Sunday, February 26, 2012

Playing Differences from Country to Country - Part Two: Football in Norway

I've been very fortunate to have the opportunity to have the opportunity to play football and live in three different European countries over the past couple of years. Although this was never planned, it’s just the way things ended up working out for me and I wouldn’t change a thing. Having the chance to play in many different places has not only improved me as a football player, but also as a person. I’ve had a unique opportunity to see the world through a sport that I love to play, and I hope that I can continue to do so for a long time.

People quite often ask me where my favorite place to play has been and why. I’ve enjoyed certain aspects of every place that I’ve played in and also disliked individual things about each place on it’s own. However if I had to pick a favorite place to play, it would have to be where I am right now, Norway. The reason I prefer playing in Norway is because the lifestyle is very similar to what I’m used to in Canada. The way people act in general is almost identical to what I'm used to. The language is of course a bit of a challenge. Although everyone here speaks fluent English, being the only foreigner on a team can be very difficult, not only on the field, but also off it. Norwegians are usually very welcoming once they get to know you and they’re comfortable around you. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult from time to time. For example, being in a group of players where I might be the only one that doesn’t speak Norwegian. It can be hard to be in the middle of a conversation, where I don’t understand more than a few words here or there, and usually by the time I do figure out what they’re talking about, they're onto a new topic. The same can be said about being on the training field. Luckily I'm getting to the point now where I can understand almost everything the coach is saying in training if I really focus. Usually we will get a quick introduction to the drill we’re doing (in Norwegian) and then we're expected to get into it right away. Once in a while the coach may confirm with me if I understand or one of the players might throw in a brief translation to help me out, and then its straight into the drill. As hard as this might sound, I actually enjoy the challenge and I hope that one-day I will be able to speak Norwegian fluently.

The players in Norway are all very well educated for the most part and can usually speak at least 2-3 languages. The football clubs in Norway encourage players to get an education, even the players that are playing at the very highest level. I’ve noticed that the playing style here varies a lot from team to team. Some teams play a very direct style, with lots of long balls, with a lot of emphasis on fitness levels and high-pressuring the other team into making mistakes. While some teams base their playing styles on short passing and moving, and possession based build-up play. Of course both styles can be successful and whatever works for the club and it’s players is what the team should stick with. In Norway, there is a lot of tradition in football and the entire country loves the sport. When I first arrived here, I was actually surprised with the popularity of the game and how much it’s on TV and covered in the media. The top Norwegian leagues are found on TV regularly and there's a huge following of the English Premier League and other European football here.

As for my experiences on the field here, they have been very good for the most part. I feel like I’ve been able to adapt to the football in Norway very well, because my playing style suits the way most teams play. Playing for FK Bodø/Glimt was a really great experience for me. Traditionally the club has been a top club in Norwegian football. They have great facilities and coaching staff, and the training environment was challenging, so it was certainly a perfect place for me to start in Norway. I also made many great friends there, that I'm sure I'll continue to stay in touch with for a very long time. Living in Northern Norway was certainly a unique experience. I started this blog when I was in Bodø, so if you go back to the start of my blog, you can read more about my time in Bodø and the experiences I had there. Last year I made the move to Oslo, to play for 2nd Division club Kjelsås IL. Oslo is the place to be in Norway if you want to get spotted by the biggest clubs. Oslo is the capital city of Norway and it's a great place to live, it also has by far the most clubs in the country. I enjoyed my time with Kjelsås and believe I improved a lot during my 2nd season in Norway.

The football development system in Norway is top class. Considering Norway is not a very big country, the National team is very good and the professional leagues here are at a high standard. All of the clubs have excellent youth systems and many of the smaller clubs, produce talented players that move onto the bigger clubs. One thing that I really like about the development system here, is the way that Reserve teams are incorporated into the National League System. Basically the top three professional leagues (Premier Division, First Division and Second Division) have clubs based throughout the country. Each of these teams also has a reserve team that has to play in the league system. The highest level the Premier League reserve teams can play in, is the Second Division; and the First and Second Division clubs reserve teams play in the third division. It's a bit difficult to explain, but hopefully that makes sense. By doing this players that aren't playing full matches for the first team continue to develop by playing meaningful, 90 minute matches with the reserve team every week. This is huge for development and something that many players benefit from here greatly.

Norway is also a fantastic country to live in and Norwegians are very proud of their country. It has one of the highest ranked standards of living in the world and is certainly a very safe and comfortable country to live in. There is plenty to do here, with the beautiful vast scenery across the country. If you ever get a chance to take a train across Norway, I would highly recommend it based on the amazing scenery alone, it's definitely worth seeing. Because of this Norwegians love to be outside, regardless of the weather conditions and most people here enjoy a very active lifestyle. A major downside of living here is the cost of living. It’s extremely expensive here and has been rated as the most expensive country in the world to live in. With all of that said, I have really enjoyed my time in Norway and I’m proud to call this my second home at the moment. The football here is great and I’m looking forward to playing my 3rd season here this year.

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