Lars Lagerbäck, the Swedish football coach who recently took over as coach of Norway’s national men’s football team, surprised everyone with his picks for the squad that will go up against the Czech Republic next week. Among them is an American player with a Norwegian father who currently plays professionally in Scotland.
Bjørn Maars Johnsen, age 25, was born in New York, has a Norwegian father and American mother and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. He started his pro career, though, with the Oslo club Vålerenga and also played in Tønsberg before started playing for various clubs in Spain and Portugal. He now plays for Heart of Midlothian in Scotland, and while Lagerbäck has never seen him play live in person, he was impressed by videos of his skills on the field.
There were several other surprises on Lagerbäck’s line-up as he needed replacements for injured players and tries to rebuild a national team after a miserable round of European Cup qualifiers. Norway’s national team ranks near the bottom, and Lagerbäck seems to be doing some experimenting as he gears up for next week’s matches against the Czech Republic at Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo on June 10 and a friendly match against Sweden three days later.
In addition to Johnsen, there will be three other players joining the national team for the first time: Ohi Omoijuanfo of Stabæk, Birger Meling of Rosenborg and goalkeeper Mathias Dyngeland of Sogndal. Johnsen, meanwhile, called it a “great honour” to be picked for Norway’s national men’s football team.
“I look forward to it and I’m ready,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), speaking English on the telephone. He was reportedly as surprised as everyone else but claimed that he thinks Norway belongs in the top leagues. Lagerbäck wants to see what he can do.
“He’s a meter-95 tall but has lots of assists and creates play around himself,” Lagerbäck said. “He’s big and strong and likes to be involved.” Assistant coach Per Joar Hansen added that “we wanted to test Bjørn. He’s taken a different path than other Norwegian players. He left home at 17 and then went to Spain. Then you’re pretty tough.”