ULLEVAAL STADION (VG) He is 22 years old, has wreaked havoc in the Netherlands and got his dream transfer to La Liga. Basically a perfect starting point for a long national team career, but there is one problem: Erling Braut Haaland (22).
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– I don’t know if I’m even number two, laughs Jørgen Strand Larsen (22) in a meeting with VG at Thursday’s press session at Ullevaal.
With Strand Larsen (Celta Vigo) and Alexander Sørloth (Real Sociedad), Norway has two strikers who are the first choice for clubs at the very top level in Spain. Nevertheless, there is no doubt: If Erling Braut Haaland is healthy and ready, he will start all games for the foreseeable future.
– We have several good strikers here now. And it’s a lot of fun to be part of a national team that has so many good strikers. It’s absolutely sick. I try to watch them, because I’m young and I want to get better. There is no doubt that we have the world’s best striker in our team, so why not watch him? asks Strand Larsen.
There is little doubt that the other attackers, Sørloth, Strand Larsen and Joshua King, live in the shadow of Haaland, who has been given privileges in the national team.
– Alexander (Sørloth) has seen the big picture. It is he who has had to change, Solbakken told TV 2 in March when Haaland was given the switch to jersey number nine in the national team.
For this national team gathering, Norway has brought in Mario Pafundi, one of Haaland’s physiotherapists from City, as part of the support apparatus – on the recommendation of Haaland.
– I only see positive things about having a guy like Haaland, says Bent Skammelsrud.
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In the 90s, he learned that ecstatic performances for Rosenborg in the Champions League were not enough to become a first-choice central midfielder in Norway.
– If you compare with me, then Kjetil Rekdal was preferred. Coaches often have someone you like best, but it was up to me to take the chances when I got them. Such is the top sport. You have to stay ready all the time, and if you get mad or angry, you have nothing to do with the national team, says Skammelsrud.
– Does it still feel unfair when you are in the top flight and deliver good matches?
– Rekdal did a great job on the national team. And I got my chances. I was perhaps not as good in a challenger role as when I had the security where I knew I was going to play. My goal was to become invaluable and earn my start. I played in several places, that’s okay too, says Skammelsrud – who got a total of 38 international matches, and after “life in the shadows” in the 90s, all the matches started during the European Football Championship in 2000
At the age of 22, Jørgen Strand Larsen has established himself on a team that has spent eleven straight seasons in La Liga, but in today’s climate that is not necessarily enough for playing time when the competitors for playing time are Erling Braut Haaland, Alexander Sørloth and Joshua King .
– We play with one striker and it will be tough to get playing time. To fit in so that we can once play with two, that is clearly a goal, he says.
– Is it a bit frustrating when you do so well that you are considered a backup option?
– In that sense, it’s boring, but it’s good for Norway that we have a lot of good strikers. It’s not just at the top there is competition, it’s everywhere, so it says something about the steps Norway has taken. It’s just a sign of strength, says Strand Larsen, who adds that “I will try to work my way into all positions around him”.
As a goalkeeper, Ørjan Håskjold Nyland knows the feeling of being both first and second choice.
– Erling has become a world star at an early age. For the others, it’s about being ready when you get the opportunity. It can be an injury, that you chase a goal, that you play two at the top or that Erling retires early and gets a rest, says Nyland, who expects that his own status as “clubless” will change quickly.