When the former assistant faces his former boss
They are former teammates and colleagues, and their career paths have followed very similar lines. On Tuesday, either – or perhaps both – of Glenn Solberg and Christian Berge will celebrate a place in the Men’s EHF EURO 2022 semi-finals.
The two Norwegian coaches will lead Sweden and Norway on to the court in a Scandinavian derby that will conclude main round group II in Bratislava at 20:30 CET on Tuesday (live on EHFTV).
Berge, aged 48, has coached Norway since 2014. Solberg, 49, was appointed as Sweden’s head coach in 2020.
As players, they wore the Norwegian shirt together for many years. Berge earned 63 caps for his country, Solberg 122. And even on club level, Berge and Solberg were teammates from 2004 to 2006, playing for German club SG Flensburg-Handewitt. Solberg returned to his home club Drammen HK, while Berge joined Danish side Aarhus.
Finally, both became coaches. Berge started in 2008 at Norwegian club Elverum, before he took over the Norwegian national team to replace Robert Hedin. Solberg began his coaching career for the Norwegian federation and took over the men’s national B team – and when Berge became head coach, Solberg joined him as assistant until 2016.
After quitting the Norwegian team in 2016, Solberg went back to club handball, coaching at St Hallvard in Norway and then taking on roles including advising his former club, Flensburg, before being appointed as Sweden’s head coach when Kristjan Andresson stepped down to focus on Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
Solberg became Sweden’s coach after the EHF EURO 2020, when the co-hosts had missed the semi-finals. He is the first-ever non-Swedish coach, and follows the likes of Bengt Johansson, Ola Lindgren and Staffan Olsson in the role.
It took Solberg only one year to steer the Swedish team to the World Championship final in Cairo, where they lost against their neighbours Denmark, and to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where they (like Norway) were eliminated in the quarter-final.
Berge also has experience of coaching at this level. He steered Norway to two World Championship finals (2017, 2019) and their first ever European silverware, the EHF EURO 2020 bronze medal.
But Tuesday night is the first time that Berge and Solberg will face each other on the court as coaches in the crucial final of main round group II in Bratislava. The two sides have had eerily similar routes to this point, both losing their second preliminary round games and entering the main round with zero points, before unleashing their power in the main round.
With three victories in three main round matches, including Norway’s historic win against Spain on Sunday, both Scandinavian sides – and Spain – are on six points before the ultimate match day.
“We were in the basement, then we made some steps upwards, but still there are some steps ahead,” Berge says.
If Spain lose against Poland, a draw would be enough for Solberg and Berge to march in step to the semi-finals in Budapest. But if Spain do not lose, the Sweden vs Norway clash will send one team to the 5/6 placement match. A draw is enough for Norway in this event.
The Norwegians have won the last five duels, while Sweden’s last win was at the EHF EURO 2008 in Norway, when they beat the hosts in the 5/6 placement match after extra-time. Solberg played in that game.
“Of course, it feels a bit strange to play against a Norwegian coach, we know Glenn Solberg very well, he worked in our federation, in our team. But it is a good sign for Scandinavian handball, when two teams fight for the semi-finals. And when the match starts, I am definitely not thinking about the coach of the opponents,” says Norwegian centre back Christian O’Sullivan.
Both coaches seem to be quite relaxed prior to the duel.
“Of course, it will be very special. I am from Norway, I worked together with Christian, and it is a bit special. But when the match starts, it is the normal game. We do everything we can to go to the semi-final,” says Solberg.
Berge adds: “I phoned very often with Glenn before the EHF EURO. During the tournament it was quiet, but of course after the match we will talk again.”