LILLESTRØM/ULLEVAAL (VG) Here is Manchester City’s Mario Pafundi swinging around Erling Braut Haaland (22) at national team training before the Slovenia match. His extra set of hands will not cost the Norwegian Football Association a single kroner.
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According to VG’s information, the Norwegian Football Association has access to Pafundi, who is referred to as a sports therapist on Manchester City’s website, almost free of charge, and this is confirmed by national team manager Ståle Solbakken.
– I can say that I know we will come out of it very well, reports Solbakken.
– Perhaps that says something about the extent to which this is Manchester City’s wish?
– I would say that it is Erling and Manchester City’s wish. And then it happened that when that inquiry came, we were also on the lookout, says Solbakken and reveals that the Pafundi opportunity opens up the possibility that the national team has money to spare for one more person in the support apparatus. From before, the national team doctors are looked after by manual therapist Leif Arne Lystad and physiotherapist Thomas Ødegaard.
– Now we can bring in a fourth, because then we have (money) left in the budget. But he is doing a good job, Pafundi, points out Norway’s national team manager ahead of the Nations League meetings away to Slovenia (Saturday) and at home to Serbia (Tuesday).
Thus, Manchester City does not release its grip on one of the football world’s most valuable bodies, even during the national team break. There is reason to believe that Pafundi has had a central role during Haaland’s successful start to the season at City, where he has started all ten games and scored 14 times.
It is also not the first time that the Premier League champion has made the support equipment available to the club’s national team players, but it is described as a rarity in England as well.
– Several of the absolute biggest clubs like to get involved with other nations’ federations and fix details such as private flights to get the players home as quickly as possible. But it is unusual for this to happen, says football journalist Daniel Taylor in the sports magazine The Athletic.
Moreover, the NFF’s and Manchester City’s “Haaland move” would hardly have gone home in England. According to VG, the English Football Association (FA) initially wants to avoid similar dual roles around the English national team, which led, among other things, to Gareth Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland having to opt out of the assistant job he had at Chelsea in order to become a full-time employee under Southgate.
For a period he held both jobs, and Tottenham thought it could give Chelsea insight into, among other things, the health situation of the national team players. Also in the support functions, such as in, for example, medical equipment and analysis, the FA also does not want people with club affiliation alongside.
– There were complaints from managers like Mourinho that it was unfair and that this person – who in this case will be Haaland’s handler – will get to know other clubs’ secrets, points out Taylor, who has followed the Premier League circus’ biggest stars and clubs that Manchester United and Manchester City for a number of years.
Norway’s national team coach Ståle Solbakken says that he does not know how normal it is to make use of the opportunity that the Norwegian Football Association has made available. Denmark’s former national team manager Åge Hareide has never come across anything like this.
– I have no experience with that, says the newly employed Malmö coach and answers “no” to direct questions about whether the star Christian Eriksen ever had someone in the support apparatus from one of his clubs.
But during Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s time in Sweden it could happen, the former Swedish national team leader Lars Richt previously stated.
– It is not entirely unusual. It is for the sake of the players that they feel safe in the person who takes care of the player. So it has happened, without the need to mention a lot of names, says Richt to VG.
He held the title of national team manager in Sweden from 1998 to 2018, which corresponds to a sort of top football manager position in the Norwegian Football Association.
– Was this about Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
– It happened with more than one player. At least two, maybe three. I can say it was the biggest names, says RIcht, who was in the administrator position in all of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s seasons with the national team, with the exception of the five games after the star’s comeback in 2021.
– Was it usually at the request of the player himself?
– Yes, I think it came from the player himself. Now it has been many years and I have become old. When I read that he (Haaland) was going to have a physio, I reacted positively. It is good that you open up to this person and develop the team that is in the national team, says Richt.
When Solbakken revealed the news at the start of the meeting, he clarified that Pafundi was not only there for Haaland, but for the entire squad:
– We have been looking for one more man and are so offensive that we believe we will make it to the EC. Then at least we’ll have another one in. We have had great troops, and those boys (the current physiotherapists) have worked very hard. Ola (Sand) is a doctor, he goes and checks, the other two struggle hard, says Solbakken.
When asked if there could be a conflict of interest regarding the strain on Haaland by having a Manchester City representative in the support apparatus at this gathering, Solbakken is dismissive:
– No, no, not at all. He is subject to Ola. Ola is the boss. We do not treat Erling differently from other players. If we feel that the players are not one hundred percent and there is a risk of something, then they do not play. There, Erling does not differ from Jørgen Strand Larsen.
Mario Pafundi joined Manchester City just a few months after current manager Pep Guardiola took over at the club.