The 74th season of the Norwegian premiership kicks off tomorrow so a post introducing you to the league was overdue. If you're interested in following Norwegian soccer more closely or want to take part in our fantasy league you can head over to /norskfotball
To start with I need to touch on one of the controversies of 2018, namely the extremely early start of the season. Last season was kicked off in the beginning of April, but this year the FA decided to start the league in early March while we're still hosting world cups in skiing. The stated reason was to better prepare teams for the European Qualifiers, however many teams have expressed extreme dismay about this decision and several matches have been cancelled due to snow/cold. This decision could force more teams to lay artificial pitches in the future.
Norwegian supporter culture is a mixed bag, anglophilia runs rampant and if you talk about football you're just as likely to be asked what English club you support as what your local team is, additionally Norway is a big country with a spread out population, and outside the big cities of which there are a handful you're not likely to have a local club that's not deep into the amateur tiers.
One of the solutions to this issue has been for clubs to merge to have one main club representing the city or region, too many clubs around the same level means that both sponsorship money and talent is spread too thin meaning no one will succeed. In the past decade several new clubs have emerged and many have found success, the most prominent being ten year old Sarpsborg08 who placed third last season. This is not a painless process however, as these usually are membership clubs, and having members vote on giving up the badge, colors and history can be an extremely hard sell for anyone involved.
The terrace culture is a mixed bag as well. The old guard's connection to British supporter culture has been a big part of the traditional supporter groups in Norway, however the younger generations in more and more clubs are adopting the continental style
of active, directed support, with drums, flags and flares. With supporters of Rosenborg
being on the forefront.
While traditionally clubs have been membership based, meaning there is no one owner and the supporters all have a vote in the running of the club, some clubs are now owned by various levels of millionaires and billionaires IK Start Vålerenga being the best examples. Some clubs benefit greatly from local benefactors, while others have to scrounge for whatever they can find of sponsors and volunteer workers to just exist.
2017 placement: 1st place Second tier
A club used to the ups and downs of football, having spent five years in the second tier in the last ten years, the second northernmost club in the league is set to make a triumphant return to the premiership after completely dominating the second division winning it with a goal difference of fifty. Glimt have made sure to retain the core of their promotion-winning team, with only one player from their first 11 leaving after his loan spell being over, and he was replaced with former Betis player José Isidoro
. The transfers they have made are all improvements or adding squad depth.
The club has a small, but dedicated following who are by many considered pioneers of Norwegian terrace culture, adding flair and a big singing support that soon would become the staple of Norwegian football fandom, they carry around a massive yellow toothbrush
in their stands.
Person of interest: Kristian Fardal Opseth (28) striker
A big part in Bodø/glimt's push for promotion last season, the striker scored 28 goals in 30 matches securing the top scorer title with ten goals down to the second place. If he can replicate some of his blistering form from last season he will be a player to look out for, but many strikers have found that tearing up the second tier does not necessarily mean much when making the step up to the premiership.
2017 placement: 2nd place Second tier
Stadium: Sør Arena
Sør Arena stands as a monument to the optimism that existed in Norwegian football around the middle of the last decade. Rosenborg's iron grip on the league had just been toppled, the national team hadn't gone to complete shit yet and attendance was at a massive high with several teams breaking average crowds of over ten thousand. After Start's breakout season where they narrowly failed to win the title (A good short doc about the match, really intense
) in front of a crowd of 16000. But the good times stopped flowing and club after club felt the financial hangover of the roaring noughties. Interest in the league started falling and with it attendances. The ambitious stadium project turned out to be a financial calamity for the club and as results couldn't match the fantastic 2005 season attendance was more than halved of what it used to be, eight years after it was built the project went bankrupt and was bought out by the local council who is currently renting it out to the club.
Now things seem to have turned around as the club has been the big talking point over the last few months in Norwegian football. Start was taken over last summer by a group of local young billionaires who made their fortunes on tech and online gambling software, they have made massive changes to the club starting by sacking local legend Steinar Pedersen and hired British manager and assistant to Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Mark Dempsey, despite Pedersen being on course for a direct promotion spot.
Two things the the new owners don't lack is ambition and money, they have invested a lot of money into the club and brought in many new faces while speaking of european football and running the club like Chelsea with a small army of foreign players being loaned out to feeder teams. Last I heard they had already signed so many foreigners (12) that they need to loan some out in order to be able to register everyone (foreign player limit is 9). The project is ambitious, but hinging on the purses of the new owners, should things not go to plan one has to wonder how long they're willing to throw money away.
One of their biggest signings in 2017 was not a manager or a player, but their sporting director, Tor-Kristian Karlsen who's been sporting director for Monaco and Maccabi Haifa and worked as a scout for Watford, Leverkusen, Zenit, Grasshopper and Hannover. This is a man who's contacts will be vital in bringing in the level of talent that
Person of interest: Mark Dempsey (54) Manager
A Man Utd academy graduate, many people credit him with part of the success of Solskjær's Molde, being responsible for a lot of man management and discipline within the squad. A highly touted managerial talent so far he has had brief spells in charge of clubs, but chosen to leave almost as soon as he got the job every time. Now with deep pockets backing him and a project to rebuild a club with a proud past with a city hungry for a successful football club.
2017 placement: 4th place second tier, qualified through playoffs
Stadium: EXTRA Arena
The Cinderella story of Norwegian soccer, a semi-professional side with a bilbao-like philosophy of only signing locals to the region, Ranheim had everything stacked up against them when they promoted to the second tier in 2010. They are located in Trøndelag's regional capital Trondheim alongside the country's most successful side Rosenborg. But they kept punching above their weight and after several attempts last season they managed to promote to the top tier of Norwegian football for the first time since the 1955.
For a long time they were a direct feeder club for Rosenborg. Their manager is from the Rosenborg system and they have adapted both their playing style of an aggressive 4-3-3, many pundits claiming that they play more like Rosenborg than Rosenborg at times. They closely work together in developing talents and Ranheim often sign the players that are not quite good enough to make the Rosenborg first team.
The club is by far the smallest in the league in terms of resources, their budget being less than 2 million euros, for comparison newcomer Kristiansund last season was the poorest club with a budget of close to 4 million euros. This shows in the type of players the club have chosen to sign, besides a couple from Rosenborg they're all star players from lower league clubs in the region.
Person of interest: Even Barli (26) Keeper
Before last season Barli nearly joined premiership runners up Molde, but due to not wanting to move 4 hours away from his girlfriend he decided to stay and was an important part of the club securing promotion to the premiership. Thought by experts to be the strongest player in the club Barli will be extremely important if the club is going to have any hope of survival. I wrote a post about them
when they gained promotion if you're interested in reading more about them.
2017 placement: 13th
Stadium: Komplett Arena
Founded in 1998 as a merger of several clubs in the city of Sandefjord, the club has been a club that's slightly not good enough for the premiership, but too good for the second tier, this will be their seventh season in the premiership. Recently Sandefjord spent a lot of time and resources to accommodate their manager Lars Bohinen who is a big proponent of 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, even going so far as to instruct the lower league clubs in their area to pick up the formations to better foster players that can fit into the system if they make the step up.
This made it quite a shock when Bohinen who kept his job through relegation and was given the confidence to get the team up, which he did, quit to join recently relegated Aalesund where he felt he would have more resources to play his style of football. In his place they signed Magnus Powell who's known for his more traditional 4-4-2 formation, which has left many people scratching their heads and pegging Sandefjord for relegation this season.
Person of interest: Flamur Kastrati (26) Striker
A fierce player, known for playing rough, yellow cards and scoring goals. When everything works he is the deciding factor between relegation and survival for Sandefjord who need him to replicate his form last season in order to stay afloat. This season he has to compete with Pontus Engblom one of the most prolific goal scorers from the second tier.
2017 placement: 12th
One of the most historic clubs in the league, Lillestrøm has the longest consecutive stint in the premiership, and despite two cup wins the last ten years has not been a success for the club having come close to relegation several times. Now things are starting to look positive, they've brought back a successful local coach in Arne Erlandsen who is a proponent of pragmatic and though football.
The club's main asset is it's dedicated and loyal fanbase the canaries, who has stuck with them through thick and thin, while Lillestrøm isn't the most populated city in Norway with only 14.000 inhabitants they still managed an average attendance of almost 6000. And while they may not be the most numerous they make sure they're heard regardless of where they are or what the score is. A fun clip of a handful of LSK supporters having the time of their life.
In recent years Lillestrøm like many other clubs in Norway has struggled financially, part of the solution was to work closely with Nigerian scouts in order to bring in big talents they could develop and sell on for profit. The most recent big transfer was their top scorer Fred Friday being sold to AZ Alkmaar for aprox 1.4 million euros.
Person of interest: Frode Kippe (40) defender
A name that may trigger some deeply buried memories among Stoke fans, after a brief spell in English football Mister Lillestrøm returned to his Boyhood club where he has stayed since then. Now 40 years old and a bit on the slow side, Kippe still has a role to play which he showed when scoring the winning goal
in the 2017 cup final. Kippe is the oldest player in the league and is playing his 400th league match in Norway in his 18th season for the club.
2017 placement: 11th
The northernmost team in the Norwegian premiership looked absolutely dire last season, until they hired a relatively unknown (outside Finland) Finnish manager in Simo Valakari, he wasted no time and managed to turn it around going from 15th and clear relegation candidates to 12th losing only 2 of their final ten matches, both against top 4 teams. It seems Valakari who won the Finnish premiership with a newly promoted team in 2015 has something special about him, and if he is able to recreate the form they tapped into towards the end of the season they could go back to punching way above their weight.
Their finances are not in a great state which has forced them to sell several key players from last season, so a lot hinges on the veterans in Tom Høgli and Morten Gamst Pedersen and the newly appointed manager. Throwback to when Chelsea disappeared in a blizzard while playing against Tromsø.
Person of interest: Morten Gamst Pedersen (36) winger
A legend in Norwegian football, in 2016 local businessmen arrived on the scene to bring him back to the club he played for before his meteoric rise to fame. Since joining the 36 year old has been an important figure in keeping Tromsø above the relegation spot and in the last season he had the most assists (11) in the league. Can he keep producing the necessary results under a new and demanding manager?
2017 placement: 10th
Stadium: Haugesund stadion
Personally I find this club to be the most boring in the league, it's from a medium sized city and outside of one third place finish they seem to be reliably mid table performing slightly above what you would expect from a club with their resources. A complete collapse at the end of the season had them falling down the table ending on a disappointing tenth place.
Their crest is a seagull, i fucking hate seagulls.
Person of interest: Per Kristian Bråtveit (22) Keeper
Had the most clean sheets in the 2017 great talent who will only keep improving.
2017 placement: 9th
For a club that comes from the richest per capita area in the country, the club is remarkably poor. After having to pull out of the modern stadium Telenor Arena in 2011 they went back to the old and run-down Nadderud, a spectacular fall from grace for the club who's supporters sing about daddy's money and hating poor people.
The club's main strength is their academy, they've been working closely with the country's biggest high school for sports which has allowed them to both sign some of the country's biggest talents, and given them access to resources they otherwise wouldn't. This has ensured that the club has a steady flow of exciting youngsters passing through their ranks, with 17 year old Hugo Vetlesen becoming the first person born in this millenia to play in the premiership.
Person of interest: Ohi Omoijuanfo (24) striker
For most of last season he was the league top scorer, and while he ended in second place behind Bendtner hype still surrounds the 24 year old. He recently rejected a big move to Chinese super league club Henan Jianye to the club's dismay. Rumors say he rejected a potential 5-10 times salary increase because he doesn't care about the money and have bigger ambitions. If he can deliver the goods like last season he will surely be sold in the summer.
2017 placement: 8th
Stadium: Intility Arena (17333)
Besides a few standout seasons they've been woefully average for the past 10 years. Now with Ronny Deila at the helm, new money being invested and maybe most importantly, the new stadium being finished things are looking like project Deila might finally pick up some steam.
After their rivals Lyn went bankrupt Vålerenga is the only club representing the capital in the premiership, the capital is and has been divided between the east and west side, with Vålerenga hailing from the east-side working class area from which it derives it's name the club was famous for it's massive support of working class people, but with gentrification the proud traditions that once carried this club is slowly eroded. Many move to the city from all over the country and bring with them their own regional team, so despite Oslo being by far the biggest city in the country, that doesn't necessarily equate to the biggest support for the only premiership side in the capital.
With the new stadium being finished the club hopes to boost attendance as they've moved back to their working class area after decades of playing in the other side of town. Additionally the fractured supporter groups have reconciled and are finally standing and singing together again in in their new section
modeled after Dortmunds yellow wall. The hope is that what was once Norway's loudest supporters can return to old form as one of Norway's slumbering giants are looking to wake up.
Ronny Deila (42) Manager
Arriving from Celtic with a less than stellar performance review, Deila made a return to Norwegian football in taking over a club in a small crisis. Lacking sporting success and finances to compete the owner announced more investments with Deila at the helm. As it stands he is slowly building the squad in his image, last season the club looked almost bipolar at times playing blistering football one match and then performing absolutely dreadfully the next, but as he is rebuilding the squad the future is looking bright for the club. The question remains if the notoriously restless supporters will give him the needed time to rebuild.
2017 placement: 7th
Stadium: Kristiansund Stadion
Founded in 2003 as a merger between several local clubs to have one top club in the city, KBK hails from a town of 24.000 inhabitants on an island close to Molde, the football rivalry is new, but important to the locals as it encompasses much more from identity to regional politics with a feeling of being overlooked in favor of the regional capital, most recently losing their hospital to Molde. The stadium is small, but close to sold out every game and at times they can sound like many times their actual number creating some of the best atmospheres in the league.
The club has improved every season, always ending up in the same position or better than the year before. 2017 was going to be the big test for the club as they made their premiership debut after only four season in the second tier, and to everyone's surprise the relegation candidates fought their way to the upper half of the table. Experts now talk about the difficult second season where a sense of normalcy starts kicking in and the fans are no longer just happy to be there. KBK are expected to face a much harder second season.
Person of interest: Torgil Gjertsen (25) striker
Arriving from (then) second tier side Ranheim last summer, Gjertsen was underestimated by many, having only netted twice in 15 matches in the second tier. But sometimes things just fall into place, and after joining relegation candidates Kristiansund he lead them to seventh place with the highest goal average in the league with 0.67 goals per game (edging out Bendtner's 0.66).
Stadium: Skagerak Arena
2017 placement: 6th
Over the years Club built a successful academy (with some help from a local lotto millionaire) with a seemingly endless supply of young talents with the most recent success story being now Fiorentina winger Rafik Zekhnini who famously Shocked Hummels
by his skills at such a young age. This year too they seem to be giving youngsters a chance with 18 year old defender John Kitolano being touted as the next big talent to come out of Skien.
Last season was woeful for them, after several seasons of competing for medals and qualifying for Europe, Odd were far away from their usual form, scoring only 27 goals over a 30 game season, despite this the longest serving manager in the league Dag-Eilev Fagermo still enjoys support from the club, but can he afford another season like the one they just had with dire football and 1-0 wins?
Persons of interest: John (18) and Joshua (17) Kitolano Defender and midfielder
Two of the biggest talents in the youth system of Odd, their family arrived from Kongo in 2005 and have since lived in Skien. When the younger brother Joshua was signed as a 16 year old manager Fagermo called him the biggest talent he had ever seen. John is expected to be in the first XI this season with Joshua surely making appearances.
Stadium: Brann Stadion
2017 placement: 5th
Brann is one of the best examples of the high Norwegian football experienced around 2007, they spent money frivolously and when they couldn't recreate their success of a 2007 league title and round of 32 in the UEFA cup the club has been in a downward spiral since then culminating in the 2014 relegation of the once so proud club. Afterwards the club made big changes, they made a strict wage structure, brought in a local manager who demands discipline and hard work from his players above all else. This move turned out to be great for the club as they gained immediate promotion followed by a second place in the premiership the following season. Now it remains to be seen if they are able to
Their fans are notoriously demanding with one of the best known memes in Norwegian football Brann supporters claiming the gold is "coming home" after a decisive win. But they also show a great support for their club consistently having the second highest attendance in the league.
Person of interest: Bismar Acosta (31) defender
A physical, the Costa Rican international knows how to rough up the opposing side's attackers and make his mark. The central defender always makes himself known and is able to put his own mark on any match that he plays.
2017 placement: 4th
In the summer of 2017 Strømsgodet was a club in crisis, the 2013 champions were a few points off relegation and the hiring of former Molde coach Tor Ole Skullerud seemed to have been a massive fiasco. Then something happened in the 16th round, they won convincingly against Kristiansund and then never looked back, in the next 14 rounds they were undefeated having the highest points haul in the league for that period until they were beaten in the last round narrowly missing out on second place and a Europa cup qualifier.
On the back of Ronny Deila's work "Godset" has placed itself firmly on the map of Norwegian football again for the first time since the 70s and are looking to once again challenge for titles this year.
Person of interest: Marcus Pedersen (27) Striker
He hasn't really been a success outside of Strømsgodset, and has been described as a very volitile player that will repay you a thousand times if you put your trust in him, but will be completely useless if you dont. Scored 11 goals in 10 appearances in his first season back for Strømsgodset in 2015, will be hugely important to their title chances.
Stadium: Sarpsborg stadion
2017 placement: 3rd
As their name suggests Sarspborg08 were formed in 2008 merely 10 years ago, but football history is sarpsborg goes back over a hundred years with several cup trophies, however the last time the city received any silverware was in the 50s and no top tier football since 1974 so something had to change. Sarpsborg08 was a result of local clubs getting together in 1999, but it would take 8 years of infighting and relegation battles before everyone were agreed on the project forming the unifying club in Sarpsborg the 15th of January 2008.
The one thing where Sarpsborg08 stands out is how they maximize their resources, they're not a rich club and last year there were only three clubs in the league with a lower budget, yet they managed to place third and get to a second cup final in three years. The reason is simple, they've been building slowly, not undertaking any ambitious infrastructure projects, but rather slowly added seats to their stadium, instead of big name signings they've made a habit of identifying who in the lower leagues have been overlooked, but are good enough for the premiership. Several players now prominently featured in their first team turned out for teams in the second, third and even forth tier of Norwegian football.
However, money is going to be less of an issue this season, the club has sold several key players for a lot of money making back approximately their entire 2017 operating budget on player sales alone, most prominently being the 19 year old winger Krepin Diatta who was sold to Club Brugge for a club record of about 3 million euros and 23 year old defender Sigurd Rosted who went for an undisclosed fee to Gent in the same league.
The main challenge for Sarpsborg08 is to recreate the scouting successes they've already had, they've parted with 14 players this winter and brought in 12, if their scouting is as good this year as their past performances suggests the good times might just continue.
Person of interest: Kristoffer "Doff" Zachariassen (24) Wingemidfielder
A hidden jewel hidden on an island on the western coast of Norway, no one, even Sarpsborg themselves thought "Doff" would have have been such a success, ten goals in 34 matches in the league and cup is more than a decent tally for a player arriving on a free from the fourth tier of Norwegian football at the beginning of the season. Playing both centrally and on the left in the midfield Zachariassen will be one of the key players this season if Sarpsborg are going to repeat last year's season. And if he keeps turning up the way he has, we might see him in a bigger league sooner rather than later.
2017 placement: 2nd
Stadium: Aker Stadion
Ole Gunnar Solskjær is back where it all began... Again. After a disastrous season in in the premier league Solskjær came back to Molde after the 2015 season, now embarking on his third consecutive season as Molde manager he looks to repeat his success from his last stint as manager where he toppled Rosenborg and put Molde on the top of the Norwegian football hierarchy.
Molde are quite a resourceful club, they've got two local billionaires backing them, Bjørn Runde Gjelstein and Kjell Inge Røkke, the latter financed most of the stadium which has been nicknamed Røkkeløkka after him. This has meant that the club periodically has received massive windfalls over the years allowing them to sign some of the best players in the league with ease, using the money and Solskjær's star power as an attraction, many in Norwegian soccer has bemoaned their artificial purchasing power, but this is modern football and money talks. In 2010, before winning their first league title, it was reported Røkke had spent a total of 50 million euros on the club and he has repeatedly injected money since then.
After a disappointing 2015 season Solskjær righted the ship with a strong finish to the season dropping only five points in the final ten matches placing them second. Having one of the youngest squads in the league, it seems Solskjær is content with his team being one year older and more experienced. They've made very few moves in the transfer market signing only two players this transfer window. On the outgoing side they mostly got rid of dead weight, although the loss of their 2017 top scorer Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson will be felt.
Erling Braut Håland (17) Striker
Son of former Leeds and Manchester city player Alf-Inge Håland, the young Erling seem to have inherited some of his father's abilities. Making his debut for league runner up Molde at 16 last season, the now 17 year old has already attracted international attention with rumors of Juventus launching a bid at the end of the winter transfer window which Molde declined.
2017 placement: 1st
By far the most successful club in Norway, with 25 league trophies and 11 cup wins with most trophies from the recent past there has never been a more dominant club in Norway. So there's no wonder that the golden age of Norwegian football came after Rosenborg lost their first league title in 13 years in 2005, after which they've "only" won the league five times.
The main reason for Rosenborg's success is the historic manager Nils Arne Eggen (76), he managed the club several times before retiring in 2002 (briefly taking over in 2010 leading the club to another league title), but he has remained an ever-looming presence that new managers at the club have had to deal with. Eggen is a hero to everyone supporting the club and wields a massive amount of influence, and while retired he is still involved in the day to day running of the club popping up during training and sometimes completely taking over. It would take over ten years before the club were able to find a manager able to properly deal with this situation, and of course he was a former Eggen protegee.
Kåre Ingebrigtsen wasn't an obvious candidate for the job, in 2011 the former Rosenborg-player had managed Bodø/Glimt through relegation and after failing to get them promoted he was fired. He quit football all together and became a car salesman. But after a few years as assistant manager in Viking he was tapped up to the job of restoring the biggest football dynasty in Norway to the throne after four title-less seasons. He had an immediate effect, "Bruttern" (translated to brother) lead his team to three consecutive league wins and two cup wins during his three years as manager. His appointment signaled a return to what has been dubbed Eggen-football, 4-3-3 with overlapping fullbacks making bombing runs down the wings which is hugely popular among the fans.
For this season the minimum expectations is winning the league, Rosenborg's budget dwarfs most others, and the club is once again buying the top talent off their competitors. Rosenborg is a club with proud history in the champions league, beating clubs like AC Milan
, Real Madrid
and the big goal is either qualifying for Champions League, or at a minimum the Europa League, not getting to the group stages in Europe would be considered a failure.
Person of interest: Nickles Bendtner (30) Striker
While Rosenborg is filled to the brim with talents and personalities, there was no other possible choice. Arguably the biggest signing in the league's history, Bendtner arrived at the lowest point of his career with Nottingham Forest more than happy to be rid of him. And after a relatively weak start to the season he lit up the league and played a pivotal role in Rosenborg getting into the Europa League group stages becoming the league top scorer in the process. In the winter he allegedly turned down several offers to both Turkey, China, Ligue 1 and the Premier league as he seems to be chasing a spot in the world cup, and it probably won't hurt his chances to stay in a team danish NT manager Åge Hareide already has managed. Most pundits are predicting a Bendtner exit after the world cup and the club has already bought his replacement.