Sunday, 30 October 2016

Life in Norway

It would be nice to do an article about how the differences in the Norwegian football system benefits the league and enhances the fortunes of the national team, but unfortunately they are struggling just as much as Scotland, so I just have to write about the differences and separately try to dissect the continuing troubles of our countries football team.

I know one man will be happy I left Scottish football, but not so happy I wrote this. My friend told me in the summer I was linked with going back to Stirling Albion on a forum. One fan, seemingly unhappy with my previous spell there, wrote "Him and his blog can get to fuck", so mixed emotions for him, for which I apologise.

Football in Norway

Continuing my football career in Norway was always going to be something I would do when I knew I was moving here. But the truth is I had fallen out of love with football in Scotland, and grown tired of constant injury problems and having to trial or train with clubs to win contracts. If I had still be in Scotland I'm not sure if I would still be playing, even so it would have likely been out of the professional leagues. Injuries have been a problem ever since I started training full time, and they have only become more frequent in the last 3 years. The last time I felt genuinely fit and sharp was at Stirling Albion in 2013, when in the last 4 months of the season I managed to score 8 goals and help the team to promotion. Tearing my calf on the last game of the season with 15 minutes to go was the worst thing that could happen, as it resulted in a long term absence which didn't give me the chance to perform for Alloa. That season was a real regret for me, and although you try and keep a brave face and laugh off any jokes, it is not easy. Since then it has been a struggle to motivate myself for games and getting as fit as I need to be to play my best becomes almost impossible.
One thing that I do still enjoy is the training, and I am far too honest to turn up to training and not give 100%. I really hate it when players don't train hard or turn up to just mess around. I understand it should be up to the manager to ensure it isn't happening, but personal pride is really important for me and I will always give my best. To then see players who don't try at training continually given games is a real motivation drainer.
I had 3 months of no football and I really missed the training, so I decided I would go in to the local team here Levanger FK. At the time they were 3rd top of the 1st Division, which is the 2nd tier, so I knew it would be difficult to walk in and get a contract. After a week of training and basically nobody talking to me while they all spoke Norwegian, I realised I hated it. It was a chore to go in, so I stopped. I'm sure I wouldn't have been given a deal anyway, but I wasn't moving to Norway to be miserable. At this point I thought I was done with football, and saw it as an opportunity to move away from professional football as it wasn't making me happy anymore.
It was another 2 months before I touched a ball again, when I decided to go into another local team Verdal IL. They played 3rd division(4th tier)so I knew it would be slightly lower standard, but maybe it's what I needed. Turns out it was, and the last 2 months have been really enjoyable, training and playing with guys who love football and play because they want to. The standard is good, and next season will be somewhere close to League 2 in Scotland, which I am excited about and looking forward to a hard pre-season in the snow. There are young players in the team who will be scouted by teams in the region higher up the leagues, like Levanger and Ranheim, and possibly even Rosenborg, so it is a good opportunity for young players to develop by playing competitive games.
The pyramid league structure which is in place just now, meant that there were 88 teams at a higher level than Verdal, and 164 at the same level, with regionalisation of leagues. However with the new structure meaning only 2 leagues for the 2nd division, and 6 for the 3rd division, there will 60 clubs higher up the leagues and 80 at the same level. This in theory should mean no easy games like this year, and also less teams relegated from the higher leagues. Regionalising the leagues is important here because of the travel distance, so the structure is necessary otherwise you would have to fly to games which is not great for the budget of smaller clubs. One thing about the structure means that there is a clear pathway for teams for promote, and the leagues aren't so closed off like they are in Scotland with only 1 team able to promote into League 2, if they win a playoff. It is a good way to get young players playing competitive games at local clubs before they can then move on to bigger teams. It should mean that players have experience of senior football and gets them ready to step up, as opposed to playing under 21 football and getting a shock to the system when you have to step down a league or two and play against senior players who are playing for a job. It also gives players and clubs real incentive to do well, as there is a clear path to the top leagues and a chance to play against bigger teams.

Scotland - Is there a bright future?

If it isn't depressing enough that we haven't been at a major tournament since 1998, it seems that our national team is enjoying another trough in their graph of recent history. A last minute goal to salvage a draw against Lithuania was followed up by a thumping in Slovakia, and led to question marks over another managers future. I don't think there is any point in sacking Strachan, but that doesn't mean I think he is doing a good job. What would happen if he was sacked? Another manager comes in, plays 4231, or 451 away, fails to qualify and gets sacked. The pattern is repeated.
It is clear there is a lack of depth in terms of squad selection, but that doesn't mean there is a lack of talent. One problem I do have with Strachan is the way he talks to the media and treats the average Scotland fan like an idiot. Telling us we played well against Lithuania or before the game that it isn't must win is not smart, we can all see the truth in front of us.
Scotland has been crying out for a goalscorer for years, and we have one who consistently scores goals for the best team in our country. He has done throughout his career, yet for some reason he doesn't get his chance with Scotland. How can it make sense that Leigh Griffiths scores 40 goals in a season for our best club, but can't start for our national team? It doesn't, and to me it seems that there are other reasons for him not playing, and this is where Strachan annoys some supporters, with his stubbornness and his unwillingness to move away from his normal of Chris Martin or Fletcher up front on their own. Neither are at their best as a lone striker, both are very good at holding up the ball and linking play, but with  Griffiths poaching goals and taking chances it would be far more effective than what it currently is.
We have good midfielders to supply them, and promising full backs, but our central defense is a real weakness, so to score goals is important as we are not keeping any clean sheets.
Here is what my team would be for the next game, but maybe we need to start blooding some youth for our future:

I think a back 3 would help keep clean sheets, and it would not include Grant Hanley, who for me isn't good enough. 4th choice defender in a Championship club should not be an automatic pick for our country. Christophe Berra has had a lot of praise from Mick McCarthy, and I would play him. One player who I played with, Murray Wallace, is someone I always thought would be a future Scotland player. He is a regular at Scunthorpe who are top of League 1, and I know he is better than Hanley, I hope he has a future in the Scotland team. Stephen Kingsley has also been playing for Swansea and I can see him developing into the left central defender position.
Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney are both great options at left wing back, and I like the pace and directness of Oliver Burke. He is young and a little raw, but you can see he is a threat, and hopefully being in Germany his technical side will improve and also his defensive positioning should get better.
Our midfield 3 will work hard, and we also have the quality of Ritchie and Snodgrass who can both pick a pass and score from distance.
I think the strikers will link up well, plus we have McCormack, who should be in the squad, or Naismith to make an impact from the bench.
It seems that every manager we get plays the exact same system, and it doesn't work. It would be nice to see a change to try and change our fortunes. The way it is going just now we won't be at Russia 2018, and with our seeding for the Euro qualifiers it will be difficult again to get through the groups.
It might be time to let older players move on, like Fletcher, Martin, Maloney and Morrison, to see if we can give younger players games and get used to playing on the international level. It is getting towards 2 generations of players who have failed to make it to a major championship, it is time to change something or we will continue to disappoint and be an easy 3 points for half the countries we play against, bigger or smaller.


  1. Thanks for the insight into Norwegian football which seems to be suffering in the same way that we are in Scotland. As for the way forward, I think both countries could learn a lot from the success of Icelandic football by investing in indoor facilities and increasing the number of qualified coaches to work with their young players. As a result, a country with the population size of Aberdeen is not only qualifying for major tournaments but is also producing players for teams who play at a very high level across Europe.

    1. The facilities here in Norway are very good. Astro pitches everywhere in towns and cities. I think Winter Sports is so big over here that lots of god sportsmen are lost to that, and although football is big, the big sports stars are all cross country skiers.

  2. Very interesting stuff on Norwegian football - I will try to come back and read if you've more insight!

    In complete agreement re Scotland - I cannot for the life of me understand why we do not play to score more than the opposition given that our strength is there and (as you say) we are awful at the back and *will* concede (even to likes of Malta and Gibraltar, for crying out loud!).