Welcome back to Navigating Norway where we’ll be rounding up the action of the 2024 season. It’s Fredrik Solskjaer’s fourth year at the helm of Tromsdalen UIL and his first year managing in Norway’s top-flight. Sitting in 8th place at the midway point of the season — with Molde ending the title race for everyone already — but still with a lot to play for. We have the Norwegian FA Cup semi-final to play and we are only a few points off the European qualifying places in the league.
But before that, some more news from the national team.
If you remember, the Norway U19s won the U19 UEFA European Championship in 2023 — beating France in the final 1–0 — and they did it again in 2024, annihilating France in the final 3–0. They lost only one game in the tournament whilst winning the rest to nil, defeating Croatia, Italy, Germany and Holland before their final rout. It’s promising to see and once again I decided to have a look around and shortlist a few of the players hoping that one day we’ll have enough money to make moves for them.
We have said before that the way to end this save would be to lead the national team into a FIFA World Cup and it looks like by the time we get to that point, the team will already be a force to be reckoned with. But for now, we have work to do with Tromsdalen. Let’s get back into the action.
END OF SEASON REVIEW 2024
First of all — instead of results — we’re going to look at the mid-season arrivals and departures. I said at the end of the previous update that there were 5 players I was interested in and that our budget could see us bring in all of them. I made offers for them all and after some tough negotiations over a few weeks, we managed to complete all five deals. The best deal was for Mustapha Fofana, a striker who arrived for only £4k from Stromgodset.
Fofana would go straight into the starting XI. His attributes looked fantastic and he is exactly what we needed. We also brought in centre-halves Leo Fuhr Hjelde for £5.5k and Jonathan Sandberg on a free transfer as well as two strong, creative midfielders in Sander Christiansen for £45k and Syver Skeide for £23k (with the possibility of the deal reaching as much as £43.5k) — it was all fantastic business. We remained in heavy debt though which was unfortunate.
Then something miraculous happened on deadline day. Lillestrom came in with a £900k offer for our central midfielder Mikael Johnsen. He’s a key player and easily — if you go by attributes — the best player at the club. At this stage, we were £1.7m in debt so I made the sensible decision of accepting the offer. Luckily we had brought in Christiansen and Skeide so I did not see losing Johnsen as much of a problem.
But how did we get on during the time we made additions to the squad? Did it have an effect on results? Did it cause issues with team chemistry?
Following our defeat to Rosenborg at the end of the last update we fought back with 5 points from our next available 9. We battled to a 0–0 draw away at Haugesund before a Vegard Lysvoll penalty deep into stoppage time salvaged another draw in a 2–2 ping-pong battle with FK Brann at home. After three games without a win, we battled back to defeat Sandefjord 2–1 at home. Goals from Fofana — on his debut — and Kevin Martin Krygard doing the business as we got back to winning ways.
We then played two of the top Norwegian sides, both away from home. Bodo/Glimt were first up and despite arguably being the better side we fell to a 0–2 defeat. Goals from Emil Ceide and Lehne Olsen condemned us to defeat. Molde were a different story, it is clear to see why they are runaway leaders in the Elite Serien. They eased to a 0–3 win — although the scoreline should have been much more damaging — to register Fredrik Solskjaer’s first back-to-back league defeats in his career.
The defeats should have damaged morale and set us back but in fact, we actually went undefeated for the final 10 games of the season. Wins over Kristiansund, Ranheim, Stromgodset, Rosenborg and Lillestrom and draws with Viking, Odds, Valerenga, Tromso and Jerv saw us finish in 7th place in our first Elite Serien season. Don’t worry, you’ll see the league table later on in the update. Our 7th place finish meant we missed out on European qualifying places. It would have been nice to get there if just for the money but in all fairness, this team is not ready to make a mark in UEFA competitions just yet. Still, we have exceeded expectations once again.
Now we move to the Norwegian FA Cup — the NM SAS Braathens Cup — where we would face the side bottom of the Elite Serien: Ranheim. I was expecting an easy game in all honesty. It had been a month since the transfer window had shut and all our new arrivals were hitting the ground running. Fofana was scoring goals, Christiansen was supplying the assists and the partnership of Sandberg and Fuhr Hjelde at the back was improving game by game. But did we get the job done or did we fail?
Oh, we got the job done alright but it didn’t look good for large periods of the game. First of all, though, remember in the first season when we only had a handful of away fans travelling with us? We’re back to that. It’s a Norwegian FA Cup semi-final and only 26 of them came to support us out of a 4,111 attendance. Either our fans are shocking/non-existent or maybe it’s difficult to travel in and around Norway? Who knows. We had to go to extra time to reach the final with Mustapha Fofana’s 93rd-minute goal being the difference as we edged our way through. Phew!
It would be the club’s FIRST EVER Norwegian FA Cup final and who should stand in our way? None other than the — at the time — champions-elect, Molde FK. We had played Molde three times during our 4-year reign at Tromsdalen, losing all three and scoring a total of 0 goals. Was I confident? Hell no. I’d already accepted defeat in all honesty.
What was great about Molde being in the final though is that it opened up a spot for the UEFA Europa Conference League qualifiers. By winning the league and reaching the final it meant that no matter what happens we would be playing in Europe next season. I did say earlier that we are not ready for it, and I still stand by that comment but it sure does feel good knowing that we’ll at least be giving it a go much earlier than we first thought.
The Final itself was a non-event. Chances were low, brutality was high. It was more of a slow, tactical war than a fast-paced, let’s just have it type of match. But, at the end of the day, when it was all said and done, 854 of our fans were left celebrating at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo.
Jonathan Sandberg stepped up and won the cup.
After a goalless game — yes, we still can’t score against Molde — we won 4–2 on penalties. It’s our first major cup win of the save in Norway and what a way to do it — by beating Norway’s finest and current national champions. Our heroes in the shootout were Fofana, Bolso, Lysvoll (of course) and Sandberg who converted their spot-kicks whilst our signing of the season in between the sticks, none other than Andreas Smedplass, was on hand to deny Hussain and Inge Utvik. What a way to end the season.
Now it’s time for you to see the league table.
Now you can see why I couldn’t show you the table earlier on in the update. There’s a giant ‘EC2’ that stands out next to our name. Our 7th place finish was outstanding considering that this is our first time in the top-flight yet I feel we could have done better. We had the most draws with 14 and the second least defeats with 5. It’s a strong base to build on that’s for sure. It’s one of those ‘same old story’ scenarios where we fail to turn draws into wins but I’m certain that we’ll get that right at some stage.
Some notable end of season news items showed that our centre back Kevin Jablinski finished 3rd in the Norwegian Players’ Player of the Year awards whilst Morten Gamst Pedersen finally retired from the game just before turning 44-years-old. Thank you Morten for being the catalyst in our first promotion back in 2021.
So, what a season. We were never in danger of relegation and we ended up with our first major cup win in Norway. To top it all off we’ll be featuring in the UEFA Europa Conference qualifiers next season. I don’t expect us to go far and if I’m honest, it’s not something we need to put near the top of our list of priorities. Our aims for next season are simple: Improve the squad and topple Molde FK. It’ll be our fifth season in charge, what a bloody save this is.
See you next time.
Jamie | TarrantinoUX