For those of us who remember the 90s as the golden age of football, Norway’s ‘Drillo’ tactics with long balls played up to John Carew and Tore Andre and Jostein Flo stands out as a nostalgic example of how much the game we love has changed.
Gone are the days of target men and long balls, gone are the days of yellow-shoed penalties and beating Brazil, thus gone are the golden days of Norwegian football. The world has moved on. Manchester United discovered Cristiano Ronaldo and everyone forgot about the Flo brothers.
Football the world over suddenly became all about pace, dribbles and impossible free kicks. This might have made the game more entertaining, but for those of us who made a living playing un-attractive, ‘boring’ football, this was a solid blow and Norway as a football nation has never recovered.
The last time Norway competed in a championship was back in 2000, then failing to get past the group stages of the Euros in Netherlands and Belgium. The tactics and style of play didn’t work anymore and the whole nation’s idea of football seemed to be out-dated.
Then followed fifteen dark years. Nothing happened. We had John Carew who, whether one likes to admit it or not, did have quite the career. For a short while we were proud to have the man-mountain on top, especially when he played for the likes of Valencia and Lyon.
Then Zlatan happened. Beaten by the Swedes. A collective sigh was heard from fjord to fjord as the whole population forgot about football and went back to watching people in condom-suits race up snowy mountains on sticks.
On the 13th of April 2014, something changed. We could all feel it. We all heard about it. Soon enough, we could all see it. We could all see him play. The 15-year-old wonder kid, the ‘man’ who would forever change Norwegian football, Martin Ødegård.
The whole country was ecstatic and no wonder, this boy was something else. He made 23 appearances in the Strømsgodset midfield that season and he even grabbed himself five league goals. He played two international friendlies that same year. He was a kid, but we could all see it; this shy little boy was going to be great.
Two years later and Ødegård can be found occasionally putting on brilliant displays for Real Madrid Castilla. Norwegians prefer to forget the last detail of the club name. He plays for Real Madrid. He might only have played 32 league minutes for Los Blancos, but that’s good enough for us. He’s still only 17 after all.
Ødegård will be great (at least compared to the average Norwegian super-talent), but how far can we get with one great player? We might be able to qualify for a summer competition for once, but if the most optimistic of Norwegian experts are right and Ødegård indeed manages to reach the level of Cristiano Ronaldo, then that’s not good enough.
We want to win something, at least a group stage… In order to achieve this we need more than little Martin, and for once, the future of Norwegian football is looking slightly bright.
If pushed to make a short, off-the-top-of-my-head-list of Norway’s most promising talents, it would look exactly like this: Martin Ødegård, Kristoffer Ajer, Martin Samulesen and Ole Kristian Selnæs. Stefan Johansen is a bit too old to be included in this list, but the fact that he plays regularly for Celtic is quite encouraging and he therefore gets a honourable mention.
The encouraging bit is that none of these are defenders and in a time where technique seems to trump all, Kristoffer Ajer is the only one who stands out because of his physique. Another noteworthy part is that none of them ply their trade in the Norwegian Tippeligaen.
Ajer, a 17-year-old midfield-giant, recently made the switch to Celtic whilst four years older Selnæs (also a midfielder) went to Saint-Etienne in February. Samuelsen is making an impression for Peterborough (on loan from West Ham) and with 10 games and one league goal to his name the 18-year-old might be yet another midfield super star in the making.
Considering the fact that we are speaking about three teenagers and one young adult, the critics do have a point when they say that it’s too early to celebrate the new generation of super stars just yet, but the signs are good. Football-Norway should take heart from the fact that these four players are of a completely different mould to those who became out-dated 15 years ago.
These players are technical and good on the ball, none of them are big, slow and clumsy like we have come to expect. I find myself forgetting one important detail: this is not the first time we have been hopeful of young and technical Norwegian talents.
So why should it work this time? Because, as already stated, none of them are currently playing in Norway. The Norwegian clubs are still behind when it comes to player-development. Not only is the level not high enough for talents like those mentioned above to take the next step, but the focus also seems to be wrong.
From an outside perspective it appears that Norwegian clubs don’t know what to do with real talent. Maybe they just don’t have the expertise. All in all it seems to me that if a young, talented Norwegian player wants to really get on with his career, he needs to follow in the footsteps of Martin Ødegård. Play one, maybe two really good seasons in Norway and then get out.
You don’t have to sign for Real Madrid, Peterborough is more than good enough, they have the right attitude and professionalism, just make sure you get game-time. Experience and day-to-day interaction with Cristiano Ronaldo is the reason why Norway might be the next Belgium. Now we just need some good-old luck