Ståle Solbakken is a name that is becoming synonymous with success at FC København. The Norwegian steered the Danish club to the UEFA Champions League round of 16 in 2010/11 during his first spell as coach and, having returned to the helm in August, is reviving their fortunes for a second time.
Ariël Jacobs had guided the Copenhagen team to the Super League title last season but, with just two points from their opening five games and a UEFA Champions League group stage campaign looming, the Belgian was dismissed in favour of Solbakken. The 45-year-old proved the outstanding candidate having overseen FCK's five championships between 2005 and 2011, and is the only man to have led them in the group stage of Europe's premier club competition.
Almost immediately after Solbakken's arrival, København got back to winning ways and their charge up the table sees them third, nine points behind leaders FC Midtjylland. Their improved domestic form has been translated onto the European stage with an opening-day Group B draw with Juventus and last week's victory over Galatasaray AŞ meaning they can still replicate their achievement of 2010/11, when they became the first Danish side to reach the last 16.
A trip to Turin and a home game against Real Madrid CF remain but, despite FCK never having lost at home in the group stage, Solbakken refuses to look beyond sealing third place. "I hope Real Madrid beat Galatasaray [on matchday five], so that a point at home to Real Madrid on the last matchday may be enough for us to continue in the Europa League," he declared after overcoming the Turkish outfit last time out.
Though Solbakken endured a tricky two-year stint away from Copenhagen, having been dismissed by both 1. FC Köln and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, his approach seems to work in the Danish capital. He deploys a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 formation with clear, simple instructions issued to players, who are left in no doubt about their specific roles and responsibilities.
The squad members who remember Solbakken's first stay needed no convincing of his methods, and those recently acquainted, such as Rúrik Gíslason, are fully behind their trainer. "He is a very talented coach who knows what he wants, and I like him for not having a lot of ideas he wants to implement," said Iceland midfielder Gíslason. "It is more about getting a few good messages across. Everyone knows exactly how they should play, and Ståle knows exactly what he expects of people."
They may be outsiders for a top-two finish in Group B and have a significant deficit to overturn in the domestic league, but the Solbakken effect makes the impossible possible for København.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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