Mons Ivar Mjelde was not a popular choice when he took over at SK Brann in 2003, but as his side meet Everton FC in the UEFA Cup, he is earning his spurs.
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Celebrations in Bergen were unbridled at the end of last season as the 40-year-old Mons Ivar Mjelde led SK Brann to their first Norwegian title in 44 years. Given the impatience that had characterised the club's search for silverware in the intervening years, the faith Brann showed in the inexperienced coach was admirable and has been further vindicated by their UEFA Cup run, as they prepare to meet Everton FC in the Round of 32.
Mjelde made his name as a striker with Brann, Lillestrøm SK and FK Austria Wien and has already visited Everton's home town, having played in both legs of a 4-1 aggregate defeat against Liverpool FC in the 1996/97 European Cup Winners' Cup quarter-finals. While he failed to score in that tie, he was regularly on target throughout his career, racking up 114 goals in 250 league games before hanging up his boots at the end of the 2001 season.
The following year, he was assistant to Brann's coach Teitur Thórdarson during a disastrous campaign which saw the Bergen side barely escape relagation. Mjelde was handed sole command after his Icelandic boss was dismissed, but given his lack of experience, most assumed that it was the club's parlous finances rather than their league ambitions that had prompted the appointment.
Since then, the tone of Mjelde's dealings with the media has been consistent – he rarely deviates from his talk of patient work over time. Initially, this did not wash with success-starved Brann fans, but by the time his side claimed their first Norwegian Cup in 22 years in Mjelde's second season in charge, beating FC Lyn 4-1 in the 2004 final, the tide was turning in his favour.
Runners-up spot in the 2006 league prompted a rethink for Mjelde which was to bear impressive fruit. "We missed out on the gold in 2006 and sat down and looked at ways to become better," Mjelde explained. "One of the areas that was pointed out was the need to strengthen the team around me. A better backroom staff is one of the reasons why we took the title in 2007."
Also crucial was Mjelde's relationship with his players. With investors funding the arrival of some big names by Norwegian standards into his squad, the coach has always allowed his senior professionals to have their say in team matters. Mjelde is only too happy to deal with big names and small provided that the successes for Brann keep coming. "I am happy to coach a squad with this many quality players," he said. "As long as I am still in charge all the players need to understand that they will get their time on the pitch – if they are good enough."