By Svend Frandsen & Ulf Inge Bjaaland
On 13 March 2001, Ståle Solbakken was rushed to hospital after suffering a heart attack during training. Today the FC København playmaker is back in football and learning a new trade as coach of the Norwegian Under-18 side.
Rushed to hospital
It was a bright morning at FCK's training ground and the players were getting ready to stretch after a tough run. Suddenly, Solbakken collapsed and it took seven minutes before team doctor Jørgen Scheel managed to get his heart beating again. After being rushed to hospital, Solbakken was put on a life-support machine and did not regain consciousness for another 26 hours.
'The lights went out'
"Yes, it was a dramatic experience but it was really worse for my family than for me because I didn't feel anything," said Solbakken. "It was simply as if the lights went out." The 34-year-old has now had a pacemaker fitted and has followed doctors' advice to end his playing career.
At his peak
Before the incident, Solbakken had been at his peak. He was a key member of a strong FCK side and a Norwegian international who had impressed in the finals of the 1998 FIFA World Cup and EURO 2000™.
However, Solbakken told uefa.com that he has no regrets about his retirement. "Even though I will always miss the rush of going through the tunnel, it was the right decision to make, both for my family and for myself," he said.
As coach of the Norway Under-18 side, Solbakken is now part of Nils Johan Semb's vision for the future. "He adds something special to the coaching team because it's not so long ago that he was playing himself and therefore he approaches the game from a different angle than coaches usually do," said Semb.
The players have certainly enjoyed the addition of an old team-mate to the coaching staff. It is a move which has helped bridge the gap between coaches and players. "It's great to have somebody around who knows how we think," said Liverpool FC's John Arne Riise. "Ståle knows so much about our opponents and about football in general and, at the same time, he's always in a good mood which makes it very positive to have him as part of the squad."
His presence in the national set-up has prompted media speculation that he could be Semb's eventual successor, but Solbakken has been quick to deny the rumours. "I haven't even thought about that yet," he said. "I would first have to try out my skills in club football in order test my ideas and learn more about being responsible for results."
Having recovered from his illness, his prospects as a coach are now every bit as promising as they once were as a player. However, having taken the long road to recovery Solbakken is in no hurry to take on additional responsibilities before he knows he is ready for them.
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