how Norwegians play football

February 7th, 2007

Yes, this is one of those sweeping generalizations. Doesn't apply to everyone, of course, in fact the professionals don't fit into this profile, but it describes the casual practitioners (and the semi-serious ones) to fairly wide extent.

It's a Norwegian saying that "you're born with skis on your feet". This sounds silly, I have the feeling that skiing is losing ground and going from completely universal (as it was when I grew up) to more of a special interest discipline. Mind you, going that way, I'm not at all suggesting skiing isn't popular anymore.

Now football is the biggest sport, everyone's played at one point, most boys have played on a team as well. But when you see people play football, they approach it as an exercise, less so as a game where you play to win. I was out Saturday night on the astroturf by the Rosenborg stadium, great field, we've played there for years. With us, two young (~15-16) kids, looked maybe Turkish. Out in the rain and wind, playing for almost 2 hours, just like we've done all these years. Commendable, they have the drive for it no doubt, and judging by their skill they do this often.

So how did they play? You could see from far away that they play at a club, and they've had that Norwegian football influence shape their concept of the game. It's uncanny, Norwegians treat football as a stamina exercise. A way to get sweaty and feel good about yourself. No wonder they dress up for football just the way they do for cross country skiing, because what they're doing out there is very reminiscent of it.

The mindset has changed, it's more about ball skills now. You see little kids out there with waay more skills on the ball than my generation had. The pitches are better too now, we used to play on gravel. The Norwegian classic is the corner kick. If you see about 7-8 guys playing, with one guy taking a corner and the rest stacked in the box, waiting for the ball (and not really caring whether it comes to them or not), you can be sure they're Norwegians.

But in a sweet kind of irony, those kids with ball skills and decent general ability still play like it were cross country skiing. There's intensity to the game that comes from running and keeping up a pace, but there's no explosiveness, there's no sprints, no real athletic kind of desire to win. These kids that played on the other side of the field from us, what were they up to? They passed the ball to each other, ran around in small circles and took shots on goal. But not once did they accelerate at full pace, not once did they take a really strong shot, not once did they launch a forward pass way ahead for a real run. It was all so casual and shy, so Norwegian. It's almost as if there's more aggression in cross country than in football with these people.

It's like, if I run at full pace, then the guy marking me will too, because it's his responsibility (and Norwegians have a very strong sense of that) to not let me go past him. But he will *never* sprint on his own account, because it's just not in his blood.

Of course, when you play competitively for a club then you don't do this, when you run you actually run. But when it's casual and "just for fun", that real instinct never comes out, and that's something I've never been able to understand. If you never run at full pace in practice, how are you ever going to do it in a match? Are you saving yourself or something? If so, why? The whole point of playing is to do the best you can, that's when it's the most fun. So why hold back?

:: random entries in this category ::

5 Responses to "how Norwegians play football"

  1. erik says:

    Not really sure what you're getting at... Just sounds to me like the kids were practising their ball- and passing skills.

  2. numerodix says:

    My rationale here regards not only the single instance of watching two kids play, it regards an extremely wide body of instances accumulated through a decade or so of observations. And my contention here is that the observed style is not the natural expression of a child who wants to play the sport for the first time ever, it's a conditioned style which reflects the mindset of youth clubs around the country.

    To put this into perspective. There is no Edgar Davids in Norway, among these casual practitioners. A player that has so much drive that he tirelessly runs all over the place, *aggressively* looking for the ball. Yes, you have runners but without that kind of drive to win the ball, and once they get it they aimlessly pass it to the next man without any kind of concept as to how the offense is planned. Obviously when I say Davids that is relative to the level and pace at which the game is played.

  3. Jack says:

    I know what Martin is getting at. But ain't that the case with all countries that have football? In Holland all teams play the nationwide 4-3-3, the learn this way from the moment they start playing football. They grow up with it, whether they are professionals or not.

    In Sweden for example, they play this structured football where roles are divided and plans are pre-planned. All the teams from amateurs to Allsvenskan play the exact same way.

  4. numerodix says:

    Yes, that's probably valid. But even so, it's like they never play "as if it were for real". It's like when I play, I don't run a lot cause I'm lazy and out of shape, but every time I take a penalty I try score. When I take a shot, I never try for "a good enough" shot, but always for the best shot, the ideal shot. It's a question of attitude, of whether that's who you are or not, whether it comes naturally to you.

  5. Graham says:

    I think what you're basically getting at is the one thing I yell about all the time on the football pitch. I don't care if someone is slow, unfit, has two left feet, or doesn't know the rules, as long as they "PLAY WITH HEART!"

    On the same note, the most maddening thing is when someone has the skills and the athleticism to be an awesome player, but they just casually stroll around the field and play the ball if it comes to them.