Summer exodus threatens football

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Some of the most talented football players in the Norwegian Premier League are the subject of transfer speculation from top teams across Europe – which could lead to a serious talent drain away from Norwegian football.

Talented full-back Tom Høgli leaves Tromsø this week for Belgian outfit Club Brugge, and is considered a huge loss for the Norwegian Premier League. PHOTO: Jarle Vines/Wikipedia Commons

Stars who have already left Eliteserien (also known as Tippeligaen after its sponsors) include the league’s top goal scorer, Nigerian striker Anthony Ujah, and Norway’s start right-back Tom Høgli, who earned a big money move to the Belgian Club Brugge after his impressive display for the national team against Portugal. In that match, Høgli was credited for keeping one of the world’s best players, Cristiano Ronaldo, at bay.

Several other high profile talents in the division are now attracting attention from top clubs across the continent, leading to concerns that Norwegian football will once again suffer from being little more than a training ground for higher profile European clubs.

The league lost several high profile players before the current season began.

Ujah to Germany, Høgli to Belgium
Anthony Ujah played for one of Norway’s top sides, Lillestrøm, until this week, when he completed an estimated NOK 23 million (nearly USD 4.3 million) transfer to German side Mainz. Ujah had scored 13 goals in 12 appearances in the Premier League this season, scoring four in a game on the opening day of the season against Stabæk and against Strømsgodset. His appearances attracted a number of interested clubs before the German outfit managed to secure his signature, including Club Brugge and Danish champions FC Copenhagen. On leaving the club, Ujah himself told the club’s website that he was keen to thank the fans “for 15 unforgettable months,” adding that he “will always be a fan of Lillestrøm.” He gave a tearful goodbye to the fans before Lillestrøm’s most recent league game on Wednesday night.

Lillestrøm was disappointed to lose its key player, but sports director Torgeir Bjarmann still described the deal as “historic” to newspaper Romerikes Blad, welcoming the much-needed injection of cash. Manager Henning Berg had already confirmed to television channel TV2 that the money would largely be used to pay off debts.

Meanwhile, Tromsø’s Tom Høgli also completed his move to Club Brugge in Belgium this week, a side that finished fourth in the Belgian league last season. The transfer fee is estimated to be around NOK 8 million to 10 million (USD 1.5 million to 1.9 million). Speaking to newspaper Aftenposten, Høgli said that “it hasn’t completely dawned on me yet, but it is very exciting.” Like Ujah, other clubs had expressed a desire to secure the Norwegian’s services, but Høgli rejected the advances of, amongst others, English Championship sides Leeds United and Leicester City, describing Club Brugge as “professional” with “good facilities.”

More to come?
Further players are predicted to be on their way out in the summer transfer window. Fredrikstad’s talented Costa Rican midfielder Celso Borges has, according to newspaper VG, been given a transfer “guarantee” by his club if they receive a big enough offer, and could go to either a bigger Norwegian club or one in another country. VG has also reported that both Swiss side Young Boys and English club Leicester City have been scouting Norwegian international full-back Jonathan Parr, who currently plays for Aalesund.

Many Norwegian managers have encouraged big clubs in Europe to look at their players in order to further their careers. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the manager of Molde who most famously played for Manchester United, has asked his former club to look at a number of his young prospects according to English radio station talkSPORT, including American teenagers Sean Cunningham and Joshua Gatt.

Clubs want new transfer window
Under rules laid down by football’s international governing body FIFA, national football associations can conduct transfers during two annual “transfer windows.” One transfer window must open between the end of the season and the start of a new one, and may last for up to 12 weeks; a second window can be opened halfway through a season, and can last just one month. The Norwegian league plays between March and November due to weather constraints, whereas most other leagues in Europe play between August and May. This means that most of the between season transfer windows in Europe occur in July and August, meaning players in Eliteserien often depart halfway through the Norwegian season when the biggest clubs on the continent are preparing for their new seasons. Norway’s month-long mid-season transfer window currently falls in August, giving clubs a shorter timespan in which to bring in replacements.

A number of clubs have now called for Norwegian football authorities to move the mid-season transfer window back from August to July. Tromsø head coach Per-Mathias Høgmo told Aftenposten that the current placement of the window is “a challenge for Norwegian football” and “a disadvantage especially for the clubs that will play in the qualifying rounds of European competitions,” which occur from late June onwards over the summer. Bergen’s top club, Brann, also told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they supported moving the transfer window back to July. NRK also reports that clubs including Fredrikstad, Odd Grenland, Sarpsborg 08 and Stabæk support a discussion about changing the current arrangements. Rosenborg, the Norwegian champions, nonetheless disagree with this assessment. Their sporting director, Erik Hoftun, commented to Aftenposten that the current time span works because “if we sell players in August, we have an opportunity to be able to replace the player in the same window,” adding that “we don’t like the idea of selling players in August without being able to bring in any replacements.”

The Football Association of Norway confirmed to Aftenposten that “it is the clubs in the top tier of Norwegian football that have themselves wanted the time span for the transfer windows that we have today,” and that “if a majority of the clubs want a change, we of course welcome a dialogue in this area.” A proposal would have to be made to FIFA, after which 12 months would need to pass before the new rules came into place. Another option that has been floated as a compromise would see the the month-long mid-season transfer window fall between July 15 and August 15.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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