smarterscout SPECIAL REPORT: Norway are about to blow stuff up
By now, there must be very few people in the football world who haven't heard of Erling Braut Haland. The 19-year-old, whose data we've tracked every sinxce he was at Bryne in the Norwegian second tier, has made a stunning start to life in the Bundesliga with nine goals in his first six matches – including three appearances as a sub. But Haland is just the tip of the iceberg that's floating down the fjord on its way to the world's most important tournaments. For Norway, big things lie ahead.
Every so often, a national team will have a "golden generation" of players who seem capable of winning it all. There was Portugal's group of the 1990s, with Figo and Rui Costa, then France, then Spain, and more recently Belgium. Even Croatia got in a shout, at least retroactively. While plenty of people are talking about England now – and yikes, half of their golden generation seems to play for Chelsea – we think the generation to watch were born a bit further north.
Of course, we have to start with Haland. What can we say about him that hasn't already been said? He's a smarterscout young prospect whom we profiled a couple of months ago, who had above average attacking output at striker by a Champions League standard since 2018 at Molde, when he was just 17. In style, he's fairly unusual for the top leagues – a consummate target man who also likes to move the ball himself, and is a good dribbler to boot. He's the rare player who can receive the ball far from goal and still practically guarantee that he'll get a shot off. There just isn't anyone else with his output and a smartermap that looks like this:
Just look at all those purple markers on the edge of the final third! Over the next decade, we're pretty sure Haland is going to teach us new things about the game. Yet Haland isn't the only weapon up front for Norway.
That's because Alexander Sorloth has finally hit his stride at Trabzonspor. The 24-year-old striker had fine underlying numbers for Crystal Palace, though he didn't get many chances and failed to score. A loan to Gent last season was a bit more fruitful, and the Turkish club will likely be obligated to make his loan permanent. They probably won't complain – he has 17 goals and five assists through just 21 appearances. Now he just has to replicate that form in European competition next season.
Even in 2026, Sorloth might still figure into Norway's plans, so here's a comparison of the two strikers at a Champions League standard:
Their styles are fairly similar, through Sorloth is a more aggressive defender and a worse finisher. In fact, Norway might benefit from grooming another striker with a broadly divergent style, just to have something different to throw at the opposition.
We have some questions about who will occupy the wings for Norway's future squad, as young prospects like Hugo Vetlesen are still quite raw. In the meantime, a formation with wingbacks might work better. And that brings us to the back, where Norway will have quality in spades.
Let's start with 21-year-old Kristoffer Ajer, a towering smarterscout young prospect who’s among the best young CBs in Europe. He’s right-footed but plays almost exclusively at LCB, with numbers that are already decent at a Champions League standard. In theory, he’d partner Sigurd Rosted, who has very good overall numbers as a defender but can't match Ajer for ball retention. Like Ajer, though, the 25-year-old is a right-footer who plays mostly on the left. It would certainly be convenient if one of the two could start playing on the right a bit more for his club. Leo Ostigard has been playing mostly RCB for St Pauli but has had better numbers at LCB. The problem might also be solved by Ulrik Fredriksen, a 20-year-old smarterscout young prospect who’s already had three seasons of senior football, mainly at RCB, in the top two tiers in Norway. Indeed, Ajer, Rosted, and one of the other two could play together with wingbacks:
The good news on that front is that there’s plenty more talent at fullback, especially in attack. Fredrik Bjorkan is another smarterscout young prospect who had a fantastic 2019 season for Bodo/Glimt at LB, with numbers that wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions League. The 21-year-old is outstanding on the ball though a mediocre tackler at that standard. Birk Risa, the Norway U21 captain, also looks like a good prospect, though his numbers aren’t of the same calibre. On the right side, Christian Borchgrevink is already a good defender at age 20 but so far lacks the attacking and ball retention to succeed at the highest level. But the underrated Jonas Svensson will probably stick around long enough for a smooth transition:
At DM, the name on everyone’s lips in January was Sander Berge, who joined Sheffield United for upwards of £20m. The 21-year-old smarterscout young prospect excels at the position and is a fabulous tackler, but Chris Wilder has asked him to play a bit further up the pitch than usual, which might not get the best out of him. Yet the midfielder who might eventually make the biggest impact is also the one who stayed in Norway: 20-year-old smarterscout young prospect Emil Bohinen. The Stabaek man is a strong attacker and aggressive defender who breaks up a huge number of opposition moves and is capable of linking up or taking the ball forward himself. Here's a look at both:
Norway also have a pair of capped 23-year-olds in Iver Fossum and Morten Thorsby who are likely to figure in the squad more as they develop. Fossum has shown numbers for Aalborg in Denmark that are roughly average for the Champions League both attacking and defending, including in ground duels both ways – which happen to be Thorsby’s weakness. But Fossum is a poor finisher and isn’t much of a threat in the air, while Thorsby is dangerous on dead balls.
That leaves the door open for two younger CMs who recently moved south to barge into the lineup. Kristian Thorstvedt showed impressive skill both ways in ground duels during his big 2019 season for Viking, which won him a transfer to Genk two months before his 21st birthday. Meanwhile, Hakon Evjen had a breakout season for Bodo/Glimt at age 19 and moved to Alkmaar. Neither has seen many minutes yet for their new clubs, but they’re a pair of promising CMs – and exquisite finishers – who will surely deserve a look as their ball retention improves. Thorstvedt is more active in the air, while Evjen disrupts plays and scoops up loose balls on the ground:
Both players have been used at CAM after their moves, so they could play further up than they did in Norway. But let's face it – Martin Odegaard is the man we want to see playing behind Norway's powerful forwards. It goes without saying that he's a smarterscout young prospect, and he's enjoying the season of his (early) life playing a sort of CM-R role for Real Sociedad, on loan from Real Madrid. A backup could be Mats Moller Daehli, an assist artist who recently moved to Genk from St Pauli. Moller Daehli is good in duels both ways and will dribble when the opportunity arises, but he lets his passing do the talking (which is just as well, since his finishing is nothing to write home about).
We haven't forgotten Norway's GKs. Julian Faye Lund and Kristoffer Klaesson are the two keepers-in-waiting for when Rune Jarstein finally calls it a day. Both are still playing in Norway and will want to get some experience at a higher level. Right now we're calling it for Lund, thanks to the experience he's already gained and his shotstopping. Neither jumps out as a star just yet:
Regardless, it's going to be an exciting six years for Norway. The 2020 European Championship may come too early, but we give them a strong chance of doing some damage at the World Cups in 2022 and 2026, especially with 48 teams in the latter. And don't forget that there will be another European Championship in between. Qualifying for Qatar starts in March next year – how much better will Norway's young stars be by then?