Skrevet av Ben Wells
With top European clubs constantly on the lookout for the best young talent in the transfer market these days, getting a potentially world class youngster for a smaller fee than the current inflated market suggests is always a real coup for any football club.
For years now, the Eliteserien has been scouted heavily by clubs from all around the world and most notably from countries such as Belgium, Holland and England who are always on the lookout for the next top Scandinavian talent.
With many Eliteserien clubs struggling financially in the current climate, it makes sense for them to look to nurture home grown talent before potentially selling on to richer clubs in the future to make a tidy profit. Last season, clubs such as Sarpsborg, Molde and Haugesund all made good money by selling on homegrown players they had nurtured through their academy.
Last year saw many players making their breakthrough in the Eliteserien, with Tobias Borchgrevink, Hugo Vetlesen and Joshua Kitolano especially impressing, here are five young players whom I think could make a huge impact in the Eliteserien this year and potentially become first team regulars by the end of 2019
Nicholas Mickelson (19, Strømsgodset)
Despite being just 19 years old, Mickelson has impressed greatly in his short career so far for both Ham-Kam and the Norwegian international set up. The full back has already played more than 50 times for his hometown side as well as racking up over 20 youth international caps from U’16 to U’21 level in the process.
A move to the Eliteserien was arguably overdue by the time Strømsgodset moved to sign the player on a pre-contract agreement in 2018. Mickelson will be competing with seasoned full backs Jonathan Parr and Lars Christopher Vilsvik for a place in the Strømsgodset starting eleven this season, but with the declining ability of Vilsvik in particular, it would not surprise me if Mickelson is a regular in the Strømsgodset side come the end of the season.
An attacking, modern and technically gifted full back, Mickelson has the ability to one day play at a much higher level than the Eliteserien if he does end up realising his full potential. Strømsgodset boast a gifted young squad this season after 2018’s disappointments and will hope to bring through both Mickelson and other young talents through the course of the 2019 season.
Odin Bjørtuft (20, Odd)
Breaking into Fagermo’s Odd defence is never an easy job with seasoned veterans Steffen Hagen and Fredrik Semb Berge making up the rock solid centre of a side designed not to concede.
Odin Bjørtuft is a 20 year old centre back built in the same mould as the likes of Hagen and Semb Berg. His 2018 season was something of an introduction to the first team, with the player making matchday squads frequently but without ever getting off the bench until the final matchday.
Pre-season 2019 has been a different story, with Bjørtuft playing from the start in all but 2 matches so far. Considering the calibre of the opponents faced in pre-season with teams such as CSKA Moscow, IFK Goteborg & other Eliteserien sides all coming up against Odd, it is no surprise that Fagermo was impressed enough with Bjørtuft to suggest he could push for a first team place this season.
At the time of writing, the 20 year old has also just been awarded his first U’21 call up for the Norwegian national side. Big things beckon for Bjørtuft this season if he continues the form already shown in pre-season.
Johan Hove (18, Strømsgodset)
Johan Hove was just 16 years old when he made his Eliteserien debut for Sogndal vs. Aalesund. Since then, he has continued to make fleeting appearances in Norway’s top flight and the OBOS Ligaen without ever nailing down a place in either Sogndal or Strømsgodset’s starting eleven.
Hove has been a regular in the Norwegian youth team setups having made 38 appearances from U’16 to U’18 level and was a trusted regular member of all sides. I was personally surprised to see Hove’s name omitted from both recent U’20 and U’21 squad announcements but a call up cannot be too far away after an impressive pre-season from the youngster.
Hove has started all but one pre-season game for the side so far, coming up against opponents such as Valerenga and Sarpsborg in the process. The 18 year old is a technically gifted midfielder who looks at home with the ball at his feet. Able to progress play quickly through the lines, his energy and technical ability will be important to Strømsgodset this season.
I spoke to Hove, who said; “My pre-season has gone well, I’ve started every game I have been involved in and the team is progressing well.
My goal for the season is to start many games and perform in a way that makes it difficult for the coach not to start me.”
The recent signings of Martin Spelmann and Yacouba Sylla may have pushed Hove a little further back in the pecking order in midfield, however, I believe he has the ability and temperament to challenge for a place in the starting eleven this season at some point.
Boubacar Konte (18, Sarpsborg 08)
Not much was known about Konte when he signed for Sarpsborg recently, but upon his arrival comparisons were quickly drawn to former wonderkid Krepin Diatta who had left the side last year to move to Belgium.
A host of European top clubs were chasing Konte’s signature before he opted to sign for Sarpsborg, a side known for their development of young African footballers. Sarpsborg reported that clubs from France, Germany, Russia and Spain were all chasing the youngster.
Konte had recently been voted the best player in an U’20 tournament hosted in Togo and is also a part of the U’20 Mali side who climbed to the top of the African championship.
From watching matches Konte has played in prior to his arrival in Norway, it is clear why there is such hype around the player. A quick, tricky winger who plays off the left hand side, his skill with the ball at his feet and guile without it show why he is so highly thought of in scouting circles around the world. Unlike Diatta, he looks a player more at home out wide than up front which was where Diatta often found himself for Sarpsborg, but it is obvious why comparisons are already being drawn to the Senegalese youngster.
I spoke to Sarpsborg’s Sporting Manager Thomas Berntsen who said; “Konte is at the same level individually as Diatta was, but he has not yet got the same game experience at a similar age.
I am sure he could reach a good European level in the future and if we give him time he can certainly reach a similar level to Diatta (when he left).”
It would not surprise me at all to see Konte become a regular in the S08 side either this or next season. The club will do all they can to help him realise his full potential and generate a healthy profit by selling him when they feel he is ready to take another step up in his career.
Jørgen Strand Larsen (19, Sarpsborg)
For a 19 year old, it already seems as though Jørgen Strand Larsen has been around in Norwegian football for a long time already. Strand Larsen began his youth career with Kvik Halden until 2014 when he made the move to Sarpsborg aged just 14 years old. Strand Larsen’s abilities developed early but as of yet he has not quite cracked first team football. 2019 could be the season that we see this change.
Undoubtedly, Strand Larsen’s time with the AC Milan Primavera side in the 2017/18 season has aided his development massively. Despite a fairly poor goalscoring return of 3 goals and 1 assist in 20 games, the experience of playing in a new country and working with some of the world’s best youth team coaches has given the youngster a boost upon his return to Sarpsborg.
Standing at 6ft 3in tall, it would be naive to suggest that Strand Larsen is simply built to be a target man. His ability with the ball at his feet is somewhat underrated and the 19 year old generally takes on the role of a pure poacher or advanced forward when he plays for Sarpsborg.
The forward has shown this pre-season that he is now ready for more first team football. An outstanding goal return of 11 goals in 11 pre-season games playing against the likes of Hacken, CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg is nothing to be sniffed at despite the uncompetitive nature of these friendlies. No Eliteserien striker has a better pre-season goal return this season.
For the 2019 season, I can see Jørgen Strand Larsen and new S08 signing Steffen Lie Skålevik building a formidable partnership up front. Strand Larsen’s height and finishing abilities coupled with Skålevik’s pressing and off the ball movement could be a joy to watch if the two continue to click in the same vein as they have been doing in pre-season. If Strand Larsen becomes a regular in this Sarpsborg side, it would not be too wild to suggest him as an outsider for top goalscorer come the end of the year. One thing that is for certain, though, is that Strand Larsen has an opportunity now to finally show everyone why he has always been so highly rated as a young player by becoming the prolific goalscorer we all know he has the ability to be.