Remembering….Ole Mørk and Trelleborg
Trelleborg were having an unspectacular 2000 Allsvenskan campaign under Alf Westerberg when the club decided that a change was needed. Ole Mørk had coached in Denmark since the early 1980s and already had a reputation for growing clubs beyond the sum of their parts – this was the manager who had succeeded in taking both BK Frem, one of the country’s most historic clubs but floundering by the 1990s, and Herfølge BK up through the leagues and into the Superliga, the top-flight of Danish football.
The call came from Jonas Brorsson, Trelleborg’s sporting director, before the end of the 2000 season and with Mørk having recently parted company with AB Copenhagen. Trelleborg were towards the bottom of the Allsvenskan table when Mørk answered the call, and, having met Brorsson a number of times over the years, he gave a quick answer that he would be the next manager. But only from the end of the season, and not straight away as the club had wanted.
Winning twelve points out of a possible fifteen, including a final day victory over the champions Halmstad, saw Trelleborg close the season in style and lifted them up to a final place of sixth, a distance of thirteen points between them and BK Häcken, who would stay up via a penalty shoot-out victory over Mjällby in the relegation play-off.
Mørk remembers that original phone call and being told: “You have to rescue us because we are dropping down”. At the end of the 2000 season the talk in Sweden was: “Why have Trelleborg changed the coach?”. Mørk, a man of honour, had not signed a contract when he first accepted the job; there was only a verbal agreement on his part. It would have been easy for both club and future manager to change their mind given the successful close to that season. But both were set on a course that would end in disaster.
The Dane, being a scholar of the game and continuously looking to improve his players rather than utilise only their strengths for the advantage of the team, had a history of producing teams that were great to watch. This was an ideal that was thought to have interested Trelleborg. After all, the club’s Vångavallen home was often called Tjongavallen with the Swedish word ‘tjonga’ meaning to ‘hoof the ball long’ like the Wimbledon sides of old in the English Premier League. Though talking to Jesper Högström from Offside magazine, Westerberg thought that the description was, in reality, “a myth…something I believe is unfair”.
If there was a perceived strangeness about the appointment of Mørk, then for the Dane himself there was an equal strangeness when he arrived to start work on the south coast of Sweden. Without his own backroom staff for the first time in his career, the club asked Mørk what he would think about Westerberg staying on but as the assistant manager. Mørk accepted the suggestion.
Trelleborg faced a tough pre-season. Alongside a change in training regime, essential for altering the style of play to what Mørk wanted, which he describes as mixing “some of the best of the Swedish way of playing with some of the best qualities from Denmark -combine those two philosophies and cultures together”, there were some friendlies organised against Scandinavian opposition which would immediately show the differences between the manager’s own thoughts and the expectation of pre-season in Sweden.
The Danes from Brondby won 6-1 and then the Norwegians from Bodø/Glimt won 5-2 in two of the friendlies that Trelleborg played, while there were also defeats to Superettan sides Öster and Mjällby, the team that had just missed out on promotion to the Allsvenskan by way of a penalty shoot-out defeat. There was immediate pressure on Mørk.
Thomas Wernersson, the ex-IFK Göteborg and Swedish national team goalkeeper turned pundit, was quick to criticise. The Danish manager remembers Wernersson asking: “Where is this good, Danish, samba football?” disparagingly after one pre-season defeat. For the manager, that period of time was one where results did not matter; the exercise was merely to get to know his players and to start gelling ideas. For everyone watching in Sweden, the results were of importance.
As competitive football got going, so it seemed did Mørk’s impact on his team. The first game, a Svenska Cupen match against Landskrona, ended in a 2-0 victory for Trelleborg. “For me it didn’t matter what went before that because this was the season starting and we were where we were supposed to be – we had a win,” Mørk explained to me. But then the pressure increased due to a post-match interview and a joke that went wrong. Asked how he was feeling after the victory, the experienced Mørk twinkled: “I feel like throwing-up,” alluding to the negative comments he had previously been on the receiving end of. “Afterwards the Swedish newspapers were talking about the Danish coach who was about to be sick,” continues the Dane.
A second win quickly followed in the next round of the Cup when GIF Sundsvall went down, with the scoreline again 2-0 to Trelleborg, and then the league season began.
There was an opening day defeat against IFK Norrköping which highlighted the problems Mørk would face in changing the style of play. Jesper Högström in an Offside magazine article observed TFF’s right-sided midfielder Christian Andersson, “running up and down on the edge of the pitch, courting the sideline with such touching devotion that only the shirt colour and a flag set him apart from the assistant referee. Mørk jumps up and says something to him and during the next attack Andersson suddenly appears on the other side of the pitch causing some confusion in the Norrköping defence. But it is the only time Andersson leaves his line.” Peking, the away side, weather the Trelleborg attacking tide and then Mattias Flodström clinched the winner.
This game is followed by a 4-1 defeat against Örgryte before two away games in three days against AIK. The first of the games at Råsunda is in the Cup where TFF go down 3-2. The second game, with league points at stake, sees a much improved performance from the visitors. Mika Kottila, rushing in on the back post, tapped-in a Christian Andersson shot-cum-cross to give the visitors the lead, but then luck was with the home side. First Sharbel Touma was fortunate to receive the ball at the back post and his shot found the only space in a packed goalmouth to level the game. Then, with seconds remaining, Andreas Andersson theatrically went down in the box with Nebojša Novaković cooly chipping the resultant penalty in to make it four defeats on the bounce, and three in the league, for TFF.
“You can’t change direction of a supertanker in a split second; you need the time,” recalls Mørk. The Swedish players had shown the first signs of changing direction in coming close to defeating AIK, even playing them off the pitch for long periods of the game. The following match saw the super-tanker revert back to its set-course when Halmstad won 3-0. “Ole Mørk should be prepared to resign if he can not compromise his style of play,” said Thomas Wernersson afterwards on the television show Fotbollskväll.
Mørk wasn’t overly worried. He had previously managed over a run of twelve straight defeats when Herfølge had first been promoted to the Superliga. He had faith that his ideas would soon bring results; that the training changes he had implemented, where players were being encouraged to think and respond themselves, to have input, would soon take hold, just as they had in Denmark when his minnows had challenged the top of the table the season after that disastrous run.
Trelleborg next travelled back to Stockholm to take on Djurgarden and registered their first point in a 0-0 draw. Mørk says that “the former chairman of the club phoned me after [the game] and said that it was the best way of playing that he had ever seen from Trelleborg because of the way we played the ball and the control of the ball that the players had”.
Maximum points were gathered from the next two games when Sundsvall were defeated 1-0 and Elfsborg were disposed of by a scoreline of 5-3 (which the record books now show as a 3-0 TFF victory due to Elfsborg fielding an ineligible player) to make it seven games gone with seven points collected – exactly half the number of points that the club would end the 26 game season with. Mørk would only manage TFF for the next four games, all of which ended in defeat.
After that Halmstad match, Wernersson also went on to say: “What he does will not get results until at least this autumn and then it’s too late. The operation was successful but the patient died”. Three games later with seven points on the board showed signs of improvements. But by this time, the Danish coach was already feeling isolated.
Jonas Brorsson, the sporting director who had brought Mørk to Sweden, was suffering from stress and missing from the club as a result. After the Sundsvall win, the first league win of the season, Mørk recalls asking his assistant how things were and receiving a whispered reply that things were “OK”. Over his period of time with the club, the Dane says of his assistant: “I never, ever, had him say what his advice was or for him to say: “If I were in your place with these players, I would do this or do that”. He never said anything”.
That was something that was also reported as being levelled against Tommi Gronlund and Jonas Nilsson, two of the more influential players at TFF before Mørk’s arrival. The two players were quiet with Gronlund seeing the new managerial style as a threat, Mørk told Offside magazine shortly after he had left Trelleborg.
Mørk and Trelleborg would endure four successive defeats before the managerial change was made. The first two of the four losses were heavy: the first being a 3-0 defeat against Helsingborg which was followed by a 4-0 home loss against Malmö. The third defeat was 3-2 against Örebro.
Mørk’s final game would be against the team that would be crowned champions by the end of the season: Hammarby. Trelleborg were one nil down by the end of the first half and then just after the hour mark Hammarby added a second. Mørk had previously spent time preparing alternative tactics on the training ground; tactics that could be utilised should the players take the initiative, something that they were encouraged to do. Mørk made the change to a 3-5-2 formation, acknowledging that the players had to believe that they could change – that to stay rooted in what they were used to would be equal as to never really trying at all.
A five minute spell brought Trelleborg level following Jens Svensson and Kottila strikes, with the change in tactics key to that. And then, deep inside injury time, Peter Markstedt nodded in a Hammarby winner to leave Mørk with his head in his hands and soon heading back to Denmark following his dismissal, replaced by his assistant, Alf Westerberg, after only eleven Allsvenskan games.
Were those games an unmitigated disaster? An unfortunate experiment?
TFF won three games all season – two of which were under Mørk who was sacked with more than half the season remaining. Mørk claims that he was never backed by the club, pointing to the one-year contract he was given when hired, and telling Blågul Fotboll that the club never discussed any concerns with him during his spell in charge.
Jonas Brorsson later told Offside magazine that the responsibility lies with the coach to react to the personnel at his disposal. Mørk counters eleven-years later that the club gave no outline at the start the 2001 season as to what they wanted the plan to be and that they knew his footballing philosophy but at no point did they say that the football style had to remain constant with what it had been in the past. “If they wanted that then they could have taken a Swedish coach…the meaning in my head [when they offered me the job] was that they wanted a change [in style].”
Eleven games to change direction of a supertanker was never going to work. But no-one will ever know if, by the time October 2001 came to a close with TFF plumeting into Superettan, the Dane who wanted to play a Scandinavian Samba style of football would have been able to set a new course that would have ended in success had he been afforded more time.