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Scandinavia’s Contribution to Football

Map of Scandinavia

Scandinavian influence continues to become prominent in the world of football, from the exploits of Erling Haaland to new age data and its use in match preparation. We now struggle to look at the game as it once was, therefore, this piece will delve into the reasons why the northern tip of Europe has changed the footballing landscape in its own way.



The idea of how football should be played is subjective, however, all managers have been forced into fine tuning their tactics to those similar to the transitional game in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. In these countries players have had to become well adapted to playing in multiple positions across the pitch while having to problem solve at pace.


Academies have undergone change throughout the world, becoming more profitable in the process. As the physical strand of football becomes prevalent in Europe, Nordic players, mostly strikers and wide players, have been adjusting from a young age. Out of necessity full backs in Scandinavia have become technically proficient, regularly bringing the ball inside to avoid packed wide areas. The most in demand strikers are typically broad and possess strong ball control. The physicality of the striker has become paramount in playing over the press, holding off any pressure from the defence and leading to situations where defensive gaps can be exploited.


Football towards the Arctic hasn’t been regarded highly in most sections of football history. Over the years though, a more technical approach has been considered. The likes of Arsenal’s Martin Ødegaard and Bologna’s Jesper Karlsson are examples of this. These players are the solution for breaking pressing triggers or transitional back-fives. 


Tactical Analysis of Scandinavian Football 

Looking at the Norwegian Eliteserien, roughly eight of the sixteen sides play with a back three or five. Having half the league concentrated into one or two formations, with an intense style, has caused clubs to produce an answer to this style of play. In the last couple of years there have been a string of wide players coming into the higher ranked leagues from Scandinavia. FC Copenhagen’s duo of Elias Jelert (right/left-Back) and Roony Bardghji (right-wing) have demonstrated the changes in modern Scandinavian wide players, technically brilliant and specialising in one area of their game.


Kjell Knutsen’s Bodø/Glimt thrashed Roma 6-1 in October 2021, displaying their style to the footballing world. During the game The Norwegians played with a ferocity which allowed them in behind Roma’s defence. Bodø/Glimt built up in wide areas, dragging Roma’s back five wide to leave ample space for the centre-midfielders to either shoot or play the wingers through.


Knutsen isn't averse to letting his full backs tuck in, allowing for two options; midfield overload or isolating the winger against the full-back. You will often see a left footed winger like Bukayo Saka 1v1 looking to cut in because of the tactical developments made to counteract defences of five.


African Footballers in Scandinavia

Scandinavian football has, and continues to, successfully develop African players stepping into the European game. In 2015 FC Nordsjælland were taken over by the Ghana based Right to Dream Academy. The Danish outfit have attained and sold talents such as Kamal Sulemana, Mohammed Kudus and Ernest Nuamah for large profits.


Since 2016; Right to Dream’s first full season with FCN, the club has failed to finish outside of the championship group (top six) once. The 22/23 season saw Nordsjælland top the league at regular season’s end ultimately conceding top spot to FC Copenhagen, sufficient for Conference League football. These results show that FCN have created a sustainable and a high-quality model that will be replicated in the future, especially by mid to lower table clubs in Europe’s top leagues.


For many years the African market has been underappreciated, considering the quantity of players from the continent having strong tactical intelligence matched with the physicality needed for success. In larger European leagues, we are starting to see players arriving directly from South America, the same is yet to happen for Africa but is likely to be the next hotspot, shown successfully in the women’s game. 


Nordsjælland are well known for their social conscientiousness which plays its part in their recruitment process. Oftentimes clubs forget the most important ingredients for a team are motivation and oneness, two ideals that FCN look for in every player.


Data Analytics in Football

Data intake in its earliest incarnation has been around for close to one-hundred years in one form or another. FC Midtjylland harnessed it with the help of modern technology to qualify regularly for European football. The Danish side have become well known for their then unique approach to analytics. Their use of data is intended to swap emotional decision making and bias for composed and considered facts. 


FCM looked to other sports such as American Football to gain knowledge and apply it in a footballing context, the best example being set pieces. Midtjylland scored a remarkable twenty-three goals from set-pieces on the way to the 2014-15 Superliga title. Such statistics have forced clubs to think about how they approach every in-game scenario and the most efficient way of going about it.


The constant progression in data has created volatility within Scandinavian football, with teams seemingly popping up front from nowhere to mount a title charge. The trend of volatility among other European leagues has also increased with the rise of data in football. There are high amounts of data points which can subjectively be referred to, leading clubs to look at the right stats in one year and the wrong ones the next.


In recent seasons, RC Lens, Union Berlin and Union Saint-Gilliose have deployed a 3-5-2, which has become the DeFacto ‘Moneyball’ formation. The shape is effective due to eight of the ten outfield players starting in the centre of the pitch rendering it near impossible to break down along with the lack of space between players both vertically and laterally. 


Union Berlin continue to use the formation every week and have struggled in part to the shape’s limitations in attack. Lens and Union Saint-Gilliose have adopted the 3-4-2-1; which has allowed both to become more flexible and unpredictable.


So, subtly or not the Scandinavians have played their part in football’s latest evolution; their biggest yet. These innovations have been shrewd in utilising modern data to gain an advantage on and off the pitch. From these developments we are already seeing players and coaches from this part of the world excelling at the biggest clubs, a theme that is only going to continue. 


Football is arguably going through its biggest transition, coinciding with the progression of modern technology, and it will be intriguing to see how the game will look not only five years from now but twenty.

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