Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard are two names you probably know everything about. But what if we told you Norway is emerging as a hotbed for high-potential talent?
We’ve put together a 33-man shortlist and finalised a first-choice XI to show why their 20-year wait to qualify for a major tournament looks set to end in the near future.
Although not exclusively an under-23 selection, only eight players were born outside the 2020 Olympics age-criteria set by FIFA. This is still very much a Norway squad for the future.
Goalkeeper and defence
Starting in goal, it is fair to say that the talent pool here is fairly shallow in comparison to other areas of the pitch, but there are still some great young talents worth mentioning.
Per Kristian Bratveit recently made his full international debut for Norway and turned in a man-of-the-match performance. However, it is clear that Norway’s best young goalkeeper talent hails from the capital of Oslo.
Kristoffer Klaesson debuted for Valerenga aged just 18 years old and by his 19th birthday was already the club’s recognised number one goalkeeper. A confident handler of the ball, with reflexes that put other goalkeepers in his age bracket to shame, there’s no doubt that Klaesson has the highest ceiling of all young keepers in Norway.
The Norwegian Eliteserien currently houses two of the biggest talents the country has to offer in the full-back position. Marcus Holmgren Pedersen was born in the brilliantly named city of ‘Hammerfest’ and started life as a striker for his hometown club Tromso. A move to reigning champions Molde in 2020 saw him morph into a full back, a switch that has paid dividends for the youngster.
Pedersen benefits from a startling turn of pace and a work-ethic that would give James Milner a run for his money. But, whilst we’re dealing with comparisons to Liverpool players, it’s hard to look past the Norsk Trent Alexander-Arnold for the starting spot in our XI.
Christian Borchgrevink (pronounced; Bor-Ka-Vink) had a 2020 season to remember. Having finally established himself as the club’s first choice right back, he went on to become one of the side’s main creative outlets in 2020.
Borchevink’s ability to deliver incredibly accurate crosses and passes from out wide has seen him go from a bit-part player on loan in the second tier, to the country’s most prominent young right-back within the space of 12 months.
Crossing over to the left flank and there are only two options that really stand out. The versatile Birger Meling gets a mention despite being on the older end of our scale, due to his unique skillset and ability to play in a number of different roles and systems.
Fredrik Andre Bjorkan is one of a few players on this list to have played with Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt in 2020. A more traditional left-back who benefits from good tackling and pressing attributes, Bjorkan will be challenging for the starting spot in the near future.
Now, Norway has historically produced some fantastic players at centre-back, with Brede Hangeland and Henning Berg two names from a previous era who stand out in particular.
When it comes to the new generation of players, Leo Ostigard was sounded out for the Molde FK captaincy aged just 18 years old, before making a move to forward-thinking Brighton (currently on loan at Coventry City). His leadership abilities and aerial prowess make him a natural long term option for the Norwegian national team.
But, Kristoffer Ajer is the biggest centre-back talent currently available to Norway – in every sense. Ajer started life as an attacking midfielder, scoring 12 goals in 34 games for IK Start in 2015. It wasn’t until he joined Celtic, under the management of Brendan Rodgers, when Ajer transformed into a modern ball-playing centre-back.
His ability to dribble the ball out from defence, in addition to his range of passing and physical prowess, makes Ajer an interesting profile at the heart of our back four.
Moving into midfield and we come across another player from Bodo/Glimt’s fantastic 2020 side. Glimt scored 103 goals across 30 games and romped to their first ever league title last season.
At the heart of this success was local-lad Patrick Berg. Berg comes from a famous footballing family and lived up to the many years of hype he has had to endure previously, to turn in one of the great Eliteserien seasonal performances.
Sticking with the family ties, Sander Berge comes from a family notable for their basketball-playing skills, both his mother and older brother are capped internationally in the sport.
There is no doubt that Berge remains Norway’s premium option at the base of the midfield. Whilst not a natural defensive midfielder in the Makelele-sense of the role – and even asked to play a more advanced No.8 role by Chris Wilder – Berge’s ‘holy trinity’ of ball-winning, ball-progressing and ball-carrying attributes really come to the fore in this deeper position.
Moving further up the field into the creative hub of the side, if you want to impress your mates in a few years time, get to know the names of Elias Solberg & Andreas Schjelderup (Pronounced: Shell-der-up). These two youngsters – born in 2004! – have the ability to go right to the top of the game if they realise their full potential.
But, it’s clear that Martin Odegaard will be Norway’s chief creator for years to come. Making his international debut in 2014 at the age of 15 years and 253 days old, Odegaard is Norway’s youngest-ever player and the weight of expectation has always been heavy on the now-22-year-old’s shoulders.
However, Odegaard was one of the most creative midfielders in La Liga last season for Real Sociedad and his style of play has already drawn comparisons to Mesut Özil after moving on loan to Arsenal.
A naturally attacking midfielder, Odegaard slots into the right-wing position in our side, to maintain the balance in a 4-4-2 formation, allowing him to drift inside and play his trademark through balls to Norway’s monster forwards.
It’s in the attacking positions where we really start to see Norway’s strength in depth, both in the present and also potentially in the future. Valerenga have produced a number of names on this list and whilst Osame Sahraoui may not be a name many are familiar with right now, the Oslo-boy has been making waves in Norway over the last 12 months.
Blessed with magical feet and a great footballing brain, Norway will need to act fast if they want to keep Sahraoui sweet, as he is also eligible for Morocco. Now, scoring against AC Milan at the San Siro, then having a legend of the game come to you at full time, asking if you want to sign for his club sounds like a scene from Goal, right?
Well, for Jens Petter Hauge, it happened. Milan icon Paolo Maldini, the club’s Technical Director, wasted no time in approaching Hauge following his goal against the Rossoneri in the 2020-21 Europa League qualifying round.
Fourteen goals & 10 assists in 18 Eliteserien games for eventual champions Bodo/Glimt goes some way to demonstrate Hauge’s talent. And his coolness in front of goal should be expected, after all, he was born inside the arctic circle! Up top, it’s hard to look past you know who, but it’s worth mentioning the potential – and size – of two other strikers in their ranks.
It’s been a big year for Jorgen Strand Larsen, who made a move to FC Groningen before making his international debut in November. Standing at 193cm tall, the lanky forward has significantly upped his goal returns this season having only managed 6 in 48 Eliteserien games for Sarpsborg previously.
Alexander Sorloth’s finishing may be an issue for Leipzig at the moment but 24 league goals for Trabzonspor in 2019/20 with 0.64 non-penalty expected goals per 90 makes him worthy of a mention. And when you consider his freight-train-like dribbling ability, he’s a hard man to stop in full flow.
But, what is a video about the future of Norwegian football without a mention of Erling Haaland? The reigning European Golden Boy scored 41 goals in his first 42 games across all competitions for Die Borussen and his ascent to the pinnacle of world football shows no sign of stopping.
The combination of his hulking frame with an ability to breeze past defenders due to frightening bursts of pace, Haaland has established himself as a bonafide goal-scoring machine that can decide a match with one swing of his mighty left foot.
Norway has not reached a major tournament since Euro 2000. But with these 33 players, including the most sought-after centre-forward on the planet, surely qualification is just around the corner?