When Solveig Gulbrandsen retired from football at the end of 2010, the idea that she would add to her 150-plus cap total and be in Norway's UEFA Women's EURO 2013 squad was naturally far-fetched. Yet when Norway coach Even Pellerud named his selection of 23 for Sweden yesterday, the 2000 Olympic gold medallist's name was there.
Having stopped playing to have her second child, born in June 2011, Gulbrandsen was soon tempted back into action by Vålerenga Fotball, for whom she also became assistant coach. The then Norway coach Eli Landsem recalled Gulbrandsen last September for their decisive home qualifiers against Belgium and Iceland, the midfielder coming off the bench in the first and starting the second as they secured the two wins needed to top the group. Gulbrandsen spoke to UEFA.com about returning to football, combining playing and motherhood, and the young talent in the Norway team.
UEFA.com: What tempted you to return?
Solveig Gulbrandsen: I have been around the scene since I came back, a bit as an assistant coach, but after being pregnant you feel the need to get back into shape, so it was only natural to participate a bit in training. And slowly I became more and more fit, and I guess the team realised they could use that kind of experience, so it just happened that way. Football is great and it is not easy to give up playing.
UEFA.com: Did you expect to be back in the national team?
Gulbrandsen: No, that was not really the plan. What I did was I sent a text message to Eli, because there were so many injuries in the squad around that time. I thought that if she needed any help, I was in good enough form, and if she needed some routine then I would not mind helping out in the important EURO qualification matches we were facing at the time. That is all it was, there was no further reasoning behind it.
UEFA.com: Can you say something about how you manage to combine being a mother and a footballer?
Gulbrandsen: It is not that hard, actually, because I have people helping me, otherwise it would not have been so easy. My mother helps a lot, and of course my husband. With a little help it is all going well. But I am very lucky I have people around me willing to help out, otherwise it would not have worked.
UEFA.com: What has changed since your comeback?
Gulbransen: After becoming a mother you probably become less selfish. Before that it was perhaps like "oh, I have not slept for an hour" or "oh, it hurts here and here". It is no longer just yourself who is the focus when there is a small girl crying next to you or needs help with something. You are less selfish, and perhaps that is both a good and a bad thing.
UEFA.com: What impresses you most about the team today?
Gulbrandsen: There is a determination in this squad. Everyone is giving 100% on the pitch, they are willing to do anything to get to play. I think that might take us quite a long way. It takes a lot, no matter how good you are, technically, tactically and a lot of other things, in the end it all comes down to effort. And we are really up there in that respect. Then we will have to get the rest together, but right now that is it.
UEFA.com: How is the team evolving?
Gulbrandsen: The level is increasing all the time. It is getting faster and faster, I am more and more impressed by the technical proficiency. Caroline Hansen, who is a new young player, she is able to do stuff that I would never have dreamt of doing. There are players that are so skilled you would not think it was possible. The level gets higher and higher every year.
UEFA.com: What is your most special memory with Norway?
Gulbrandsen: That would be at EURO 2005, the semi-final, that is for sure. We were by far the underdogs in that championship, and Sweden were a stronger team than us on paper. But since we had come that far, we were determined to give it our best shot, and both the experience within the team and in the tournament were fantastic. On top of that it was kind of my breakthrough internationally, and in that semi-final I left my mark on the game with two goals and an assist. Then you feel you have contributed, it was an incredible experience.
UEFA.com: When you first started playing football, did you believe you would play at this level?
Gulbrandsen: Yes, I was very determined from early on, and I was not that old before I made it my goal to go to the 2000 Olympics – it was written down on a piece of paper and I achieved it. I was very determined from very early on to perform well on the pitch. Perhaps that is a bit weird, but it has given me great pleasure since, and I am very happy I was that ambitious from early on.
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