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Game Changer? North Korea Snags Norwegian Football Coach

© AFP 2023 / RAUL ARBOLEDANorth Korea's team poses before the their FIFA U-20 World Cup football match against Argentina (file)
North Korea's team poses before the their FIFA U-20 World Cup football match against Argentina  (file) - Sputnik International
Norway native Jørn Andersen has reportedly been named the national football coach in North Korea in the otherwise secluded country's eccentric attempt to improve its public image and give a boost to North Korea's struggling football team.

People walk near the venue of a ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea May 6, 2016. - Sputnik International
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So far, 53-year-old Andersen has signed a one-year contract, Norwegian national broadcaster NRK reported. The expectation is that he will build up the national team for the next World Cup.

Andersen's family confirmed the surprising choice, saying that he has already been in North Korea for two weeks.

"It may seem strange, but in North Korea, sport is political, too. Just as it is in other countries. It means a lot for them to win and make a good showing within the international arena," Geir Helgesen, head of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) in Copenhagen, told NTB. "They actually played pretty decent football before. They had some ups and downs, but they have shown they are fully capable," he added.

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According to Helgesen, North Korea's Nordic pick is a sign that Pyongyang is "hoping to improve its image in the world by asking a foreigner to help with football."

However, Andersen's decision to enlist in the North Korean football squad triggered a negative reaction back home.

"I am very surprised that a Norwegian chooses to accept a job for this regime, for there is no doubt that football is directly subordinated to the government, Amnesty Norway Secretary General John Peder Egenæs, told NRK, arguing that the coach most likely will be used for propaganda purposes.

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"Attracting high-profile Westerners actually legitimizes the regime. He may become a pawn in their game, and I do not think he can manage to avoid that," Egenæs said.

Norwegian author, historian and former foreign journalist Torbjørn Færøvik argued that Jørn Andersen has quite the task before him.

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"North Korea is not exactly the world's best football nation. However, its leader, Kim Jong-un, is very concerned about football and is rumored to be closely watching what happens in the English Premier League," he told NRK.

North Korea sensationally broke into the quarterfinals at the World Cup in 1966 (beating Italy among others), but has not excelled internationally since.

Jørn Andersen's career as a player includes stretches with Norwegian clubs Fredrikstad and Vålerenga, as well as a number of German and other foreign clubs. As a coach, he has headed several clubs, with Austria Salzburg being his latest. Also, Andersen appeared in 27 matches for Norway's national team, scoring a total of five goals.

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