domenica 10 aprile 2011

Brann bid to break predictably unpredictable habit

In Norway, it is often said that supporting SK Brann is akin to living life on a rollercoaster. Ups and downs seem to be nothing out of the ordinary for the Bergen side – the second most well-supported team in the country. With only three national titles in more than a hundred years of existence however, Brann are clearly underachieving against their potential. Moreover, in recent years, problems off the pitch have increased the club’s inconsistency.

In the last four seasons Brann have quickly sunk from glory to shame. 2007 saw coach Mons Ivar Mjelde lead the club to their first title since 1963, and there was reason to hope better days would become a fixture at the Brann Stadion. However, the club’s next campaign saw the side begin to slide. Top scorer Thorstein Helstad was sold to French club Le Mans in the summer transfer window for €2M and Brann ended in eighth place. Mjelde resigned at the end of the year.

His successor, Steinar Nielsen, was widely considered one of Norwegian football’s rising stars. The former AC Milan defender did not hit the heights with Brann though, leaving the club after just 18 months in charge, having led the side to their worst ever start to a league season.

In 2010, Brann appeared the very definition of a madhouse. First the side were knocked out in the second round of the Norwegian Cup by fourth division outfit Fyllingen – a local team also based in Bergen – and then followed this up by mutinying against Nielsen, questioning the coach’s leadership abilities. But if that was enough for the fans to digest there was soon more to stomach as a local businessman stepped forward, offering to invest €5M, however only on the condition that the entire board resigned. Amidst this chaos, nobody was surprised that Brann slipped down to 13th, ending the season just one place above the relegation playoff zone.

Players leaving have not helped Brann either, with three key members of the squad departing in the January window. Striker Eric Huseklepp, with 25 goals and 23 assists to his name over the last two seasons, was sold to Italian side Bari; left winger Petter Vaagan Moen (14 goals in 2010) headed to English outfit Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer; and solid midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli, one of the best performers in the Tippeliga in recent years, also headed away for free, this time to MLS glamour team the New York Red Bulls.

Despite these exits, Brann have been bidding to break their predictably unpredictable trait, beating powerhouses Rosenborg 2-1 in their first game of the new Norwegian season. The Trondheim side were unbeaten in the Tippeliga since 2009, yet with a goal and an assist from Man of the Match Kim Ojo, Brann downed their more illustrious opponents; the Nigerian scored 37 goals over the last three seasons with Adeccoligaen side Nybersgund, and is one of Brann’s bright new hopes, along with winger Chukwuma Akabueze (known as “Bentley”) brought from Odd Grenland and rising star Fredrik Haugen, snapped up from Bergen’s second club Lov-Ham. And the Rosenborg victory was followed by a superb 4-1 win at Lillestrom giving much hope for a good season.

Bentley and 18-year-old Haugen form a potent midfield with creative schemer Diego Guastavino, with the trio deployed behind a lone striker in Brann’s 4-2-3-1 system. With their signings Brann have shown their willingness to move towards a more technically proficient squad, in marked contrast to the emphasis placed on pace in recent years.

Inconsistency though appears stuck to the club like glue; a feature of Brann’s entire history. In 1959/60, the Bergen side were relegated from the first division, only to bounce back the very next year. They then won the title twice in a row before dropping down again in 1964. During the 1980s Brann managed to set a new world record as a yo-yo club, hovering between the first and second division for eight years in a row; Relegations in 1979, 1981, 1983 and 1985 were balanced out by promotions in 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986. Between 1997 and 2006 though, Cypriot side Aris bounced up and down for ten years in a row, claiming the rather inglorious record from the Norwegians.

It is somewhat strange then to discover that Brann are one of Norway’s best performing clubs in European competitions. In 1996, the Bergen outfit reached the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners Cup, knocking out Shelbourne, Cercle Brugge and PSV Eindhoven along the way. Helped by the goals of a young Tore Andre Flo – who left in the summer of 1997 for Chelsea – Brann were only stopped by Liverpool, with the Reds drawing 1-1 in Norway and winning 3-0 at Anfield.

Death or glory; for Brann the story has never been any different.

Fonte: Inside Futbol

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