Diamonds or stones? Rosenborg FC in the year 2018

Mads Skauge[1]
Nord University, Bodø, Norway
Translated from Norwegian by
Jeremy Crump

There is dissatisfaction at the successful Norwegian football club Rosenborg, both on and off the field, even though it looks like they will achieve a clean sweep of both the league and the cup as well as qualifying for Europe – again. Do the press, the directors, the die-hards in the fans’ club Kjernen and other Rosenborg supporters expect too much?

Rosenborg held a triumphant celebration the other day. There have been many of those in recent years. As befits this season, the performance on the field (or the lack of one) put something of a damper on the proceedings. A washed-out Rosenborg team only managed to draw 1-1 against Bodø/Glimt and they may even have deserved to lose.

The press corps has been united in its severe criticism of Rosenborg’s performances at times this season –  justifiably perhaps, but nevertheless without much discrimination. Victory in the league, for example, has been taken by several commentators as a sign of the weakness of Norway’s premier division rather than of Rosenborg’s strength.

It can certainly be claimed that the football could have been better. The matches were mostly closely contested games of attrition in which Rosenborg most often drew the long straw. In the Europa League, every single game was a brutal reminder that it is a long way up to the second-best level, possibly further than ever before. Rosenborg have won the league and are in the cup final, where they meet bottom of the league Strømsgodset on 2 December. Everything points to two out of two titles for them this year, in which case the club will have won the two trophies that it is in reality possible for Rosenborg to win. They will have cleaned up. Yet for all that, their critics are numerous and vocal.

The fact is that winning the league and possibly the cup is not good enough for the supporters or the directors. For any other Norwegian club, doing the double would have made for a fantastic season. But not for Rosenborg. They want more than that, and so they have set the bar for themselves at what may be an unreasonably high level and which they must almost inevitably fail to reach.

Rosenborg aim to win in a particular way, with so-called ’spectator friendly football’ (whatever that means). Furthermore, the directors want to see continuous improvement, which seems to imply better results and better football from one season to the next. Finally, they want to play in Europe, preferably the Champions League, although the Europa League seems to be good enough too (from the directors’ perspective). As I see it, these are the explicit sporting challenges set by the directors.

Setting to one side the results and league position, what has the football been like and has there been improvement? I agree with the directors that the football has not been particularly impressive. Many will add that it has not been entertaining either. I am not sure whether that was sufficient reason on its own to sack the team’s managers earlier in the season (Kåre Ingebrigtsen and Erik Hoftun were dismissed in July 2018). But that’s a separate issue which I shall pass over for now.

Note that, as far as Rosenborg’s ostensible target for Europe is concerned, as I read it, it is sufficient that they should qualify for the group stage every year. I can find no stated aims for any level of achievement in the group stage. Against these criteria (win the league and cup, play ‘entertaining football’, continuous improvement and participation in the group stage in Europe) I find it difficult to be particularly critical of what has been presented this season.

Football at the top level has become so permeated by commercialism that the logic and Darwinism of football mean that the best players will sooner or later end up in the best clubs where they will be best paid.

There is sound cause for criticism on the grounds that the football has been mediocre and that there hasn’t been any significant improvement to talk about. As regards playing in Europe, it’s largely a matter of the apparent gap to the teams in the level which is one below the very top, and which many find frighteningly wide. Rosenborg had no opportunity for success in Europe. If this was disappointing, it was also expected. I do not think that that this in itself constitutes grounds for deeming the season a failure or an unusually weak one. Of course, we could have hoped for some better performances in Europe, maybe even some points. But it would have been a great surprise if Rosenborg had progressed beyond the group stage.

My verdict on the season can be summed up more or less like this: Rosenborg did what was expected of them and met the minimum level demanded, but did no more. They met expectations but never surpassed themselves to deliver anything out of the ordinary. Consequently, there was no great enthusiasm for them.

What can we really expect of Rosenborg? The club lags behind its European opponents financially. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they must always lag in sporting terms, as was shown by the period when Eggen was manager in the 1990s and Rosenborg reached the quarter finals of the Champions League. But the difference in where clubs are coming from is all too apparent when RB Leipzig, for example, buy players for €200 million and Rosenborg for €1 million,

It is not immediately apparent how Rosenborg will reach the level in Europe which the club is always striving for. Football at the top level has become so permeated by commercialism that the logic and Darwinism of football mean that the best players will sooner or later end up in the best clubs where they will be best paid.

From the supporters’ perspective, this is an accursed logic. As soon as Rosenborg have anything exciting going with a group of players who are on the way up, they get bought by clubs at the next level of the footballing hierarchy. This logic means that Rosenborg very often find themselves marking time. As soon as something good begins to emerge, they have to start again as a consequence of losing their best players (or their manager for that matter).

It is impossible to get away from the club’s position in the international pecking order, and it is essential to keep that in mind when evaluating a season. The logic of football makes it very difficult for Rosenborg to make the next step up. In other words, it is almost impossible to do so through continuous improvement, as the directors seem to want. If a lack of success in this respect leads to managerial sackings in the future (as it has done in the past) the club will soon be its own worst enemy.

As things stand, there is little to suggest that advance beyond the group stage in Europe is realistic. Norwegian football is lagging behind on most measures. I was born at the beginning of the 1990s and so belong to a generation whose members have to make a real effort to remember that there was a time when the national team took part in European and World Cup finals and Rosenborg could be found in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Achievements like that should be viewed as the exception rather than the rule. For the time being, and until the preconditions for greater achievement are met, I think that we should celebrate Rosenborg – they are champions, after all.

Copyright © Mads Skauge 2018

[1] Mads Skauge is a sports and social scientist with a background largely from the institute for sociology and politics at NTNU (Trondheim) where he took his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He is now a doctoral student in the social sciences faculty at Nord Universitet (Bodø). He has also studied physical education, completed the personal trainer course at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and taken courses in sociology and education. Mads’ research interests and area of expertise are largely in sports sociology, inequality, youth, organized sport, training, public health, the politics of sport and quantitative methods.


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