‘I fell in love with the team’: Even Pellerud on winning the Women’s Euros and World Cup | Women’s football


Even Pellerud is one of the few managers to have both the European Championship and the World Cup. He also coached in a further two European finals and won an Olympic bronze medal. Not bad. As the 68-year-old reflects on his career from his home in Norway, he says he was “lucky” – not in the sense that he didn’t work hard, but that he is privileged to have enjoyed so much success, especially when he considers just how little he knew about the women’s game when he was approached by the Norwegian football federation in the late 1980s.

Pellerud ended his playing career in 1986 while at Kongsvinger, where he was immediately installed as their manager. His coaching career took a new path three years later. “It was strange really,” he chuckles. “I was asked to meet the federation. My name had started to grow a little bit, but I was kind of expecting it to be maybe one of the men’s youth teams.

“In the meeting, they offered me the job of the women’s team and that was a big shock for me. I hadn’t seen one women’s game in my life, not even on TV. They seemed to think I was the man for the job. I was ready to move on, so I was motivated. I wanted to grow something. That’s what really triggered me to do it. All I asked is that I have a contract for only two years, because I didn’t know how it would go.”

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Two years would become seven. It was an unprecedented period of success for Norway. They reached the final of the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, won the Women’s Euros in 1993 and followed that up by winning the grandest prize of in 1995, as well as securing a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

“I fell in love with the team,” he says. “We had a very strong team, a lot of success. I had a lot of fun. It was a great team to coach, such characters, such committed players. They were fit, well trained. There was a lot of work to do, but it was a great job. It ended up being seven fantastic years.”

Norway had won the first unofficial World Cup in 1988 but, given that he was a novice in the women’s game and did not have access to footage, analysis or any of the things a coach would have now, how did he do it? “That is a good question,” he exclaims. “Norwegian players in the league played in front of 50 spectators, in small venues, no media. We won quite easily with the national team. It was only when we met Germany, Sweden or Denmark we were challenged.”

Pellerud took his side to Winnipeg in 1990 for a tournament against Canada and the US to understand the challenges he would face come the first World Cup in China the following year. “That was the biggest eye-opener for me,” he recalls. “I was so happy we had that challenge. We beat Canada, but USA played us off the field. We had no chance. I think we lost 4-0. It was a real shocker, an eye-opener as to what to expect in China. We flew home and had some serious chats about how to bridge that gap in a year.”

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Even Pellerud in 2014.
Even Pellerud in 2014. Photograph: Trond Tandberg/Getty Images

Pellerud had no idea what to expect when Norway played the hosts in the first game of the World Cup in 1991. “We went from these small games in Norway to 65,000 fans in China. Stands filled with people, big buses, police escorts, people in the streets. It was so big you can lose yourself a bit. You don’t feel connected to the games or your team. The sound, the music, the opening ceremony, I will never forget the hours in the changing room after the opening game.”

Norway lost 4-0 to hosts China and looked a world away from the side that would reach the final just a few weeks later. They had to react quickly to ensure their tournament got back on track. “We started well, we missed a penalty, but after that we didn’t have the ball. China totally outplayed us. That was my first World Cup game. We had to learn quickly how to raise a team that wasn’t used to losing, and here we are losing 4-0. They were rough days for me. I learned a lot in that period.”

Norway bounced back, beating New Zealand 4-0 and Denmark 2-1 to reach the knockout phase. They overcame Italy in a dramatic and enthralling quarter-final, before disposing of neighbours Sweden in style with a 4-1 win in the semi-finals. The final didn’t go their way, a last-gasp Michelle Akers goal sealing the tournament for USA, but Pellerud and his team had come so far from their 4-0 loss to the same opposition a year earlier. He had set the foundations for what was to come.

“We knew we had the players and support from the federation,” he says. “The main thing was to create an environment where the players could be challenged enough in league games. That was issue number one. We had to be super fit, super organised. We worked so much on defending. We had to introduce girls to training with the boys to step them up a little bit. We had some really good years.”

“Good” is an understatement. Norway won the Euros in 1993 when Birthe Hegstad’s late goal sealed a victory in the final against Italy, before they headed to neighbouring Sweden in 1995 for the second Women’s World Cup. Norway dominated the tournament from the start, winning all three group games without conceding and scoring an incredible 17 goals. They beat Nigeria 8-0, England 2-0 and Canada 7-0. A 3-1 win against Denmark in the quarter-finals set up the toughest test of all: a semi-final against defending champions USA, which Norway won 1-0.

Even Pellerud winning the Women’s World Cup in 1995.
Even Pellerud winning the Women’s World Cup in 1995. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Germany stood in their way of glory, but first-half goals from Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen gave Norway a 2-0 victory and made Pellerud a world champion. “At the time, you live by the day and the next game,” he says. “You don’t think so much about it, but in the years since it gets bigger and bigger for me. It was one of the tournaments where everything flies in your direction – everything we did was a success. We lost our captain in the semi-final against USA. Usually, we should be concerned, but we weren’t. We knew we were going to win. That is a very rare feeling for a coach. I’ve had that maybe twice in my life.”

On the final itself, he says: “We pressed Germany super high. They got frustrated, we had full control. Both games against them and the USA were extreme examples of competitiveness, but not beauty. None of these games were beautiful. They were tough, a struggle. Just don’t make mistakes, take your chances. For the neutral, it was not fancy football. If Hege Riise and Linda Medalen and others played today, they would have been stars. The talent, the understanding of the game, the brilliant football minds. With today’s facilities, they would be stars.”

After winning a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Pellerud returned to the men’s game. “The Olympics was another huge highlight in my life, but we weren’t quite as good, not quite as sharp,” he says. “I had many offers to coach men’s teams and had a desire to do that again.” After spells with club sides Lillestrøm and Ikast FC, he went back to the women’s game with Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, and, finally, a second stint as Norway boss. Pellerud led his country to another final at Euro 2013, which they lost 1-0 to Germany, before he took a job with Uefa training young coaches.

As he reflects on his 26-year managerial career, he says he feels “lucky” for all he achieved. “I wake up every morning and appreciate that I was there at the right time. I was the lucky one,” he says. “I’m healthy, I met amazing people, met amazing friends. I cherish those years very much and it makes me happy now to be able to mentor young coaches. I enjoy travelling, meeting them and being an instructor on the Uefa Pro Licence courses. It helps me meet the next generation of coaches and help them – with no ambition of taking their jobs.”





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