‘The base in Norway is broader’
Jan Vincent van Zuiden
commentator/editor NOS Sport
Jan Vincent van Zuiden
commentator/editor NOS Sport
Quiz question: How many players from Jong Norway are currently playing in the premier league? And then we don’t count Mathias Kjølø (due to injury the FC Twente midfielder is not available). The answer? Five.
Fredrik Oppegard (Go Ahead Eagles, rented from PSV), Johan Hove (FC Groningen), Joshua Kitolano (Sparta), Osame Sahraoui and Daniel Karlsbakk (both sc Heerenveen) will play tonight (6 p.m.) against Jong Oranje, in preparation for next summer’s European Championships for which both countries have qualified. Ex-AZ player Hakon Evjen is also part of the selection.
So there is plenty of fishing by Dutch clubs in the Norwegian talent pool, but what is behind this trend? And can Norway slowly start to look forward to a golden batch that can finally bring the country to a final tournament again? After all, they never managed to do so after the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.
More scouts to Norway
“There have always been good Norwegian talents. Only now there is more attention to it among all the international scouts,” is the impression of Hallvar Thoresen. The former striker of FC Twente, PSV and the Norwegian team, among others, currently works as a scout for PSV.
“It’s good that talents are going abroad at a younger age. Norwegian soccer benefits from that. The premier league is a stronger league than the Norwegian one. In the Netherlands they can develop better and reach a higher level.”
That scouts are paying more attention to Norway and the other Scandinavian countries is also experienced by Karel Brandsma. As soccer advisor for sc Heerenveen, he was involved, among other things, in the acquisition of Osame Sahraoui this winter. The outfielder has impressed in his first months in Friesland with fine actions and offensive impetus.
“The scouting competition in Norway cannot be compared to the situation a few years ago. You really have to get there early and fast now if you want to get a talent. You also see it in the transfer fees. Those have increased enormously,” Brandsma says.
According to Brandsma, the fact that many Norwegian talents move on is partly due to the organizational model of Norwegian soccer.
“Youth soccer is managed in a very structured way by the Norwegian Football Association. Until the age of 14, everyone is allowed to train at a professional football organization. The real selection only begins after that, whereas in the Netherlands we select talents at the age of 6 or 7. As a result, the base in Norway is broader. Boys who have a cognitive or physical disadvantage are given much more time to mature. In the Netherlands those players might drop out sooner, while that is not justified.”
Rise of artificial turf and trainer training
Former Dutch national Youri Mulder, partly living in Norway, thinks there are more reasons for the breakthrough of the many Norwegian talents. “They have built a huge number of artificial turf fields there in the last 10, 15 years. They can now play unlimited soccer. Before, they couldn’t. They are reaping the benefits of that. And they are very good at educating trainers. I also noticed that with my boys. They had really good trainers.”
“They adopted the system from Germany and the Netherlands, that they play four against four in the youngest youth. So those kids are all on the ball a lot. Small games and playing nice soccer. Sports in Norway are fundamental and important to society. A lot of attention is paid to it, right from kindergarten. That all counts in development as well.”
With Martin Ødegaard (Arsenal) and Erling Haaland (Manchester City), Norway has two stars and signings who play at the very highest level. Moreover, they are also only 24 and 22 years old. And like other Norwegian talents, Ødegaard gained experience in the premier league: at sc Heerenveen and Vitesse.
It looks like Norway is going to be a country to reckon with in the coming years. But Thoresen is cautious. “Of course we do have hopes of finally qualifying for a major tournament again. And although youth teams regularly succeed, the A team consistently fails to do so.”
“Broadly speaking, in my opinion, it’s not good enough. That has been the case for years. Most internationals do play in foreign leagues, but they are not top players there. And then they don’t get enough playing time. We need more players like Ødegaard and Haaland, who are really top.”
Brandsma and Mulder do expect Norway to show themselves again at a final round in the foreseeable future. Brandsma: “I think they have a nice future ahead of them. With those two star players, the outside players they have and generally decent defenders who all play at somewhat bigger international clubs, it will be fine.”
“Just look at other sports in which the Norwegians are competing at the top as well,” Mulder adds. “They have a top tennis player with Casper Ruud, there are a few athletes running with the world top, they have had successes with skiing, cycling and handball. And partly because of the popularity of Haaland and Ødegaard, they can also make big strides in soccer.”