A new Norse Saga is written. Erling Braut Haaland and Martin Ødegaard have become a force to be reckoned with. The new kings of Norwegian soccer are quietly conquering England, this time from within.
Remember The Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, when the Norwegian King Haraldr Harðráði was killed trying to reclaim part of England? It was the last major Viking incursion into Europe and was often used to mark the end of the Viking Age. Today, the Norse guys are back. It's no coincidence that Haaland and Ødegaard get a kick out of beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. They know that's where titles are won, and history will be written.
From Völuspá (a Viking song)
It was in primeval times that Ymir lived,
neither sand nor sea nor salty waves,
there was no earth nor vast sky,
Only gaping abyss and nowhere grass.
The sun grows black, and into the sea, the earth sinks;
From the sky, the bright stars fall;
vapors of fire pierce through,
high to heaven, a hot flame rises.
On sees, they come, another way
green earth from the sea;
waterfalls, again the eagle shoots
down along the rocks, lusting for fish.
She sees a hall more beautiful than sunlight
With golden roofs standing on Gimle;
Their faithful heroes will dwell,
In carelessness and joy.
Then comes the mighty one in power,
Powerful from above, he who rules over all
Back on earth
Ødegaard and Haaland have known each other since they were part of Norway U20. Even though they had heard of each other, they didn't meet before. Martin played in the Dutch premier league when Erling debuted in the Eliteserien, the professional Norwegian Soccer League. Like most talented Norwegians, Ødegaard started to travel the world at a young age, a trait they inherited from their distant ancestors. For gifted soccer players, Norway is soon too small. They better develop their skills in higher-rated European leagues. There's no rebuttal for a 16-year-old from the city of Drammen, south of Oslo when Real Madrid knocks on the door.
"I am young but have already experienced a lot. I have played and lived in the Netherlands, Spain, and England," says Martin Ødegaard, the current captain of Arsenal and the Norwegian national team. "Everything I have done has helped me. When Real Madrid accommodates you at Dutch sides like Heerenveen and Vitesse, something didn't go quite right. That's not a bad thing. I still enjoyed it a lot. I love football. You also learn from things that go wrong. I've been roaming the world since I was 17. All the experiences have shaped me into the player I am today: I feel calm and confident on the pitch and can bear the responsibility the coaches and teammates entrust me."
Wikipedia: Ødegaard began his senior club career at age 15 in 2014, playing for Strømsgodset. Martin set the record for the youngest professional goalscorer, and in 2015, he signed for Real Madrid, where he became the youngest Madrista ever. After enduring sporadic playing time, Ødegaard joined the Dutch clubs Heerenveen and Vitesse, and La Liga club Real Sociedad, on successive loans between 2017 and 2019; Ødegaard won the Copa del Rey with Real Sociedad in 2019. Following another loan, he signed for Arsenal in 2021 in a transfer worth an initial €35 million. After a successful first entire season with Arsenal, he was announced as the club's captain in 2022.
Erling Braut Haaland chose a similar path to his Norwegian brother-in-arms. At 17, he moved to Red Bull Salzburg, which acquired him from Molde FK. Six months later, Borussia Dortmund brought the up-and-coming talent to Germany. And after 2.5 years, he moved to Manchester City, the club he was a fan of as a toddler because his father played football there. According to Erling, all this wandering suits the nature of his being. "I like that challenge. I like to leave my comfort zone and get rid of old routines. I've always done that. Everywhere I go, everything is new. I have to get to know the people at the club, try to know the city and the surroundings, and adapt to the football the club plays. In the beginning, it feels uncomfortable, but at the same time, I like that. It shapes you."
The new king of goal-getters
Ødegaard and Haaland do not consider themselves old-school Vikings. No violence or piracy suits their game. If anything, they want to conquer the hearts of their fans. Ødegaard with creativity, Haaland with goals. "It took me a few years to figure out my strength," says Martin. "I'm good at creating chances that fellow players must finish. That's how I try to get my teams through games. I want to become even more decisive for my teams to win."
Haaland's task seems easier: scoring goals. That's the only duty he has, and he succeeds wonderfully. At all his clubs, Erling breaks record after record. "Every goal gives me pleasure. Scoring is a wonderful feeling I can't get enough of," says the new king of goalgetters.
Even as a child, Erling Braut Haaland stood out. He often scored but was by no means physically strong. A push was enough to knock him off balance. At the same time, he was tireless and dedicated to scoring goals. At 14, he sometimes played against 18-year-olds. At Norway U15, he scored his name against arch-rival Sweden from the kick-off with a high-arcing ball over the goalkeeper.
He transferred from Bryne to Molde FK, where his career as a goal-scoring machine would take shape. Coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had him make his debut in Norwegian football's highest league at the age of 16. It was a learning year. He scored four goals that season, a number he would immediately match in the first game of the following season against Brann. He had grown more robust, and everyone understood that Erling Braut Haaland had a special gift. After 25 games, the youngster opted for a transfer to Salzburg. He felt he was ready for something new, a new environment, new impressions, and new teaching.
Salzburg's approach suited him. He became stronger and stronger. Salzburg's scouts were proved right. Their analysis: 'Erling has all the skills to become a world-class player and dominate competitions. Not only because of his technical skills but also his social skills and eagerness to learn.' While his teammates entertained themselves with card games, Erling read scientific treatises on nutrition, mental strength, and sleep. "There is always room for improvement," he believes. "You have to want to take that next step."
2019 was the year of Haaland's final breakthrough. In the Norway-Honduras international, he scored nine goals and was disappointed it was not 10. As a Salzburg striker, he scored 28 goals in 22 games, with five hat-tricks. All the big clubs wanted to bring him in at once. Solskjaer, now manager of Manchester United, tried to convince him to consider England. Still, Erling chose Borussia Dortmund after six months in Austria. Only later would we understand that ManU was a no-go for a Haaland.
From Dortmund, he had received a commitment to be their central striker. That gave him confidence. Moreover, Borussia's type of football appealed to Erling. He graced his Bundesliga debut with three goals. "Monstrous," the newspapers wrote. But Erling remained who he was. In 2.5 years, he scored 86 goals in 89 games. The intensity of his game continued to increase. During training sessions, he worked on his speed and agility and, as a result, broke the record for the fastest sprint in the Bundesliga. In a game with Wolfsburg, a rate of 36.04 kilometers per hour was measured. By comparison, Usain Bold set his world record in the 100-meter sprint at 37.5 kilometers per hour.
In mere years, Erling transformed from an "interesting talent" to one of the most coveted players on planet Earth. Unsurprisingly, PSG, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich wriggled into all sorts of corners to catch the northerner's attention. It was pointless. There was only one possible outcome: Manchester City. This is where Erling's father, Alfie, had played; this was where Erling wanted to be. "Since I watch TV, I watch City games. I always saw myself playing football here. In the end, my feelings decide. But the question was whether City wanted me. Would I fit in here? What could I deliver to help this club? And how does the team help me? Is City the place where I can develop as a striker?"
The king of cross-passing
In 2023, Ødegaard's Arsenal and Haaland's City will compete for the Premiership shield. The Norwegians have talked about it but are otherwise keeping quiet. Ødegaard admits that the City ace is "smashing it" this season. "He's a beast." On the other hand, Haaland cannot understand why Martin doesn't play for Real Madrid. "He's that good. He made his debut as a substitute for Ronaldo. That says it all."
"Haaland is a sweet, funny guy," Ødegaard responded. "Beyond that, I won't go into it. Because whatever I say now will undoubtedly be twisted."
Haland and Ødegaard keep in touch via Snapchat. "Erling can be very exuberant and crazy," says Martin. "He is very cheerful and makes everyone laugh. But actually, he is reticent. You won't see him going on a rampage in the nightlife. He prefers walking the streets during the day to explore the city. His teammates like him. He has no attitude and subordinates himself to the team. And every year, he gets better. To me, that's very special."
They still need to achieve similar results to the Norwegian national squad. Although the national team is bursting with talent, Norway forgot to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. "In the new series for the 2026 World Cup, we need to take a step forward," stresses Ødegaard, the new king of cross-passing. "Be hungry. All the players understand the principles. Technique, tactics, quality, mentality, and focus sum up soccer. We have to embrace the pressure and start loving it. The country believes in us. It has to happen now if we want to be at the top. We are in a good position. The key is to keep calm, stay humble and work hard. The atmosphere is good, which is important, but many aspects can still be improved. That's one of the best things soccer has to offer: improvement. Tomorrow you can be better than you are today."
The Norway and Arsenal captain has conquered his place in global football. Not through extravaganza or star power, but by being himself and exposing tons of self-confidence, especially when it's not working out. "I am who I am. Whether captain or not, I do what I have always done. I will not change myself, nor am I extra present in the dressing room since I wear the captain's armband. Every single day, I play with the greatest intensity I can muster. Football can be relentless. There is only room for 11 people on the pitch. It's hard when you don't play. You have to give your all. Every day you have to give everything that's in the tank. Ultimately, the energy you put into it will pay off."
Haaland echoes his comrade. "There is always something to learn. A person has to keep progressing. I can improve in every area. I want to score goals and give 100 percent to win every game. As a striker, it is excellent to run in space behind defenders. The fact that people make me more prominent than I am is not my problem. I don't need to be in the spotlight. I love making jokes on Instagram or Snapchat, but I'm tranquil and want to live as healthily as possible. I live in the moment. A footballer is an entertainer. You are judged and held accountable for your mistakes and shortcomings every week. That's why you shouldn't overthink. Yesterday lies behind you. The future is yet to come. Football is about the now. The present represents my vibe.
The Vikings were inhabitants of Scandinavia in roughly 800 and 1066 - the year of the last major Viking invasion of Europe. 'Viking' comes from the Old Norse word 'Vikingr', which means pirate. The raids that Viking warriors made are the legacy of a period because that is all that the distant European nations were subjected to. They didn't know about the farming and fishing that was going on in Scandinavia.
The Viking phenomenon didn't suddenly come to an end. It gradually faded as changes occurred in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. Raids became less lucrative, less desirable, and less essential. Kings got beaten, and life went on. And now, two new Vikings have silently reached great heights in the modern era. They beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with their teams and knew no mercy. Every battle is one on the way to championships and immortality. Not that they are after that, but such eulogies get heroes free. That is why the Vikings are still famous. Suppose the brothers-in-arms manage to hoist Norway onto the international stage. In that case, their names will be remembered centuries after this one, with the utmost respect.
Hail Erling Braut Haaland, Martin Ødegaard ... the new Norse kings of soccer.