Born: 27.02.1968 in Kongsvinger
Ståle Solbakken was a bit of a late bloomer. In fact, he already had a receding hairline when he made his international debut. He was also a quality player, who just seemed to get better with age. Solbakken was the prototypical midfield general, with great vision, leadership and distribution skills. He also had a mean long-range shot, and enjoyed a fine career at both club and national level before his career, and indeed almost his life, came to a sudden end in 2001.
Solbakken began his career in the lower divisions with his local side Grue. In 1989, he was signed by Hamarkameratene, who were now playing in the Second Division, desperately trying to win back promotion to the top flight after their 1987 relegation. In Solbakken's first season at Ham-Kam, he didn't make much of an impact, as he was adjusting to the higher level of play. However, in 1990, he had a breakout season, when he made the central midfield position his own, and scored nine goals. The next season it went even better. Solbakken scored an impressive 14 goals from his midfield position, and made his name as one of the best players outside the newly renamed Premier Division (Tippeligaen) as Ham-Kam, who had narrowly missed out on promotion the season before, won the First Division (now the second tier, following the rebranding of the top division) in emphatic style, and returned to the top flight. He played two more seasons at the Hamar club, catching the eye of the bigger clubs, before eventually joining Lillestrøm in 1994.
In March 1994, Solbakken got his international debut in the friendly against Wales, coming on as a substitute for Kjetil Rekdal. Despite his impressive form for LSK, he missed out on the 1994 World Cup. Solbakken continued to work hard, knowing he would eventually get his chance, and by late 1994, he was back in the squad. The next year, he appeared in every international, though usually as a substitute, and rarely in his favorite role as the midfield anchor, which was still occupied by Rekdal. At club level, Solbakken was named Lillestrøm captain, and helped the side finish second in 1996. He also scored his first international goals that year, getting on the scoresheet twice in the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan. In October 1997, towards the end of another excellent season at Lillestrøm, Solbakken got his chance to play abroad, when he was signed by English Premiership club Wimbledon.
Solbakken's stay at Wimbledon was forgettable. Despite playing quite well when he got the chance, Solbakken spent most of his time at Selhurst Park in the reserves. According to rumors in the media, he was frozen out of the side because he didn't get along with Vinnie Jones. Whatever the reason, Solbakken left Wimbledon after only five unhappy months, having played only six league games for the "Crazy Gang", and joined Danish side AaB Aalborg in March 1998.
At Aalborg, things went a lot better. Solbakken's commanding performances in midfield made him a firm fan favorite, and by the start of his second season at the club, he was named captain. He also played for Norway in the 1998 World Cup, but missed the victory against Brazil when he was dropped in favor of Roar Strand. In 1999, he was named Player of the Year in Denmark after leading AaB to the league title. He was also finally first-choice in the national team, and helped Norway reach the European Championship finals for the first time. Unfortunately, he picked up an injury shortly before the finals and played only one game at Euro 2000 - the miserable draw against Slovenia.
After Euro 2000, the 32-year-old Solbakken announced his international retirement. Still a big star in Denmark, he joined Copenhagen giants FC København in August that year, for whom he enjoyed another impressive season until his career came to a dramatic halt. On 13 March 2001, Solbakken collapsed during a training session. He had suffered a heart attack. Through a stroke of luck, team doctor Frank Odgaard was at the training ground when it happened, and immediately began resuscetating the player. His quick reaction probably saved Solbakken's life. Solbakken spent several days in a coma following the incident, but did make a full recovery. He was later fitted with a pacemaker to reduce the chance of future heart attacks. However, his football career was over. Following the advice of his doctors, Solbakken announced his retirement in April 2001.
In 2003, Solbakken returned to football in a coaching role, guiding his old club Hamarkameratene to promotion to the top division. He followed up the promotion with a strong 5th-place finish the following season. At the end of the 2005 season, Solbakken quit Ham-Kam to become head coach at another of his former clubs, FC København, where he went on to win the Danish League five times in six seasons, and qualified for the group stage of the Champions League twice, reaching the last 16 in 2010/11. Even when you take FCK's financial advantage in the Danish league into account, that's a mighty impressive record.
According to media speculation, the NFF wanted Solbakken to become the next Norway manager when Åge Hareide resigned in 2008, but Solbakken turned down the offer, and the job instead went to the returning Egil Olsen. Solbakken later agreed in principle to succeed Olsen as Norway manager at the end of the Euro 2012 campaign, but backed down from the agreement in 2011, when he was appointed head coach of FC Köln in the Bundesliga. However, his record at Köln was unimpressive. He failed to reproduce the impressive results from Copenhagen, and with Köln near the bottom of the table (they were eventually relegated), Solbakken was sacked after just ten months in charge. Despite this setback, Solbakken did not stay unemployed for long, returning to club management in July 2012 when he was named manager of English Championship side Wolverhampton.
National Team Appearances
|2||14.12.1994||Valetta||Malta||1-0||European Champ. Qual.|
|5||29.03.1995||Luxembourg||Luxembourg||2-0||European Champ. Qual.|
|6||26.04.1995||Oslo||Luxembourg||5-0||European Champ. Qual.|
|8||07.06.1995||Oslo||Malta||2-0||European Champ. Qual.|
|10||16.08.1995||Oslo||Czech Republic||1-1||European Champ. Qual.|
|11||06.09.1995||Prague||Czech Republic||0-2||European Champ. Qual.|
|13||15.11.1995||Rotterdam||Netherlands||0-3||European Champ. Qual.|
|15||29.11.1995||Port of Spain||Trinidad & Tobago||2-3|
|19||02.06.1996||Oslo||Azerbaijan||5-0||World Cup Qualifier|
|21||10.11.1996||Bern||Switzerland||1-0||World Cup Qualifier|
|25||29.03.1997||Dubai||United Arab Emirates||4-1|
|26||30.04.1997||Oslo||Finland||1-1||World Cup Qualifier|
|28||08.06.1997||Budapest||Hungary||1-1||World Cup Qualifier|
|29||20.08.1997||Helsinki||Finland||4-0||World Cup Qualifier|
|30||06.09.1997||Baku||Azerbaijan||1-0||World Cup Qualifier|
|31||10.09.1997||Oslo||Switzerland||5-0||World Cup Qualifier|
|AaB Aalborg (Denmark)|
|39||06.09.1998||Oslo||Latvia||1-3||European Champ. Qual.|
|40||10.10.1998||Ljubljana||Slovenia||2-1||European Champ. Qual.|
|41||14.10.1998||Oslo||Albania||2-2||European Champ. Qual.|
|45||27.03.1999||Athens||Greece||2-0||European Champ. Qual.|
|46||28.04.1999||Tbilisi||Georgia||4-1||European Champ. Qual.|
|47||30.05.1999||Oslo||Georgia||1-0||European Champ. Qual.|
|48||05.06.1999||Tirana||Albania||2-1||European Champ. Qual.|
|49||09.10.1999||Riga||Latvia||2-1||European Champ. Qual.|
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