Brian Sorensen grew up on a rural farm in Denmark, surrounded by dogs, cats and chickens. With the nearest human neighbours a kilometre away, often all he could hear were the sounds of those animals. The only thing his family needed to buy was yeast to make bread.
Such a tranquil setting is a far cry from the ceaseless noise of modern football.
Having spent the whole of his 13-year coaching career in his homeland — winning the league twice and the Danish Cup three times, as well as reaching the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals with Fortuna Hjorring in 2017 — managing in the Women’s Super League has long been Sorensen’s ambition.
But when Everton came knocking back in April, it was still a big decision for Sorensen to pack his bags and move to England.
“It is the sacrifice you need to make, but it’s a hard one,” the 42-year-old reflects, sitting in his club tracksuit at Everton’s Finch Farm training ground.
Sorensen’s wife Camilla Kur Larsen, who plays for Fortuna in the Danish first division, and their nearly four-year-old daughter, Rose, still live in Denmark but to transition to the WSL was an opportunity he decided he could not refuse.
After Everton’s slump last season, the only way is up.
Going through three managers on their way to a 10th-placed finish in the 12-team league was a hefty fall from the heights Everton achieved in 2020-21, when they pushed hard for Champions League qualification before ending up in fifth.
There was a lack of identity, organisation and cohesiveness.
What the team needs now is stability.
🤝 | We have reached an agreement for Brian Sorensen to become our new manager ahead of the 2022/23 season, with the Dane signing an initial two-year contract. #EFC 🔵
— Everton Women (@EvertonWomen) April 8, 2022
“We have a plan when we press, defend and attack,” says Sorensen, whose coaching methodology is inspired by Manchester United icon Sir Alex Ferguson.
“We split it up into four phases, and in all of those phases we have a clear structure on how we want to do things. When you look at our team, hopefully you can see that clear identity.
“Where the magic happens is when they break out of that frame, but if you don’t have a frame to fall back on, you don’t know what your team-mates are doing.
“It’s more like a tight structure that people can break out of. When they do that, that’s when the unpredictable stuff happens. You need to keep possession, press really well, be well organised and work together.
“That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here, putting that identity into the team.”
The first thing Sorensen said to Everton’s players this summer was: “I expect 100 per cent, 100 per cent of the time.”
It is a standard that he knows he can demand at a fully professional club such as Everton, unlike his previous side — Fortuna are still semi-professional. The other notable difference is the competitiveness of the teams he will now be facing.
“The level is not that big of a step. It’s just the competition you’re playing against week in week out — really good opponents that will challenge,” he says. “In Denmark, we had the ball maybe 80 per cent of the time for 90 per cent of the games and had to break every team down. It’s not going to be like that here.”
Sorensen has had to rebuild the team following nine departures, including internationals Claire Emslie and Kenza Dali. Among the key signings is Australia international Clare Wheeler, who is on loan from Fortuna and so already familiar with his aggressive, front-footed style.
“The new players coming in don’t have any old baggage and just a fresh mindset,” Sorensen says. “It wasn’t the plan to make such a big turnaround. We’re not always in control of what happens. There can be offers from elsewhere that we couldn’t say no to.”
Everton have borrowed young, rising talents in Jess Park (20 years old, Manchester City), Aggie Beever-Jones (19, Chelsea) and Emily Ramsey (21, Manchester United) too, and there’s also the very promising Hanna Bennison, 19, who signed from Swedish club Rosengard last year.
Sorensen began his career locally with a youth team in Arden before moving to work in nearby Aalborg, a much bigger town, where he coached an 11-year-old Nadia Nadim. He presided over an exceptionally strong team and when the first ever Denmark Women Under-17s squad was announced, 11 of his players made the cut.
The owner of a construction company since the age of 25, he used to work 18 hours a day to complete a job in half the time required so he could focus on his coaching.
Sorensen decided to concentrate on the power of individual training: as youngsters, Denmark internationals and women’s footballing greats Nadim and Pernille Harder were, according to him, “too good in our training, which meant they weren’t stimulated and became frustrated”.
“I needed to try and stimulate them,” Sorensen, who recruited Harder as a youth player, adds. “I started to make different equipment for individual training. Put the focus away from the team and say, ‘How can you be the best?’.
“Pernille was 15, so she couldn’t just move to Sweden or Germany, she still needed to finish school. Could she have gone to Fortuna or Brondby, that probably has a better team? Yes, but she still would have needed to move away from her parents. That’s why I started to do a lot of individual training.”
Sorensen created one-off programmes for rising talents such as Harder, Nadim and Sofie Junge Pedersen to increase the number of touches they had on the ball, cultivating a more intense training environment and compensating for the insufficient competitiveness of the local leagues.
But Sorensen was tired of standing there, feeding them the ball. It prevented him from running the drills and coaching his players. So he bought some rebounders — equipment which acts as a wall.
“Of course, they were shit,” he says, bluntly.
That led to him making his own.
Instead of shouting, ‘Red, blue, yellow’, to direct drills, he created equipment which had automatic light systems in them to train players to scan the area around them and orientate themselves. It removed the need for manpower and time — as players could work by themselves, building up their touch count.
Every squad member would do one hour of individual training with the technology-based system before 90 minutes of team training. Sorensen would record them for analysis, slowing the footage down to show the players how to improve their preparation, receiving the ball or first touch.
When Harder moved to Swedish side Linkoping in 2012, Sorensen gave her “four or five” of his rebounders to take with her. He did the same for now-Juventus midfielder Pedersen, and trained half of the Danish national team from the ages of 16 to 18 using similar methods.
During his six-year initial stint as Fortuna head coach, in which the club finished in the domestic top two every season, he founded Goal Station — a data-led, repetition-based football training system, focussing on individual training methods.
In January 2018, Sorensen left the club to pursue the global expansion of Goal Station. Paris Saint-Germain, Ajax and Sporting Kansas City were among the teams to buy the product.
He sold the business at the end of that year and returned to the Danish league with Nordsjaelland, where he won the 2019-20 Danish Cup, before rejoining Fortuna last season.
Sorensen, who describes himself as a “calm, relaxed, people-person”, has had to reconnect a fractured squad following Everton’s turbulent 2021-22 campaign. Pre-season team-building trips up to the Lake District, including activities such as surfing, have allowed the squad to gel.
“There’s a good atmosphere,” he says. “What I heard last year was (there were) two dressing rooms. It looks united now. Let’s see after three games.”
Sorensen always works with a leadership group, believing it is an effective way to reach out to different players, depending on age, personality or nationality. Izzy Christiansen will be captain this season if she starts, and will be supported by Lucy Graham, Gabby George, Nathalie Bjorn and Nicoline Sorensen, while Megan Finnigan and Rikke Sevecke will lead by example.
“We haven’t hit a bad period, so we don’t know how everybody reacts there,” Sorensen says.
“Sometimes in the bad periods, you’ll find out what they’re made of. Now, it’s the honeymoon days — everybody is happy and feeling good. If we lose the first three games, it’s probably a different story.”
The key is confidence and a pre-season friendly against Manchester United showed positive signs despite ending in a 1-0 defeat.
“The girls got confident by playing a game like that because we dominated and controlled play for large periods of the game,” he says.
“They said to me, ‘We’ve never done that in the league before’. Then the confidence starts to grow. Of course, we need results.”
With Everton’s season opener against last year’s relegation survivors Leicester postponed this weekend, along with all other UK fixtures following the Queen’s death, Sorensen’s first test will now be away to West Ham next Sunday — assuming that next round of games goes ahead — before a Merseyside derby against Liverpool at Anfield a week later.
“They bought into the playing style, they can see it works,” Sorensen adds. “It’s just finding those little margins that tip it over so we get a win. If we do that, confidence will grow, we will be even more dominating. But if we start to not stick to the plan, not do our principles, that’s where the cracks start to open and we can get hurt.”
(Top photo: Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)
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