Posted by: Christian Wulff | May 8, 2012

Musings on Round 7

Brann – Viking: a metaphor for deeper problems

It was the dullest of times, it was the most boring of times. But at least Brann and Viking’s tedious and uninspiring 0-0 draw produced an easy (lazy) metaphor for the two teams’ start to the season. Make no mistake; these two clubs are among the aristocracy of Norwegian football. From the 2nd and 4th biggest cities in Norway, they have long and proud football traditions, with no real local rivals to eat into potential gate receipts or sponsorship deals. They should both be a dominating force in modern Norwegian football but instead they are its biggest underachievers.

Bergen define itself as the most football mad city in Norway, its football team so often the vehicle through which the strong local identify and patriotism is manifested. Brann were for a very long time defined by its long and frustrating hunt for a league title. Champions in 1963, they came second in 1997, 2000 and 2004, with four cup triumphs being the only silverware coming home to Bergen until 2007. That year , after 43 years – an astonishing length of time considering Brann’s position in Norwegian football and its inherent resources – the club finally won the league under coach Mons Ivar Mjelde.

Having finally reached the summit of Norwegian football again, they did what virtually every other club that won the league after Rosenborg’s 13 year dominance from  1992 did; relinquish power straight away. Mjelde left the year after when Brann finished eight in the league, and while they came fifth in 2009, a horrendous start to 2010 meant the departure of coach Steinar Nilsen, with the current coach Rune Skarsfjord replacing him. They just avoided relegation and with high profile players such as Erik Huseklepp, Jan Gunnar Solli, Petter Vaagan Moen and Eirik Bakke leaving before the 2011 season, Norway’s biggest newspaper VG even predicted that the team would be relegated for the first time since 1985.

With that relegation in 1985 and the teams’ consequent promotion in 1986,  Brann had achieved eight consecutive seasons of either relegation or promotion. To this day, the club’s only constant seems to be its unpredictability. So it wasn’t really a big surprise when they confounded expectations last season, a victory over Rosenborg in the first game of the season setting the standard for what was to unfold. Lead by their young, powerful Nigerian striker Kim Ojo and the electrifying Uruguayan playmaker Diego Guastavino  the team finished fourth in the league and got to the Norwegian cup final, losing to Aalesund.  Their 5-3 victory over Sarpsborg  was probably the most entertaining of the whole season with the last goal by Rodoloph Austin, set up after an incredible run by Guastavino, a clear candidate for the goal of the season.

The Uruguyan was released by the club before this season as his family was struggling to settle in Bergen. But that was the only main loss for Brann in this transfer window, the club experiencing a lot more settled pre-season then the year before. While not replacing Guastavino directly, Amin Askar did come in from Fredrikstad and the wide midfielder have had a good start, adding an assist to his three goals so far. Ojo has also had a decent start, his three goals in the first seven games keeping him on track to equal last years’ 15 in 28 games. And still, Brann is third last in the table with only four points, their worst start since 1998.

Whereas their opening win over Rosenborg last season was a catalyst for positivity and optimism that seemed to sustain the team for most of the season, this year they went away to the same team in their first game and lost 3-1. There is no shame in losing in Trondheim and Brann duly beat newly promoted Sandnes Ulf in their first home game.  But four consecutive losses to Molde, Strømsgodset, Haugesund and Vålerenga followed before they finally managed a point against Viking yesterday. It could have been much worse, Viking’s Andre Danielsen blasting a second half penalty high over the bar.

Whereas  fourth place flattered the quality of the Brann squad last season, 14th is not a true reflection of Skarsfjord’s team this year. Those four defeats in a row were all by a single goal, and their losses have been against the teams currently 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the table, in addition to last years’ champions Molde. Results should pick up but there are tougher questions to be asked of Brann about the long-term development of the club.

Some observers point to the league championship in 2007 as a turning point for the club. That long, frustrating struggle towards the holy grail was something that united the club, its supporters and the city – a common goal, a shared pain, a unifying quest. When the dream finally came true five years ago, the club and the city seemed to react like there was nothing more to achieve. Instead of being a catalyst for Brann to start dominating Norwegian football in a way their resources and support gives them an opportunity to, the next season was a giant anti-climax, and the club have never really fully recovered since. It is a club and a city that need to rediscover its hunger, a sense of purpose, a new quest. Unrivalled in Norway in terms of a club’s importance to the city and the support it receives from it, Brann is at its core the most unique football institution in Norway. It’s time they started acting like it again.

Their opponents yesterday are one of the few clubs that can equal Brann’s tradition and history. Since Hovedserien was introduced in 1949 (with only two regional groups and the winners meeting in a league final, it replaced a system where there was eight different regional pools), Viking have played more top-flight games than any other Norwegian club. They have eight league titles (only Roseborg and Fredrikstad have more) and have won the cup five times. The problem is that except for their cup triumph in 2001, Viking have not won a trophy since their last league championship in 1991. Like Brann, it is a massive underachievement both in terms of their historic status in Norwegian football and the resources available to the Stavanger club.

With its 130 000 inhabitants Stavanger is a rich city, a centre for the Norwegian oil industry and also the home of a NATO command centre. Viking moved into a great new stadium in 2004, and have the respected former national coach Åge Hareide in charge. While they this year have a regional rival in the top flight for the first time in Sandnes Ulf, they have always been the only main club in Stavanger, enjoying one of the best supports in Norwegian football, in numbers if not always in decibel.

None of this is reflected in results and achievements on the pitch. Since 2001, when they finished third in the league in addition to their cup triumph, they have only once been among the top three and never gone beyond the quarter-finals in the cup. The former Southampton and Blackburn striker Egil Østenstad was appointed as a sporting director after his retirement as a Viking player in 2005. But after finishing 6th, 10th and 9th in the three seasons from 2008, Østenstad left the club after a terrible league start last year. Viking eventually climbed up to 11th place, but there were again far  higher expectations before this season.

Hareide’s role have now changed slightly to ‘manager’ (in Norway the backrooom set up usually involve a head coach who has full sporting responsibility and then a football director with administrative and transfer responsibility), with the Spaniard Josep Clotet Ruiz appointed head couch. It is still Hareide’s team and in one sense Viking has something that Brann is missing; a clear philosophy of bringing through young, local talent. Four of their ten outfield players starting against Brann were 20 years or younger with two of them, Yann-Erik de Lanley and Valon Berisha, already an integral part of the team. Both still 19, they started 29 and 26 league games respectively last season and have been ever-present so far this year.  It is to Hareide’s credit that he has given his two very talented players the time and support to develop in the first team, something that will undoubtedly reap benefits in the longer term, either through quality on the pitch or a sizable transfer fee.

And Viking’s start to the season is at least better than last year. They twice came back from a goal down to get a point away to aforementioned Sandnes Ulf on the opening day of the season, and beat Odd Grenland and Molde at home with a single goal either side of a very undeserved  away loss to Vålerenga. But that decent start has started to unravel with only one point in the last three games, with not a single goal from the Stavanger side. The young Estonian Henri Anier has not yet settled as the main striker with only one goal in Tippeliagen so far. The veteran Erik Nevland is a great back-up but at the age of 34 he is only expected to be a threat coming off the bench, not leading the team from the front. Only four goals in the first seven games indicate not only the need for a striker to hit a rich vein of form, but also a team that are not being offensive and adventurous enough as a unit.

They might already have the solution within their squad, but unfortunately the Paraguayan striker Nery Cardozo has yet to make his first appearance for the club due to injury. The South-American come with a great reputation from the Paraguayan league,  and both Hareide and Ruiz will be keenly awaiting the opportunity to unleash the unknown quantity of Cardozo on opposing defences.

Brann and Viking’s tepid and uninspiring goalless draw was one of the worst games of the season so far. There is enough quality in both teams that should ensure an improvement in results this season, but once again it is clear that they are still far away from achieving their full potential.

Scouts Ahoy

With the summer transfer window getting closer, the high-profile attendance of foreign clubs at Norwegian league games are intensifying. Representatives from Bayern Munich had a very busy weekend, watching Rosenborg beat Stabæk, Odd Grenland – Tromsø playing out a 2-2 draw and also getting the pleasure of attending Brann-Viking. Valon Berisha was the most obvious scouting target at the latter game, Aston Villa also watching the 19-year-old yesterday.

Celtic were also present at the Rosenborg match, where Markus Henriksen is the currently the hottest transfer target, although there a plenty of young talent coming through in Trondheim. The Scottish champions were also present in Skien to watch Odd and Tromsø, reportedly joined by Arsenal and PSV among others. There are plenty of possible targets in the Tromsø squad, with Senegalese defensive midfielder Kara Mbodji the most likely to move in the summer.

Results round 7: Rosenborg – Stabæk 3-1, Odd Grenland – Tromsø 2-2, Vålerenga – Fredrikstad 3-2, Haugesund – Lillestrøm 1-1, Sandnes Ulf – Hønefoss 1-0, Strømsgodset – Sogndal 3-0, Molde – Aalesund 2-1, Brann – Viking 0-0

You can get all the stats and watch free (and legal) highlights of every game 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. An interesting read, have been to both towns albeit briefly and have always thought Viking could challenge more regularly.

    PS I think Berisha is going to be a great player, I just hope he makes a sensible move where he will get game time rather than end up like Eikrem.

  2. Having visited both Bergen and Stavanger, I have often watched out for their progress. With regards to Berisha, when he does move I hope it is somewhere where he will get game time and not sit in the reserves a la Eikrem.

    PS My boys Haugesund are having their usual up and down results so far…

  3. Cheers James!

    A good comparison to Berisha is Elyounoussi, just as big a talent and the november to Herenveen looked sensible but it just never happened for him. He’s been fantastic for Fredrikstad the last two seasons though, hopefully be picked up again this summer. As for Berisha, I’d like to see him stay at Viking for at least another year, he’s getting so much responsibility and experience there – don’t think he is fully ready for a starting role in a bigger league.


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