Fighting it out at the top, or fighting it out at the bottom. How often do clubs in Europe find themselves in both camps within 12 months? Rarely. Not in Scandinavia though. Over to Charlie Anderson.
In football, generally speaking, the opulent gentry can reliably be found strutting around the top of the league, week after week, year after year. With a top hat, a monocle and a twirly moustache, they scrap over the trophies with one hand while the other waves away the lower orders with an ebony cane.
Scandinavia certainly has its privileged few, but the hegemony is often somewhat more fractured than elsewhere. The high player turnover instigated by good results on the field means that success is often hard to maintain, and last year’s champion or runner-up can often be found meandering aimlessly through the lower reaches of the table.
Since their Norwegian title wins in 2007 and 2008 respectively, Brann and Stabæk have spent the time huddled underneath motorway bypasses, circulating a bottle of gin and reminiscing about the glory days. Similarly, the recent pass-the-parcel unpredictability of the league title in Sweden and Finland means that the mid-table is haunted by former champions, shuffling around muttering to themselves and glancing enviously at the ivory towers erected by the likes of Rosenborg and Copenhagen.
This season the falls from grace have been continued, even exacerbated. Last season’s Norwegian runners-up Molde have been battling relegation as well as mediocrity, while champions AIK have undergone a similar ordeal in Sweden. The departure of key players (and in AIK’s case their title winning coach) has made an inevitable decline more dramatic.
The revival, though, seems to have begun. Molde could finally breathe a sigh of relief after going three points clear of the drop with a 1-0 win over Hønefoss, while AIK can allow themselves only a small exhalation after their win at Häcken. They are clear of the relegation zone at last but with just two points separating the bottom six teams, still only one result away from hyperventilation.
However, even AIK’s remarkable season is a mere sideshow compared with events at the other end of the table, where it seems that no one is particularly bothered about winning the title after all. Since IBWM last updated you on matters Nordic, Malmö beat Helsingborg 2-0 in the Skånederby (because they’re both from the Skåne region, you see) to move three points clear at the top, a result that looked decisive until they promptly lost their next game at Djurgården while Helsingborg beat Mjällby. So after one of the most significant and eventful weeks of the Swedish season, the top of the table looks exactly as it did before – apart from that the margin of goal difference by which Malmö lead has now increased by two.
Norway is not, perhaps, known for being the most cavalier of nations. More sombre than swashbuckling. More herring than daring, if you will. That generally rings true in football – the league is more engaging for its tactical acuity than its attacking flair - but this weekend turned normality upside-down. There were 38 – thirty-eight – goals in the eight matches played, seven of which came in Vålerenga’s utterly compelling 4-3 win over Viking in Stavanger, putting the Oslo side four points behind Rosenborg. Again.
After reeling Rosenborg in, Vålerenga had to lean back and hope that someone else could keep them within arm’s reach. That task fell to aforementioned mid-table nowhere men Brann. They kept the strikers fairly quiet – first Rade Prica and then Steffen Iversen (stop giggling at the back there) – and Rosenborg twice threw away the lead. Thanks in no small part to some profligate finishing, it took two goals from 18-year-old Markus Henriksen – a midfielder of tremendous promise – plus an Iversen penalty to secure the 3-2 win, sending the champions sauntering merrily back to Trondheim with a song in their heart and three points tucked snugly under their arm.
At the other end of the Tippeligaen its violins-and-patronising-comments time as Kongsvinger – newly promoted on a fairly pitiable budget – look destined to go under. This is a particular shame in KIL’s case, as not only do they feature competent goalkeeper and thoroughly decent chap Thomas Myhre, but are also presumably the only club in Europe to have both a Tanzanian and a Luxembourger in their squad. Kongsvinger’s demise will be the second time in 2010 that a prominent Norwegian club has gone off the rails, after Lyn Oslo went bankrupt in the summer.
To end on a determinedly brighter note, Jari Litmanen – who was good at football just decades ago – scored a splendid overhead kick for his hometown club FC Lahti, helping them to an impressive 2-1 win at Oulu, which will nevertheless probably not save them from relegation. Although, on second thoughts, the 39-year-old Litmanen’s continued usefulness in Finland is perhaps a little troubling.
Charlie writes regularly for IBWM, but if you’d like to read more from him (and who wouldn't?) please make your way to The Carvalho Peninsula.