Coach Ola By Rise's imminent departure has cast a shadow over Rosenborg BK's chase for the title.
By Stewart Clark
A 2-1 UEFA Champions League defeat at home against PSV Eindhoven was a painful blow for Rosenborg BK, but the decision to sack coach Ola By Rise was arguably even more painful for the Norwegian champions.
The day after the defeat, the Trondheim club announced that By Rise, a former Rosenborg goalkeeper who has spent 26 years at the club, was to leave his post in December. It was a decision that caused something of a sensation in Norway.
Inevitably, general manager Rune Bratseth bore the brunt of the criticism. "Ola was and is a personal friend," he said after announcing the news that By Rise's contract was to be ended 12 months early after one season in charge at the club. "Unfortunately I had to do what was best for Rosenborg."
It has been a disappointing spell for the club. They are yet to win a Champions League group stage game this season, and with one game of the Tippeligaen campaign to go, remain in danger of missing out on their 13th consecutive Norwegian title to Vålerenga IF.
However, the blame has not fallen squarely of the shoulders of the man who replaced Åge Hareide as Rosenborg coach. Indeed, as he sat in his office last Friday surrounded by a pile of flowers, cards and other signs of support, he seemed anything but unpopular.
Some supporters and critics have accused a clique of older players within the Rosenborg camp of resisting By Rise's attempts to freshen up the squad, while the club's management have been criticised for failing to defend the coach in public.
There was certainly an atmosphere of uncertainty as Rosenborg took the field against PSV. Bratseth admitted that there had been bad blood at the club after he was unusually quiet at the press conference announcing By Rise's departure. "Things were happening," he said. "I did not want to lie."
However, if the general perception is that By Rise is a dead man walking at Rosenborg, his actions since the announcement of his imminent departure have been positive. A consummate professional, he has maintained his dignity and continues to train the team as usual.
He remains committed to taking Rosenborg to their 13th successive title - something which they will achieve if they get a better result against SFK Lyn than Vålerenga can manage against Stabæk IL at the weekend. He is also determined to improve Rosenborg's Champions League standing, knowing that the Matchday 6 trip to Arsenal FC will be his last game as the team's coach.
In the meantime, speculation about who will replace him in time for the mid-winter Royal League, which will see the best teams in Norway, Sweden and Denmark competing, has been rife. Nils Arne Eggen, his son Knut Torbjørn Eggen, coach of Fredrikstad FK, and Club Brugge KV coach Trond Sollied are all front-runners.
Nils Arne Eggen, who built the foundations upon which Rosenborg's fame was built, is already reported to have refused the job. Sollied has been more equivocal. "I will only return to Norway for Rosenborg or the national team," he said recently. "But for now I do not want to leave."
All of this speculation will be ringing in the players' ears as they travel to play PSV in Eindhoven next week. By then they may be Norwegian champions again, but it may take more than the title to restore order at Rosenborg.