Heart and Solbakken - Why Wolves Were Wise to Appoint Ståle


The Wolves board were criticised back in February when they failed to line up a swift replacement for out-of-favour boss Mick McCarthy. After 11 days of interviewing, pondering and dawdling, they finally settled upon assistant manager Terry Connor as the right man to steer the club to safety.

Without a win in 12 games, Jez Moxey’s decision to stick with the old clearly didn’t pay off. The McCarthy era has finally ended however, with the appointment of Norwegian coach Ståle Solbakken.

Some will see this appointment as a knee-jerk reaction and will question why a young, passionate British – or even Connor – isn’t being given chance. It may appear on the surface that Wolves are another club going abroad for a cheap thrill.

But there is nothing cheap about Solbakken. While his stint as Cologne manager was hardly a roaring success – lasting less than a season and leaving the German club battling Bundesliga relegation – Solbakken’s true worth can be found closer to his roots in Scandinavia.

Solbakken resided over a trophy-laden five-year period at FC Copenhagen, transforming the club into the largest in Scandinavia. Back-to-back league titles in 2006 and 2007 were bettered by a hat-trick of championships between 2009 to 2011. Copenhagen won the DBU Cup (equivalent of the FA Cup) in 2009 and the 2006 Royal League, a tournament between the top teams across Scandinavia.

The Norwegian is a personable leader, adept at both man-management and tactical planning. He gained the respect of the Copenhagen players through his ability to command from the touchline as much as on the training ground.

In his final season at Copenhagen, he took the club to the last 16 of the Champions League, drawing 0-0 away at Chelsea and ruffling Pep Guardiola’s feathers along the way. His sharp wit and ability to lighten the mood has made him popular with the Danish media: his press conferences will be far more exciting than those of your average paranoid British wheeler-dealer.

His stint at Copenhagen left a lasting impression, with Solbakken helping to establish a winning ethos that percolates from the first team down through to its school of excellence. The side won 60% of all games under Solbakken, broke records for goals scored in the Superliga, and finished the 2010/11 season fully 26 points above second-placed Odense BK. Under his guidance, Copenhagen grew accustomed to winning, and winning handsomely.

Some have already come out and claimed the Norwegian knows nothing of the Championship. Well, this criticism is most likely coming from those who know nothing of the Danish Superliga. The league shares many similarities with England’s second tier: robust centre halves, rugged target men and so on. Solbakken likes to set up in a 4-4-2, with a little-and-large partnership up top and attacking fullbacks overlapping on the flanks.

The Norwegian’s sides are not always the most expansive, but this might not be a bad thing. Having conceded 79 goals in the Premier League, a strong defensive set-up is paramount for the rebuilding of a wounded club.

Squad pride is undoubtedly shattered after a failed relegation scrap. It will be restored with Solbakken at the helm and – although they may not be looking at immediate promotion to the Premier League – Moxey’s latest appointment suggests another McCarthy-style dynasty could be taking root.