After Rosenborg BK lost four of their first six league games this term, few expected them to be challenging for European honours come the season's end – but that was discounting the reviving influence of coach Erik Hamrén.
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Hamrén would have been forgiven for questioning his career choice when he arrived at the Lerkendal Stadium on 1 June. The 51-year-old Swede had just guided Aalborg BK to a surprise Danish title success when he found himself in charge of a Rosenborg side in some disarray, languishing tenth in the 14-team Tippeligaen. Yet what a difference three and a half months make. With a new training regime, a fresh formation and a tweak to certain players' positions, Rosenborg are a side reborn. With two matches to go in the Norwegian league campaign, they have climbed to a season high of fourth place, and they also open their UEFA Cup group-stage fixtures at home to Club Brugge KV on Thursday.
"The change of coach really helped us," said midfielder Alexander Tettey. "He arrived with a totally different outlook on football and training, helped us with our diet and how to handle the media. Little things that add up and have helped us perform better on the pitch." The renaissance has hardly been pain-free, however. As Hamrén switched from the tried and trusted 4-3-3 system to a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, Rosenborg struggled initially. They were knocked out of the Norwegian Cup by second-tier Kristiansund BK and endured a chastening 4-0 defeat at Tromsø IL in August.
Two months later, though, Rosenborg are a point behind third-placed Tromsø after a run of seven wins in nine games in all competitions – which sequence has also taken them into the UEFA Cup group stage. There they will meet Club Brugge, AS Saint-Etienne, Valencia CF and FC København, with the Valencia tie reviving fond memories as the Trondheim club beat the Spanish giants twice in last term's UEFA Champions League group stage. "It won't be easy," said sporting director Erik Hoftun, "but Rosenborg have a habit of lifting themselves for European matches."
They must also raise themselves for their last two Tippeligaen fixtures, with second spot still a possibility – a considerable achievement given Rosenborg's early-season travails. The improvement is exemplified by Marek Sapara. The Slovakia midfielder was central to the side's 2006 championship triumph but had failed subsequently to recapture that form. Until now. Sapara is blossoming in a new role behind the strikers, while the astute signing of Anthony Annan has given the midfield added steel. So too, it seems, has the appointment of Hamrén.