When Canada plays Norway at the Four Nations women’s soccer tournament in China next month, a familiar face will be standing in front of the opposition bench.
Former Canadian national team coach Even Pellerud is back at the Norway helm, as of Jan. 1.
“I told my daughters the other day I will be playing against a team whose players I know much better than my own (Norwegian) players,” he said.
The other teams at the Jan. 10-17 Four Nations are host China and host South Korea.
Norwegian football officials had been talking to Pellerud about another position like technical director, but things changed after a staff reorganization. When coach Elsi Landsem left in mid-October, the talks switched to returning to the sidelines.
Pellerud’s contact runs through the 2016 Olympics.
Norway has had mixed results in recent years, failing to qualify for the London Olympics and exiting after the first round of the 2011 Women’s World Cup. Norway is currently ranked 12th in the world, to Canada’s seventh.
“Norway used to be top-ranked and there has been a slide down ever since … There is a desire to come back — inside the women’s program, in the Norwegian Football Federation,” said Pellerud. “I know we are all behind that desire.
“This makes it exciting for me to go back to my old position.”
Pellerud, 59, has set himself some tough standards to meet, from his first stint as Norway coach from 1989 to 1996. Under his guidance, the Norwegian women won the 1993 European championship, the 1995 World Cup and a bronze medal at the ’96 Olympics.
He will have a busy 2013, with Norway already qualified for the European Women’s Championship in Sweden. The Norwegian women open play in July in a group with defending champion Germany, Iceland and the Netherlands.
Pellerud stepped down as Canada coach after leading the team to the quarter-finals of the 2008 Olympics. He took the Canadians to ninth in the world rankings, led them to the Olympics for the first time and a fourth-place finish in he 2003 World Cup.
He was in charge for nine years, with Canadian players crediting him for tuning the national team into a competitive, professional squad.
“Even did so much for this program,” said current Canadian coach John Herdman, who succeeded Carolina Morace. “He came as a high-level coach into Canada and certainly started to drive the Canadian game forward.
“He’s a great tactician. He’s got his style of play and it’s an effective style, and you know for these girls it’s going to be weird playing against Even. For some of them there will be some emotions coming out. I just got to hope they don’t get over-emotional for this game and can focus until we beat them.”
After Canada, Pellerud signed on as director of women’s soccer in Trinidad and Tobago, with a particular interest in the under-17 team leading up to Trinidad and Tobago hosting the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
He commuted to the Caribbean, returning every few months to see his wife and children who stayed in Vancouver.
While he enjoyed the job, things got difficult towards the end after the ouster of Trinidad soccer uber-boss Jack Warner.
“That’s the most polite way of saying it,” Pellerud said with a laugh.
In a nutshell, they stopped paying Pellerud and other coaches in March as money dried up.
Pellerud, whose four-year Trinidad contract expires at the end of year, paid for his own travel the last six or seven months. He says they have not followed through on a promise to reimburse him.
“This case is not over,” said the Norwegian coach, who was last in Trinidad in mid-November.
The commuting hasn’t ended for Pellerud, who plans to keep his family in Canada until the school year ends, so he will be flying back and forward between the West Coast and Norway for the first six months of the year.
With a file from Canadian Press reporter Lori Ewing.