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Solbakken’s Copenhagen may be undone by own strength
By Philip O’Connor
It was as if Stale Solbakken’s winning machine had been taken by the moment.
Crowned champions minutes before kickoff by Odense’s failure to beat Nordsjaelland, they quickly fell behind to lowly Lyngby.
But the charismatic, shaven-headed FC Copenhagen coach hadn’t delivered a third straight league title — his fifth since taking over in 2006 — by easing off on the home straight.
The Danish champions duly went up the gears on the battered, dry pitch and in the end won comfortably courtesy of goals from Dame N’Doye and Christian Bolanos.
The winning machine was back on track.
Solbakken’s achievements in Danish football this season have been outstanding.
Beaten only once in the league, his side took over Rosenborg’s mantle as Scandinavia’s top club side, knocking out the Norwegians in the Champions League qualifying round.
A brace of wins over Panathanaikos, a win over Rubin Kazan and a pulsating home draw with Barcelona were enough to make Copenhagen the first Danish side ever to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
That they qualified from Group D along with Barcelona was no coincidence – - Copenhagen boast one of the meanest defences in Europe, conceding on average less than a goal a game in domestic and European competition.
But a sluggish Copenhagen went out in the next round to Chelsea as the winter break in Denmark took its toll. They lost 2-0 at Parken but performed creditably to get a scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge two weeks later.
They may have struggled to find the net in the Champions League, scoring only seven goals, but domestically they boast the league’s two top scorers in Dame N’Doye (19 goals) and Cesar Santin (15).
Their combined 34 goals are more than seven of the 12 top-flight clubs have managed to score all season.
Since taking over in 2006, Solbakken has created a side that believes itself to be invincible, especially playing at home in the Parken Stadium. But what next for their enigmatic coach?
Solbakken announced in November 2009 that he would leave the club at the end of 2010/11 season to take over the reins of the Norwegian national side, from whom he was capped 58 times.
But since then his stock has risen dramatically, and many commentators believe he could have his pick of some of the top jobs in European football should he turn his back on his country.
His name was recently linked with the head coach’s job at Hamburg SV, where Dane Frank Arnesen has been taken on as director of football.
Like the coach himself, many of his players are now on the radar of Europe’s top clubs.
Defenders Oscar Wendt, Michael Antonsson and Zdenek Popesch have all indicated they will move on in the summer, and evergreen winger Jesper Gronkjaer may yet decide to hang up his boots come June.
On the pitch, things might be about to get tougher too. The success of Solbakken’s side means that Denmark will have a second representative in the Champions League qualifiers next season.
Should Odense or Brondy manage to qualify for the group stages of that competition, the extra millions earned would increase their chances of threatening FC Copenhagen’s recent domestic dominance.
And if either or both could make the kind of sustained progress in Europe that Copenhagen have made over the past three seasons, there will be no more winning the Superligaen by record margins.
In a way it would be a fitting epitaph for Solbakken, the hard man with the quirky sense of humour.
Having built them into the strongest team in Scandinavia, in the end the only one capable of engineering FC Copenhagen’s downfall was Solbakken himself.