The Norwegian Eliteserien is not considered a top league in Europe, but recently it has shown that the league is still strong despite the nation’s relatively small population.
This season has seen two Norwegian sides reach the group stages of the Europa League, while another fell at the last hurdle. In addition the national team is also showing a renewed strength in its attempts to reach next year’s European Championships.
Recent success in Europe has belonged to Molde, league champions in three of the last four seasons. Molde saw their Champions League chances end when they lost in third round of Champions League qualifiers in heartbreaking circumstances.
The side earned a tough 1-1 draw in Croatia to Dinamo Zagreb, but in the return leg, Dinamo scored three goals in the first 22 minutes and despite a fightback, Molde got knocked out due on away goals.
The Norwegians, to their credit, didn’t let the setback tie them down, and saw off Standard Liege in the Europa League playoff to reach the competition’s group stage.
So far however, Molde aren’t content with just reaching this point and have leapt to the top of the group after an impressive 3-1 win over Fenerbahce in Istanbul, as well as a solid 1-1 draw against Dutch giants Ajax.
Rosenborg, despite a recent league title drought, continue to be the standard-bearer of Norwegian club football. The club from Trondheim are still fighting on three fronts – they lead the league by eight points and are looking to do the domestic double, having just beaten second place side Stabaek this week to reach the Cup final.
On top of this success at home the side breezed through Europa League qualification to be handed a tough group, which included last year’s runners-up Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk from Ukraine.
The early returns show that the club is up for the challenge, earning a 2-2 draw away to French side St. Etienne despite conceding an early goal. Alexander Soderlund has been the clear spark, leading the league with 20 goals in 23 matches.
One side that continues to surprise is Odds Ballklubb, who may not have reached the Europa League, but still showed that Norwegian sides shouldn’t be taken lightly. They drew arguably the toughest Europa League playoff matchup in Borussia Dortmund, and for much of the home leg, showed that they could play with the big sides.
Unfortunately Dortmund’s offense sprang to life and rallied to take a 4-3 win back to Germany. ODD again took the lead in the second leg, but Dortmund’s offensive strength eventually prevailed and the Norwegians were sent back with a 11-5 aggregate loss.
The side continue to show well domestically, as they current sit in fourth place and haven’t lost in league play since a 3-0 defeat at Rosenborg back on 12 July.
Stabaek, with American manager Bob Bradley, continues to overachieve despite their limitations. The club from the Oslo suburb of Baerum have been in the league’s top three since the end of April.
However, the small budget side faces some difficult challenges, as they sold leading scorer Adama Diomande at the end of August to Championship side Hull City for over £ 1.5 million. Bradley’s side continues to be organized and difficult to break down, keeping 11 clean sheets through 25 matches so far.
And while they suffered a heartbreaking extra time loss in the cup semifinals, most would say that this season remains a massive success.
Success has also been coming to the Norwegian national team in recent months as well. The side just beat Croatia 2-0 to move into 2nd place in Group H, just two points behind Italy with two matches remaining. In those last two matches Norway will face Malta in Oslo, before heading to Italy on the last match day.
Croatia can still overtake the Scandinavians, but this qualifying has been much improved over their attempt to reach the 2014 World Cup, where the side won just three of their ten matches and finished in a dismal fourth place.
If Per-Mathias Högmo’s side can maintain second place, then they’ll reach the European Championships for just the second time in the country’s history.
So what are the reasons behind this sudden improvement? For the national team, they’ve had a group of talent break through and seem to be peaking at the same time. Midfielders Stefan Johansen and the hero against Croatia Jo-Inge Berget have both raised their game in recent years.
While neither current play in one of the major European leagues, both are getting consistent time at their clubs and it has raised their confidence levels when they arrive to camps for the national team.
The clubs are a little harder to determine where their success arrives. For both Stabaek and ODD, success comes from continuity in their management. Dag-Eilev Fagermo has been managing ODD since 2007. By comparison there have been 76 managerial changes in the Premier League in that same amount of time.
Stabaek has stuck with Bradley since the beginning of the 2014 season when the side returned to the top flight, although he has already been thought of as a candidate for positions in England among other places, so he might not stay nearly as long as Fagermo.
Molde have also displayed great patience with their coaches, as both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Kjell Jonevret managed the side for over 100 matches each.
Current interim manager Erling Moe has seemingly been a glue for the club, as he has remained an assistant for the club since 2007 before his current time leading the club. This long-term approach has clearly paid off for these sides as they challenge for the league despite lacking a history of doing so.
For Rosenborg, they have continued to identify young talent throughout Norway and their scouting department remains one of the best in the country. They move their talent through their youth teams and have displayed a willingness to loan out their players, to both lower division sides and their opponents in the Eliteserien, in order to continue their growth.
This success will continue as Norwegian youth players see their policy and know that if they join the Trondheim side that the club has a clear plan for helping them to achieve their goals. The club’s history of winning the league a record 22 sides, including 13 consecutively from 1992 to 2004 doesn’t hurt either.
While Norway doesn’t have a lot of footballing success at either the club or international level, it appears that we are entering a chapter of new heights for the Scandinavian country with success coming on both fronts.