Vegard Hansen will have been in charge at Mjondalen for nearly 12 years by the time the 2017 season comes around in just under a month’s time. It is safe to say that no one knows the club better than him and Hansen has become a cornerstone of Mjondalen’s brilliant achievements over the past decade taking the side from the 3.Divisjon to the Eliteserien. I spoke to the charismatic manager about his aspirations this season as well as some broader topics
ning the breadth of Norwegian football as a whole.
From his pre match interviews mid shave to his appearances in ‘Alle Gutta’, Hansen embodies the family spirit that Mjondalen promote to the world. He sees himself as a part of a ‘group of friends all reaching for the same goal’ rather than the old school ideal of an authoritarian football manager running the rule over his club.
‘Mjondalen is a special club’ Hansen tells me during our Skype call.
‘No one gets fired here, we move together as a bunch of friends working towards the same goals.
Our goal this season is to earn promotion to the Eliteserien, but it is not as though this is essential for us, i am sure we will be an Eliteserien side once more even if we miss out this season.’
It is this outlook that became so endearing to Norway during Mjondalen’s one year stint in the country’s top flight. Despite suffering relegation by the end of the 2015 season, the spirit the side showed when playing lives long in the memory for most football fans.
As Mjondalen prepare for another promotion push in the 2017 OBOS Ligaen season, it would be safe to say that their pre season form has left a lot to be desired. The side have won just 3 of their 7 games at the time of writing, with these wins coming against sides many would suggest to be inferior.
‘In pre season, we do not really care about the results. We have been focused on trying to break down sides who defend deep against us, also we want to concentrate a lot on our defensive play.
We were very weak at the back against Start (Mjondalen lost 4-0 to the side in February), we tried to play the ball out from the back which left us vulnerable and we made some individual mistakes. We have tried to think more about balancing the team this preseason, the players need to realise that it is not just about playing attacking football.
We have also been training a lot more this year. 2 times a day, 4 times a week. We made this decision after last season, i think Norwegian football in general trains too little and we as a club for sure did not train enough last season. We trusted the players to ‘do their homework’ and train outside the club but this did not work, so now we do all our training from the stadium together.’
During their successful 2014 promotion season and not so successful 2015 Eliteserien stint, Mjondalen were known for their direct play and dangerous set pieces. Hansen suggests that this style was lost slightly as the side looked to play more ‘attractive’ football during the first few months of their 2016 season.
‘After we got relegated, the players wanted a more open style of play, possession based and playing out of the back.
It was very risky and we lost some terrible games at the start of the season. We had to adjust after a loss to Ull/Kisa on May 16th (Mjondalen lost 5-1 to the newly promoted side) and after that we decided to play a lot smarter and our results improved. Our set piece statistics however were terrible last season, we suffered from the loss of aggressive players like Sanel (Kapidzic) and Rhett (Bernstein).’
There can be a tendency for teams to stray from effective tactics in order to play football that is generally considered to be more pleasing on the eye. The old saying goes ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’, Mjondalen attempted to stray from their usual efficient way of playing for something more beautiful but the side and manager have to be applauded for then switching back to their old ways in order to better their results.
Vegard Hansen watching on as Mjondalen beat league leaders Kristiansund 3-1
So far in the build up to this season, Mjondalen have brought in 5 new faces. The signings represent a change of direction for the club, who once only sought to bring in more experienced and more valuable players.
Now, Vegard Hansen tells me, the focus is to bring in young, cheap players with large potential.
‘Until 2 years ago me and Kenneth Karlsen did all of the scouting ourselves and it was simply too much to handle. It is a full time job and so now we employ a scout, a Swedish Iranian guy who helped to bring in Sousha Makani.
We also switched from signing experienced players like Sanel Kapidzic to focus more on our youth department. The youth department is working really well and now we much prefer to bring our own players up and sign young players who we think can deliver the goods.
The new striker, Simonas Stankevicius, will be strong. He is not too fit at the moment but we needed some more power up front so I think he will come good. I am very pleased with the new signings so far.
We need more money coming into the club, the only way to do that now is by developing and then selling young talented players.’
On the subject of talented young footballers, I wanted to chat with Vegard about a particular player who had caught my eye last season. William Sell.
Sell burst on the scene for Mjondalen with the side short of defensive cover throughout 2016. The then 17 year old faced the daunting task of facing Sandefjord’s ginger man mountain Peter Kovacs in his debut. Sell, despite being on the smaller side for a center back, dealt with both Kovacs and Kjell Rune Sellin efficiently despite Mjondalen eventually losing 2-0.
But, people really started to notice Sell’s ability when Mjondalen’s star defender Morten Sundli departed for Sarpsborg 08 in the Summer transfer window. Sell became a fixture in the XI and delivered ridiculously good performances against high flyers Kristiansund and Sandnes, keeping a clean sheet in both games.
Interest from the Bundesliga followed, with Sell visiting TSV Hoffenheim to tour the facilities and train with the youth side.
‘William is a fairytale story for us.’ Said Hansen.
‘He was a very young player who came to us from Kongsberg, we gave him his breakthrough because he trains so hard. He is a quick guy, not very tall but strong in the air anyway. I think he can go as far as he wants as a footballer.
For me, there is no surprise that the Bundesliga clubs are following him. We might sell him in the summer or after the coming season, I do not think he will stay with us for much longer.
There have been a lot of clubs following him but William has been very clear, he wants to finish school here so when that is finished in May we may consider selling him.’
18 year old William Sell fending off Sandefjord’s man mountain Peter Kovacs, a man more than twice his age.
Mjondalen’s willingness to sell the young defender may come as a surprise to many who do not follow the club, but the side will never stand in the way of a player leaving to achieve his dreams.
This fact became evident mid way through pre season when goalkeeper Sousha Makani was allowed to leave the side on loan to rivals Stromsgodset. The reasoning was simple, Mjondalen would let Makani join Stromsgodset in order for the player to play at a high level and retain his place in the Iranian national team. This move did however leave a sour taste in the mouth of many fans, who were surprised to see a goalkeeper of such quality leave the club after just 15 games.
‘We had to let Makani go, simply as it was the best solution for the club.’ Says Hansen when quizzed on the Iranian’s departure.
‘It was impossible to hold on to him as he wanted to play in the National Team and could only achieve this playing for Stromsgodset.
We agreed a deal that he would sign on for another half a year with us, so either he will return from loan in August ready to play for us once more or he will be sold to someone else.’
The move is a selfless one from Mjondalen, who will lose a goalkeeper who was by far the most talented in the whole of the OBOS Ligaen. Standing between the sticks currently is the erratic Marco Priis Jorgensen, but Hansen is clear that he is still not finished in the transfer market.
‘We have been open to signing a new goalkeeper. We had one player ready to sign but the move turned out to be too expensive for us.
We will sign another goalkeeper maybe this week or maybe next.’
So what does this mean for Makani’s Mjondalen career, will he actually return to the side or leave in the Summer despite the new contract extension he just signed?
‘If he plays regularly and well for Stromsgodset, then it is likely that he will be bought by someone. But, if he is not the number one then we think he might come back here, but right now we don’t know.’
Mjondalen’s ambition may not be immediately obvious but Hansen’s goal to secure a bright future for his club is there for all to see. Too often in Norwegian football do historic sides collapse due to poor club management, Mjondalen are determined not to become another Lyn or HamKam.
Whilst not yet held in the same historic regard as the above mentioned teams, Mjondalen will hope that one day they can hold down a place in the Eliteserien. Hansen is optimistic that this could well be the case in the future, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the 47 year old will want to still be at the helm guiding Mjondalen there.
It will take time, but all good projects do. Taking Mjondalen to their first ever appearance in Norway’s top flight under his management took 8 years and with the sides’ now blosomming youth department and focus on player development, you wouldn’t bet against them maintaning a regular spot in the Eliteserien come 2025.