The new season in Norway is underway, with reigning champions Stabaek expected to be pushed hard by the likes of Rosenborg and Valerenga.
By Sigurd Odegaard
The domestic league season kicked off in mid-March, earlier than ever before. This has been made possible by the fact that some clubs have artificial pitches, some have undersoil heating and the reigning champions, Stabaek, have opened the ultra-modern indoor Telenor Arena.
The number of foreigners in Norwegian clubs has decreased this season, partly due to the international financial crisis. Most people view this as a positive development because few imports have added to the quality of the football.
Stabaek won much acclaim last season for the positive, attacking football that won them the league trophy for the first time in modern history. Head coach Janne Jonsson built a team that included entertainers and a mixture of experienced and fresh faces, Norwegians and foreigners.
Top scorer and veteran striker Daniel Nannskog has signed a new contract but other favourites like Alanzinho (Trabzonspor) and Pall Gunnarsson (Nancy) chose to pursue their careers elsewhere. The fact that Johan Andersson will be out through injury for a long spell will also weaken the team.
On the other hand Stabaek have recruited Espen Hoff from Lyn, Daigo Kobayashi from (Ardija, Japan) and Fredrik Risp from Ankaraspor; all impressed in pre-season matches. Kobayashi showed in the pre-season Superfinal against last year’s cup winners Valerenga that he adds creativity and goalscoring abilities. Stabaek won 3-1 with Nannskog opening his account at the club’s new stadium.
Rosenborg are expected to bounce back this season after a couple of lacklustre years. Coach Erik Hamren has now stamped his mark on tactics and his team were impressive in pre-season matches.
Trond Olsen has been brought in from Bodo/Glimt and his pace and trickery will cause havoc in many a defence. Rade Prica (from Sunderland) will support Steffen Iversen in attack and the youngsters Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Alexander Tettey and Vadim Demidov will progress further.
Croatian striker Dario Zahora has also been signed, giving Rosenborg more foreign players than any other club in Norway.
Hamren showed last season that he might use the 4-4-2 system in addition to Rosenborg’s usual 4-3-3.
Valerenga had a disappointing league campaign in 2008 but rescued much honour by winning the domestic Cup Final. New player-coach Martin Andresen has been under criticism from some of the players but the team are expected to fight at the top this season as the team will be more settled.
The partnership of Daniel Fredheim Holm and Mohammad Abdellaoue has started to work well and Mostafa Abdellaoue. Mohammad’s younger brother, has shown that he might become as exciting as his brother. Central defender Kjetil Waehler has left for Aalborg in Denmark.
Tromso finished third last season and new coach Per Hogmo might take them even higher this year. He convinced Sigurd Rushfeldt it was too early to retire and much admired players Tore Reginiussen and Morten Moldskred have stayed. This stability makes Tromso a good prospect this season.
Brann never managed to follow up their 2007 championship season last year. New coach Steinar Nilsen (ex-Tromso), who took over from Mons Mjelde, has seen his team struggle in pre-season matches. Veteran striker David Nielsen and defender Bjornar Holmvik have been added to the squad but injuries to key players have thrown the club into uncertainty.
In a a desperate attempt to the strengthen a leaking defence central defender Kristian Flittie Onstad has been signed on loan from Esbjerg. The former Lyn player has played 61 international matches for Norway at youth level and has a lot of experience despite being only 25.
Lillestrom have Henning Berg at the helm and his ability to bring the best out of young players was the main reason for winning the loan signature of talented defender Havard Nortveit from Arsenal.
There is a new optimism at Arasen and Lillestrom have shown positive results in pre-season matches. Canadian striker Olivier Occean is expected to blossom and Bjorn Helge Riise will bounce back after injuries spoiled last season. Drawing 1-1 away to Stabaek in their first match was a good start for Berg’s boys.
Viking hope to improve on a disappointing 2008 season but coach Uwe Rosler has not seen his team win any of the seven pre-season matches. Tomasz Sokolowski has been signed from Lyn and veteran goalkeeper Thomas Myhre is keen on revenging last season.
All three promoted clubs, Odd Grenland, Sandefjord and Start are expected to struggle to survive.
Odd Grenland won promotion after only one season in the second division and coach Dag-Eilev Fagermo has an experienced squad and will stick to the 4-3-3 system. The most important new signing is midfielder Simen Brenne from Lillestrom and the key players will be midfielder Morten Fevang and target player Peter Kovacs.
Sandefjord won promotion after a disastrous start last season but are expected to find it tough this year. Irishman Patrick Walker is head coach and key player is Gambian Ebrima Sohna.
Start have a new head coach in Knut Torum, the former Rosenborg coach, and he has instilled a positive attitude in the club. Striker Cristian Bolanos (Costa Rica) has been added to a group of strong forwards that include Ole Martin Aarst, Bernt Hulsker and Aram Khalili.
Stromsgodset and Alesund will also struggle to survive. Kjetil Rekdal took over Aalesund last season and saved them from relegation.