Rosenborg is Eliteserien’s favorite again
Molde and Sarpsborg 08 look like strong challengers in Norway’s soccer league
Jo Christian Weldingh
Even though it’s 15°F outside and most Norwegian soccer fields are covered in two feet of snow, the Norwegian soccer league, Eliteserien, kicked off March 10. It’s with great eagerness that we substitute cleats and soccer balls for skis and skates, Northug and Lund Svindal for Bendtner and Forren.
Last season ended the way most people expected, with Rosenborg winning their third consecutive league title, beating Molde and Sarpsborg 08 by seven and 10 points, respectively. On the road to their 25th league title, the team from Trondheim never left any doubt. Some experts claimed they had practically won heading into the summer break.
It might have looked easy, but Rosenborg coach Kåre Ingebrigtsen admits being the coach of Norway’s best soccer team can be challenging. “It was a very tough year. At times I was more exhausted than I have ever been before. After the season, it felt great to spend some time with my family, but now, when the season approaches, I’m looking forward to getting back into it,” he said to Dagbladet.
Rosenborg has been the superior Norwegian team for the last three seasons, and most experts point to the team from Trondheim when asked about the top contender for the 2018 league title. High-quality players like Jørgen Skjelvik, Alexander Gersbach, and Johan Lædre Bjørdal have left Trondheim in favor of other clubs, but Rosenborg still has one of the most solid squads Norwegian soccer has seen in years. Norwegian national Alexander Søderlund has returned after two disappointing seasons in French soccer, giving the team a solid alternative if Danish star striker Nicklas Bendtner either underperforms or suffers from injury. The rest of the team is packed with high-quality players like Mike Jensen, Samuel Adegbenro, Tore Reginiussen, André Hansen, Pål Andre Helland, and Anders Konradsen, all players with potential game-winning abilities. The list of quality players is long, and it needs to be if Rosenborg is going to achieve both national and continental success. Champions League is the goal, as usual.
Ingebrigtsen isn’t afraid to admit that his team is the league favorite. “I guess we’re favorites,” he says. “Looking back on what has happened over the last three years it’s only natural to see us as the No. 1 title contender. That’s how we like it in Rosenborg; to be honest, we don’t dwell on it. We’re just trying to keep getting better. If we succeed in doing that we will be difficult to beat.”
Molde was one of the favorites heading into last year’s season but was never able to keep up with Rosenborg after a weak first half of the season. Even though Molde was able to win the silver after a great finish, things didn’t quite work out like coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær wanted. Heading into this season, Molde wants to close the gap, and it will be exciting to see if they will be a legitimate title contender. Last year’s top goal scorer and best player, Björn Bergmann Sigurdarsson, has left Molde and Eliteserien in favor of Russian club Rostov. There were rumors about a possible return to Molde for Magnus Wolff Eikrem, but he ended up with MLS club Seattle Sounders instead.
Molde has the second-best squad in Norwegian soccer, beaten only by Rosenborg. Vegard Forren, Babacar Sarr, and Ruben Gabrielsen are all high-quality players who will make Molde a difficult team to beat, both nationally and continentally.
Solskjær is optimistic. “I think it looks good. We’re getting more confident in our own abilities every day and I’m sure we’ll be more consistent than we were last year,” he said. “Last season, we played some incredibly good games, but we could play terrible a week later. Consistency is the key.”
Strømsgodset was seen by many as one of the favorites heading into last year’s campaign, but, like Molde, the team’s chances were weakened by a bad first half of the season. However, they proved their inherent potential by winning eight out of their last 10 games, losing the bronze medal to Sarpsborg 08 by a hair. If they’re able to play like that over a full season, Strømsgodset will be fighting for the league title. The team from Drammen has strengthened its squad with two strong offensive players in Herman Stengel, who transferred from Vålerenga as a free agent, and Amahl Pellegrino, one of the best goal scorers in last years’ OBOS league (Level 2 in Norwegian soccer). Both players are capable of strengthening an already decent Strømsgodset side.
Sarpsborg 08’s best season ever was 2017. The team played better than anyone had thought possible beforehand, placing third in the league and reaching the cup final. Most of the credit should be given to Sarpsborg coach Geir Bakke and team manager Thomas Berntsen, and their dedication and hard work over the last couple of years. Lacking the resources of a club like Rosenborg, Sarpsborg 08 is sometimes forced to sell some of their best players, but Bakke and
Berntsen have displayed an amazing ability to buy young talents and develop them into great players in record time. Having bought quite a few players heading into this season, we’re expecting many of them to dominate the pitch in no time.
With three consecutive league titles, Rosenborg is clearly the team to beat this coming season, and is starting to look like the unbeatable champions who dominated the ’90s and early ’00s, winning 13 consecutive league titles from 1992 to 2004. But the challengers are many.
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.
This article originally appeared in the March 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.