Little over six months after it started, the Scandinavian revolution is over.
Following a run of four straight defats culminating in today’s cup calamity, Steve Morgan has called time on his foreign experiment.
When the Norwegian arrived through the back door in May as the bookend to an otherwise miserable season, I dared to dream.
I dreamt of change, not just a change of personnel, but also and far more importantly, a long term change of approach.
The early signs were encouraging.
Pre-season sound bites suggested we’d play out from the back and actually attempt to pass the ball through midfield.
Here, I thought, was a man with a plan.
Nenad Milijas’s name was being mentioned again. Michael Mancienne was linked with a return as the ball-playing center half integral to the gaffer’s preferred system.
Music to my ears. Vive la révolution!
But then things started to unravel.
Mancienne never arrived. Milijas was paid to leave.
Suddenly the world didn’t make as much sense.
When the family brass was then sold off days before the transfer window closed and replaced by untested foreign talent at a fraction of the cost, alarm bells began to ring.
The only thing I remained sure of was that Solbakken was the right man to have sitting in the dugout.
Performances were largely dire but early results suggested we could get by and things would eventually pickup.
‘Just get to January’, I kept thinking as the injuries piled up and the results took a rapid nosedive.
By this time though, Ståle was doing himself few favours.
A steadfast refusal to stray from his preferred shape, despite an obvious deterioration in already below-par performance levels was maddening and harked back to darkest days of the McCarthy era.
But even in the absence of logic I wanted to see what this manager could produce with a fully fit squad and a team made up predominantly of players he’d chosen.
Now we’ll never know.
So whilst many will happily consign the name Ståle Solbakken to the dustbin of foreign catastrophes Molineux has been forced to endure through the years, I’ll always wonder what might have been?
Oh well, over to you Steve.
First stage interviews Monday?
Fall guy, philosopher, or fool?
In the eyes of us supporters, any one of those tags applied to Stale Solbakken during his brief tenure at Molineux.
The fact that most of us have described him as all three in the space of six months probably offers the best commentary on why he ultimately had to go.
Eighteenth place in the league and an FA Cup embarrassment were bad enough, but added to the most tepid, inoffensive style of football in recent memory and the Norwegian’s time was up.
Steve Morgan doesn’t make tough decisions and sadly for Solbakken, a defeat at Kenilworth Road made this one his easiest yet.
As a philosopher, 20 points from opening 10 games made talk of a compact shape and less huffing and puffing sound like rocket science.
But after a 1-0 win at Blackburn Rovers using a 4-5-1 system, Stale disposed of the system for good, opting for the very one that blackened his famous set of DVDs.
Three wins in 16 games thereafter rendered him something of a fool, as the very same players that failed in Mick McCarthy’s 4-4-2 so dismally were doing likewise in the Championship. Go figure.
As a fall guy, we need only look back at a summer of false promises, including a treasure chest pledge and the sale of our three best players, which Moxey promised wasn’t necessary.
The result? A pitiful season of Tommy Doherty proportions, featuring players the manager could hardly have wanted. Pedro Geromel and Vadim Demidov bear testament to this, who couldn’t be lured to Molineux despite the latter flying to England. Some treasure chest eh?
To summise Solbakken’s stay, two quotes assume far greater poignancy than their speakers’ could have ever imagined possible at the time, as we sit here today.
Upon Stale’s exit from Cologne, Raphael Honigstein wrote in the Guardian: “The Norwegian manager tried to get by with an experimental, radical zonal marking system (no doubling up, no defensive movement between the lines) all over the pitch but treated fitness as a mere afterthought.”
Then there was our very owner Steve Morgan, who said back in May:
“He had one bad season but, if you look where he had a bad season, it’s a very dysfunctional club. We’re the complete opposite of clubs like Cologne.
“It’s not my style, either, to hire and fire. We like to work with people and try and pull together as a team, so, no, he doesn’t have to get promoted in the first season, absolutely not.”
Depending on your viewpoint, Stale Solbakken was either the right man at the wrong time, or a leftfield appointment way out of his league.
He probably leaves in much the same way the new manager will arrive…
…With all of our sympathies.