Say goodbye to a record-breaking midfielder, chimney sweep and genius

And now the end is near. I refer not to England’s flickering hopes of hosting the 2018 World Cup, or Frank Arnesen’s predicted departure from Chelsea, but to the retirement of former chimney sweep Roar Strand, the Sir Cliff Richard of Norwegian football, who has finally retired at the ripe old age of 40 and a bit, after winning his 16th Norwegian league title.

For those of you who would rather study an Ikea catalogue than read another blog about Scandinavian football, I apologise. I struggle to explain why I’ve come over so Scandinavian all of a sudden.

There may be four reasons. First, it’s that time of year when seasons end and titles are decided across the region. Second, I find it bizarrely pleasing to write about footballers with letters in their names that resemble the chemical symbol for boron (even if, under FourFourTwo’s no foreign accents policy, I don’t have to faithfully reproduce them). Third, I’ve been watching too much Wallander. (The Swedish version is so beautifully miserablist I have to play a few Leonard Cohen songs afterwards to cheer myself up.) Fourth, it’s probably because football in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden seems to belong to a more innocent, hype-free era than in England, Italy and Spain.

Mind you, this is changing. They don’t make ‘em like Roar Strand anymore – not even in Trondheim where, 21 years and a few months ago, as an impressionable 19-year-old, he made his debut for Rosenborg. A one-club man (apart from 22 games on loan to Molde), Strand became a legend in midfield and on the wing at the Lerkendal, playing 125 games in UEFA club competition, more than Beckham or Zidane. 

Strand in action against Scotland during the 1998 World Cup

Like Ryan Giggs, Strand is adored even by fans who detest his club. The manner of his 40th birthday celebrations probably explains why. On February 2, the squad were training in Marbella. Strand woke his roommate Steffen Iversen up – getting a quick ‘Happy birthday’ in return – and was first out onto the training pitch insisting that he had to work harder compete with the younger players. His teammates encouraged him to relax with a cake and by buying him his first ever session at a spa centre.

Outside Norway, Strand is best known for the frequency with which he pops up in trivia questions. The hardy midfielder’s stint as a chimney sweep was on orders from coach Nils Arne Eggen who wanted all Rosenborg players to have a second job to keep them grounded.

Despite playing in the centre, on the wing and as a wing-back, Strand has scored in 21 consecutive top flight seasons, a record matched by Giggs and Pele and only exceeded by Romario. With 16 Norwegian titles, five Norwegian Cups, a Norwegian midfielder of the year award and a gold watch from the Norwegian FA, Strand may have won more domestic honours than any player in European football today.

Strand looks a tad geriatric in the photo on his English Wikipedia page, as if the mere act of running has made his back ache, but – possibly because of the stamina acquired as a chimney sweep – he remained remarkably free of injury for club and country. (He also won 42 caps for Norway, it would have been more but he quit in 2003 and refused all offers to reconsider.)

With defender Erik Hoftun, Strand was at the heart of the remarkable Rosenborg side that won 13 titles in a row between 1992 and 2004 and, in Europe, defeated the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Milan.

It’s worth reiterating that Eggen’s Rosenborg, the definitive version, played quick passing football in a 4-3-3, not the sterile long ball game deployed by the national side in the 1990s. A world class box-to-box midfielder, Strand could teach many more famous footballers a lot about the art of running off the ball.

In Europe, he found the net against such no-marks as Arsenal, Porto, Real Madrid and Sampdoria.  Even Gooners were impressed by the power and precision with which, in September 2004, he side footed the ball into the roof of the net against them to score what many supporters of the Troll Kids insist was his best ever goal.

On top of the chimney sweeping, the loyalty, the records, the technical brilliance, there is the utterly marvellous fact that his first name is Roar. Okay, it’s the Norwegian form of ‘Roger’ but it still seems a perfect moniker for a footballer. To me, it brings back memories of a Sunday morning schlep to the newsagents to snap up a short-lived comic called Score And Roar.

One of his teammates joked about erecting a statue of Roar Strand outside the Lerkendal stadium. Rosenborg’s greatest No6 deserves no less.

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