Despite recent struggles, Norwegian football has a bright future. In July 2017, Norway sat at 88th place of the FIFA World Rankings. In December 2019 they were ranked 44th – 44 places higher. As early as January 2019, they were 42 places higher. On top of this, their 2018 win ratio was their best in 89 years. So it’s obvious Norway’s national team has taken major strides forward. And with 19-year-old Erling Håland shining for Red Bull Salzburg and 21-year-old Martin Ödegaard emerging as a star for Real Sociedad, these strides forward will likely persist. Especially with Lars Lagerbäck in charge – a manager who has managed three different nations at the World Cup and masterminded Iceland’s 2016 cinderella story.
Why Norwegian Football Has a Bright Future
Erling Håland and Martin Ödegaard
Discussing Norway’s future in football without highlighting these upcoming superstars is impossible. Håland has scored an astounding eight goals in six Champions League games and 16 goals in 14 Austrian Bundesliga matches so far during the 2019/20 season. Only time will tell how many more goals he’ll score for Borussia Dortmund before the season comes to an end. His proficiency was also evident during the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. A tournament where he won the golden boot after scoring nine goals in one game!
Signing for Borussia Dortmund was smart because they’re a club known for making young players flourish. The likes of Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Jadon Sancho among countless others. The contract length of four years is perfect. Long enough for him to vastly improve but with him still being young by the end of it.
Some people wrongfully labelled Ödegaard a flop after his early struggles at Real Madrid. He has proven doubters wrong, performing well for Heerenveen, Vitesse and now Real Sociedad. Measuring midfielder prowess with stats is difficult. But he is instrumental to every club he plays for. The 21-year-old also boasts an impressive 22 national team appearances. Incredible for someone as young as him. With the sublime skill he has shown, it’s no wonder the Norwegian is set to make a Real Madrid return in 2020. The timing is perfect. Despite them not being the unstoppable Real Madrid of a couple of years back, they’re still a legendary club Ödegaard can cement his legacy in. After spending a few seasons honing his skills in Heerenveen and Real Sociedad, his return is warranted. Expect even greater things from him.
Lars Lagerbäck and His Tactics
A manager who doesn’t get nearly the recognition he deserves. Most people know him as the manager who orchestrated Icelands’ sensational UEFA EURO 2016 performance. But his pedigree extends far beyond that. He managed Sweden at two FIFA World Cups, guiding them to the round of 16 both times. Also Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup, but that performance is nothing to speak about. Even though he only had a few weeks of preparations ahead of the tournament. The main takeaway is that he has experience.
Lars Lagerbäck is a firm 4-4-2-believer. He incorporates the formation everywhere he goes – Sweden, Iceland, and now Norway. It was especially clear at Euro 2016. Lars Lagerbäck and Iceland made 4-4-2 look fashionable again. Playing 4-4-2 is not inherently bad. It only went out of fashion because of how common it was. After a while, every team knew how to play against the formation effectively. But Lagerbäck is not discouraged by this. He made just the right minor adjustments in order to make 4-4-2 function properly.
The formation can transition into 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 if the second striker drops deep. It can turn into a 4-1-3-2 if a central midfielder comes forward and a 4-3-3 if two wingers join the striker. This flexibility was one of the driving factors behind Iceland’s major success and it’s just as applicable to the rise of Norway. A team built up from defence with immense discipline but also an ability to adapt. Their games of the European Qualifiers illustrate this. Narrowly losing 2-1 to Spain away after a Sergio Ramos penalty and holding them to a 1-1 draw at home. Making Sweden look like amateurs on home soil after their 1-1 draw against them. It would not be a surprise to see Norway at UEFA EURO 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.