Welcome back to Navigating Norway as we enter our third season in charge of Tromsdalen. We overachieved last time out by finishing third in the OBOS Ligaen but a lacklustre performance in the playoffs ensured that we’d be spending another season in the second division. This year we set out again in our attempts to reach Norway’s Elite Serien, two promotions in three seasons would be fantastic but it’s still an unlikely prospect.
Before we delve into the 2023 season there were some interesting news items that followed in the close of 2022. Our finish of 3rd place was a record high finish for Tromsdalen in Norway. And on personal and playing levels Fredrik Solskjaer was voted 3rd in the manager of the season award whilst Morten Gamst Pedersen — at the age of 41 — collected the OBOS Ligaen goal of the season gong. He also signed a new deal meaning he’ll be turning 42 during this season. Madness.
Our aims for this season are simple and practically the same as last season: Finish as high up in the table as possible. We are pencilled down at 150/1 to win the league this time around, odd considering last year we were 50/1 before the season began and ended up finishing 3rd. Perhaps the media know something that I do not. Alas, it’s 2023 and our pre-season campaign is all planned out. Let’s dive into it shall we?
PRE-SEASON REVIEW 2023
The past two pre-season preparations saw us play a total of 23 friendlies, this time out we only played 4. Why? I decided to give my staff more to do. Arrange friendlies, arrange training sessions — although I’d chop and change things every fortnight — as well as having signings for the B team and u19s initiated by the correct people, although ultimately it would be me finalising every deal. I have to keep my authority after all.
Our friendly outings saw us defeat Jjolner 3–1 and Floya 2–1 whilst we lost to both Bodo/Glimt 2–4 and neighbours Tromso 0–2, both of whom play in the Elite Serien, showing once again why we would not have been ready if we had been promoted last season. Vegard Lysvoll and Andreas Lovland once again the scorers. After the disappointing games drawn last year, we need to ensure that goals are spread across the team rather than being reliant on our ageing strike force which stands at a combined 61-years-old.
We brought in three new faces for the 2023 season. 23-year-old Norwegian midfielder Mikael Johnsen would no doubt be a starter as he joined from NAC in the Netherlands. Another central midfield recruitment in Norwegian Abdisalam Ibrahim would also slot straight in the first team as he joined from last season’s Elite Serien champions Kristiansund. 24-year-old — and once again Norwegian — centre back Robin Lorentzen also joined, this time from Harstad IL but whether he’ll feature often enough to settle is yet to be seen.
You’ll have noticed a theme there — as well as in the previous two seasons — that I’m only bringing in Norwegian players and that will remain the same throughout this save unless someone special becomes available. Our first team squad currently has only one non-Norwegian player in Ulfar Birgisson who hails from Iceland but has only made 18 appearances since my arrival. He’ll be released at the end of his contract, whenever that may be. With suitable preparations made and the midfield reinforced it’s time to move on and see where we end up at the midway point of the OBOS Ligaen season.
MID-SEASON REVIEW 2023
At the halfway stage of the 2023 season, we find ourselves in a familiar position as sit 2nd in the OBOS Ligaen. Unbeaten too I’d like to add. The position may be familiar but so is the fact that we are once again drawing too many games. In 15 games we’ve drawn 7, practically half of our games. The difference this time around however is that we were behind in all the score-draws bar one, where we actually led 4–1 and threw it all away. If not for doing that we’d be sitting on top of the pile right now.
Going forward though we cannot really have too many complaints having score 40 league goals in those 15 fixtures. Lysvoll is off breaking record records on his own whilst Andreas Lovland has only managed to net twice, unlike him to have so little in terms of numbers. Sigurd Gronli in the CAM position has been the other standout. He will almost certainly be capped by Norway at some point in his career.
Fredrik Solskjaer had his contract renewed also, another year extension that will see him into the end of the 2024 season — providing the Tromsdalen train doesn’t fall off the tracks. So how has the first half of the season gone in terms of results? We began with a dull 0–0 draw at home to Goroud before thumping newly promoted Mjondalen 3–0 and promotion challengers Sandefjord 4–0. We had a 4–0 win over Strommen in the Norwegian Cup sandwiched in between.
Our next two Norwegian Cup — or Braathen Cup — games saw us take on non-league side Porsanger who we could only beat 1–0 after going to extra time before being eliminated by Elite Serien side Bodo/Glimt 1–0, again in extra time. We’ve not come close to making a mark in the nation’s cup competition but I’m hopeful that one day we’ll see ourselves lifting it. Although of course our main is to get a team into the UEFA Champions League and to leave a mark.
Back in the league, the results were going well. Arguably anyhow. We drew 3 in a row, two 1–1’s with Sarspborg 08 and Asane — both of which we scored late equalisers — whilst we led Aalesund 4–1 after 54 minutes but somehow ended up with just a point. Ulrik Berglann’s 92nd-minute leveller a hammer blow as we would sit 6th in the table with more draws than wins. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring up visions of last season where these kinds of draws ended up costing us automatic promotion. We then went on a four-game winning streak where we scored 13 goals to cruise past Stjordals-Blink, Sandnes Ulf, Kongsvinger and KFUM Oslo.
During this time a news item above appeared. Norway had won the U19 European Championships. I couldn’t help but look through the squad and see what gems I could find. There were many and I shortlisted a few but because of our current stature and still being a semi-professional outfit the chances of them wanting to join us in this day and age is rather remote. In a few years, I may return for them, I’ll definitely be monitoring their progress.
Two more draws broke up our mini winning run. Adrian Sandbukt’s 92nd-minute header salvaged a 2–2 draw away at Raufoss before we played an absolute stinker away at Skeid Fotball which finished 0–0. The wins returned though as we defeated fellow promotion hopefuls Fredrikstad 3–0 thanks to a Lsvoll double and now 42-years-old Morten Gamst Pedersen’s thunderbolt. We followed this with a 4–0 victory over HamKam, Lysvoll improving his double last time out by netting a hat trick in this one.
What’s this? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is back in Norway? Elite Serien’s Lillestrom sacked their manager and brought the baby faced assassin back and who did he bring with him? None other than Roy Keane who is playing second in command. An unbelievable duo that could prove fatal to those in the top division. Anyhow, a disappointing 1–1 draw away at Sogndal meant we would be second in the table at the halfway point.
There’s only one question really isn’t there? We were in a similar position last year and we choked. This year though it’s not a 3-horse-race, it’s a 5-horse-race. Only two points separate top to 5th place which, to be honest, I find rather exciting. Two spots available and five teams vying for them, this is going to be some exceptional title race.
I’m praying that luck is on our side.
Unfortunately, this post will end here with the second part coming this Sunday morning. When writing up the full post I noticed that it was rather long in full so have decided to make the decision to break it up. Hey, I even did a poll on Twitter for advice on the issue! I hope you’ll be back for the second part of the 2023 season, I can assure you that it is one that is not to be missed. I shall see you then!
Jamie | TarrantinoUX