Aas out injured. The centre-halfs Kim Andre Madsen and Lars Sætra, 23 and 20 respectively, have realistic prospects to become integral parts of the Norwegian national team in future. But the main driver behind the success is Deila and his ability to lift his players and create togetherness, combined with a clear, consistent and positive playing style.

Having lost the opening game 2-1 away to champions Molde, Strømsgodset started the game against Vålerenga with only two outfield players above the age of 23. The youthful vigour was complemented by two experienced offensive players in Øyvind Storflor, 32, and Péter Kovács, 34. In fact, the whole match-day squad only included one outfield player between the age of 23 and 32, the years of a footballer’s career where you would normally expect to see a peak in quality and performances. The game itself perfectly capsulated the positivity and strong mentality running through Deila’s team. Vålerenga twice took the lead, the first goal an excellent header by Pedersen, who chose not to celebrate against his former club. After Storflor’s equaliser Pedersen set up Vålerenga’s second goal, his header finding Kristoffer Hæstad in front of goal. But Strømsgodset came out with their tails up after half-time, Adama Diomande scoring just two minutes after the restart.

There are already to many half-baked links to sabermetrics and Moneyball tactics in football these days, but if anybody embodies the general principles inherent in that philosophy in Norwegian football it is Deila and Strømsgodset. Bringing back the Hungarian Kovács to Tippeligaen seems to be a very smart move, the striker’s clever and tireless running combined with his vast experience creating a perfect focal point for the team’s offensive movements. Lars Iver Strand, another free transfer, was once a very bright prospect, gotting his first cap for Norway in 2005. Much was expected of him when he became Martin Andresen’s first signing for Vålerenga in 2008, but he turned into the forgotten man at the Oslo club, getting just two appearances off the bench in the last two seasons before his move to Strømsgodset this year. It always felt inevitable that the 28 year old would come back to haunt his old club, which he duly did by getting a scrappy winner for Strømsgodset in injury time. He showed none of the restraint Pedersen had done after his goal, later describing his celebrations as releasing ‘two years of hell‘.

Again Deila looks to have found a way of integrating his young talents with experienced and undervalued veterans, with a clear sense of playing identity and a collective mindset. The raw quality of his squad is not good enough to expect anything other than a mid-table finish, with Vålerenga likely to surpass them as the season continues. But a humble, determined Deila already looks like he would be a better fit for a bigger club than Martin Andresen. Only a year younger than Deila, it has become increasingly apparent that he does not have the man management skills of the Strømsgodset coach. But maybe even more damningly, he has so far failed to identify and implement a playing style that gets the best out of the superior player material he has had at his disposal over the last few years.

As for Strømsgodset, their focused work on youth and fiscal prudence has given them both relative sporting success and financial stability. But more than that, they have chiselled out a philosophy, a collective sense of identity that they seem determined to follow and develop into a lasting legacy. Richer and more famous clubs in Norway should be so lucky.

Not a 100%

While the three favourites for the league title all won their opening game last week, only an injury time equaliser by an offside-placed Michael Dorsin prevented defeat for all of them this weekend. While Vålerenga came unstuck against Strømsgodset, Molde could not revenge last year humiliation by Haugesund, instead losing 2-0. They were very unlucky with the second goal, Alexander Søderlund’s lob never actually crossing the goalline. But it was nothing less than hosts deserved and Molde will certainly not be the only team coming away empty handed from a trip to Haugesund this year. It was only Dorsin’s controversial late goal that saved Rosenborg from a defeat to Lillestrøm. Steffen Iversen got his second goal in two games for the visitors, while Luke Rodgers scored five minutes into his debut for the home team, only two days after he was released by New York Red Bulls due to being denied a work visa in the US. For an excellent tactical analysis of the game, read this article by Brendan Husebø on his website

After Tromsø put in a stereotypical Tromsø performance in the 0-0 draw away to Ålesund on Monday night, there are now no 100% records left in Tippeligaen, only two games into the season. It leaves Sogndal at the top of the table again, although they will do very well to stay there after their trip to Rosenborg  this weekend. Played over just two days instead of the usual four because of Easter, it’s the last two games of the next round that seem the most intriguing. Molde take on Brann on Monday night, while on Tuesday Vålerenga really need to steady the ship against a Viking side that look a lot more solid and coherent than at this time last season.

Results round 2: Brann – Sandnes Ulf 3-1; Strømsgodset – Vålerenga 3-2; Haugesund – Molde 2-0; Fredrikstad – Stabæk 5-1; Sogndal – Hønefoss 0-0; Viking – Odd Grenland 1-0; Lillestrøm – Rosenborg 2-2; Aalesund – Tromsø 0-0.

You can get all the stats and watch free (and legal) highlights of every games at the altomfotball.no website. Click on the result of each game and, eh, press play (there will be a short commercial first). This page will also include all the match facts, line-ups and formations.

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Responses

  1. […] not that long ago since I wrote about Deila and the fantastic work he’s done with Strømsgodset. That was only after the second game of the season, and at no point did I ever imagine that 15 games […]


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