He endured unsuccessful spells in charge of Wimbledon FC and the Iraqi national team, but Egil Olsen has come into his own once more as coach of Norway, who will look to take another giant leap towards UEFA EURO 2012 over the next few days.
Norway are in a three-way tie for top spot in qualifying Group H with Portugal and Denmark, with a home game against Iceland and a visit to Denmark next up, and the 69-year-old who led Norway to the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cup finals is taking plenty of credit. Awarded a new contract until 2014 last week, 'Drillo' said: "I am very motivated to continue as coach and I am happy that the federation is sufficiently satisfied with my work to want me to continue."
That was something of an understatement. Olsen's success in his second spell as national-team boss has been so immense that the Football Association of Norway (NFF) had no hesitation in offering him a two-year extension to his existing deal. That in itself is no small acknowledgment for a coach who said "I'm too old to do this now" after being brought in to replace Åge Hareide as Norway boss in 2009.
Once a dribble-happy winger (the source of his nickname, 'Drillo'), Olsen was capped 16 times by Norway from 1964 to 1971, then developed his science of management in local club football. Mindful of his reputation for direct tactics, the NFF were reluctant to put Olsen in charge for a first time back in 1990, drafting him in as caretaker but handing him a permanent job when he proved his worth.
An emphasis on stamina, organisation and team play continues to define Olsen's footballing outlook, and Norway players still revere him for his ability to give simple, precise instructions. His players seem to know exactly what is expected of them, and Olsen's ability to maximise their potential by virtue of the right tactics led Norway to the 1994 and 1998 World Cups – their first finals since 1938.
His emphasis on collective endeavour, rather than individual brilliance, remained controversial in some quarters, but Norwegians took Olsen to their hearts; in 1994, you could even buy 'Drillo' ice cream. However, that appeal got lost in translation in the Premier League. His Wimbledon side were relegated in 2000, with the manager's penchant for Wellington boots widely mocked. A later spell as Iraq boss also ended unfavourably; he learned he had been fired when his replacement was named.
Olsen seemed like yesterday's man when he was reappointed as Norway boss – once more as a caretaker – in 2009, but while his reliance on long-ball football has waned, Olsen has lost none of his tactical acumen. A side that looked forlorn under Hareide are once more holding their own. "
I am the first to admit our attacking play leaves a lot to be desired, but defensively we are world class," he said after a Group H win against Portugal.
Olsen remains an eccentric. He published a book about geographical trivia (one of his guiding obsessions) and notoriously hates music, but should Norway reach their first finals since UEFA EURO 2000, his idiosyncratic methods will be beyond reproach.
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