LIFE IN STRØMMEN; AN INTERVIEW WITH MANAGER ESPEN OLSEN

Strømmen surprised many onlookers in the 2016 season as they surpassed all expectations and finished in 7th, just outside of the promotion play off places. The side were tipped by many to suffer relegation to the 2.Divisjon but despite the fact they have one of the smallest budgets in the league, coach Espen Olsen led his side to new heights last season. 2017 will be a different challenge, but one Olsen is confident of overcoming.

(Photo: DigitalSports)

«Hopefully we can do better this year. We have the same team as last season and still I feel the squad as a whole is even better now than at the beginning of 2016.

But, at the same time, our opponents will come more prepared to face us as they know how we play now. We have a dream of making the top six, but is that realistic? I am not sure. We are one of the smallest clubs in the league when it comes to resources.»

This will be Espen Olsen’s third year in charge of the side. As a player, Olsen enjoyed two stints at the side between 2001-2002 and 2011-2012 before joining the club as assistant manager in 2013.

Under the former Norwegian international’s command, Strømmen have improved their position each season going from 8th in 2015 to 7th in 2016. Having visited Strømmen briefly in the Winter it is clear that the squad Olsen presides over are a tight knit bunch. Despite the less than glamorous surroundings of the Strømmen Stadion the players have all pulled together recently to drag the club closer to the top six places in the OBOS Ligaen.

So far in their preparations for the 2017 season Strømmen have leaked 14 goals in 4 games. Olsen has been experimenting somewhat with a possession based style of play which has seen the side play out from the back much more than they did in 2016. This has led to many avoidable individual errors and goals conceded, which has annoyed Olsen.

Strømmen were praised last season for their attacking football and clearly Olsen wants to expand this vision more in the coming season, even if there are a few teething problems.

«We are very happy with the defenders we have (despite the amount of goals conceded). We lost Melgalvis to LSK but have two new exciting players in Anders Diserud and Emil Sildnes. Kristian Jahr is also a kind of new player, as he did not play the first half of last season due to injury.

Together with Steiner (Strømnes) and Pål Steffen (Andresen) we have three very strong central defenders now. And also we now have young Johannes Grødtlien who is improving every day.»

One criticism that could have been levelled at the side last season was the fact they did not house a true striker in their side, especially in the first half of the season. Martin Trøen remedied the situation somewhat as he scored 7 goals in 12 games after his move from Eidsvold Turn, but Strømmen still found it hard hitting the back of the net from time to time.

In the Winter, Olsen worked hard to re-sign Markus Brændsrød from LSK who became a fixture in the side in the latter part of the 2016 season. Brændsrød can play on the wings or as a striker and so could well become invaluable in 2017. Magnus Solum also signed from Raufoss, meaning Strømmen go into the 2017 season with three very good strikers on their books.

«Yes, we were definitely lacking a true goalscorer in the first half of last season until Martin (Trøen) arrived. He came from the 3.Divisjon so struggled a little at the start with the sudden change of pace in the training sessions. He trained almost double to what he was used to.

Solum has already proven in pre-season that he will be a massive strengthening up front for us and also Brændsrød is a different player now than he was a year ago. It took him some time and games but now he looks like a really dangerous striker.

Also young Kristian Bjørndalen was struggling last year with sickness but he has the talent to become a great striker in OBOS. Brændsrød, Trøen and Solum are all quite different players so we can choose by form and have different options now.»

Markus Brændsrød is one of many Strommen players to have benefited from Espen Olsen’s management. (Photo:Digital Sports)

As a former striker himself, it is clear Olsen appreciates what is needed to make a good forward at this level. Markus Brændsrød does not exactly look like a natural forward but Olsen recognised early on that he had the abilities to become a very good second striker for Strømmen. As Olsen said, Brændsrød started relatively slowly but grew into his role as the season went on and soon became one of the stand out performers in the side.

A key issue that has been discussed across various forums in Norway is scouting. With so many Norwegian sides not employing a scout, or simply not scouting other areas outside of Scandinavia, the country has been left behind slightly in the footballing world. Norway currently sit in 81st position in the FIFA World Rankings, behind countries such as Guatemala and St. Kitts and Nevis.

Whilst this is directly not a result of poor scouting from Norwegian clubs, the decreasing quality of the Eliteserien and OBOS Ligaen means that young players coming through the teams’ academies are not playing with top talent anymore.

With Strømmen’s budget being one of the smallest in the league, the job of scouting in the side will often fall to either Espen Olsen or one of his assistants. Employing a full time scout is a luxury the side simply cannot afford, no matter how necessary it is. Despite this, Strømmen have unearthed some gems in recent years and continue to develop players to make them ‘Eliteserien ready’.

«I think scouting is very important, but it is all down to resources.» Says Olsen.

«Some of the bigger clubs who can afford it, should do it. But unfortunately it is not really a topic of discussion for us. I look at a lot of games from lower leagues here, both 2 and 3 Divisjon and i talk to people associated with the clubs. Our way of ‘Scouting’ is that we try to prove to everybody that Strømmen is a nice place to live and a great club.

Our role is to develop players so they can go to LSK or some other bigger club. We always help our players who we think are good enough to play for bigger teams, we have had a lot of success with that over the last 2 or 3 years and there are now many ex-Strømmen players who are regulars in the Tippeligaen.»

Players such as Marius Amundsen, Aleksander Melgalvis, Arild Ostbo and Martin Ramsland have all left Strømmen in recent years to join Eliteserien sides. There is no doubt that the Strømmen ‘philosophy’ is working and if the side can continue to develop players in the way they currently are then the club will continue to benefit Norwegian football.

«We never want to hold back players or demand too much money for them. I think a lot of younger player see that Strømmen is a place they can go and develop and then they stay here until they are good enough to play in the first XI of an Eliteserien side.»

Martin Ramsland, one of may former Strømmen players to have gone onto bigger things after leaving the club. (Photo: Digital Sports)

This philosophy is something that has been clearly visible during Strømmen’s current pre-season. The side have taken on over 4 new signings and many more trialists so far. Olsen is willing to give most determined players a shot at training with the side and with players such as Sami Loulanti, Anders Diserud and Emil Sildnes performing to a high standard in pre-season it is clear why Strømmen take this approach to signing players.

«Emil Sildnes, with his story, is a player we just had to take on. He has been very good and deserves his chance, he is definitely one who could surprise a few.

Anders Diserud is also exciting, he works very hard every day and has the passion to become a top player in the future. Sami Loulanti could have a breakthrough season this year i think.»

Strømmen’s 2017 season will be an extremely interesting one to follow. With clubs such as IK Start, Bodo/Glimt, Mjondalen, Sandnes and Fredrikstad all in the OBOS Ligaen the league will be tougher than ever. Strømmen’s expectations will simply be to retain their status as a 1.Divisjon side, but secretly, they may well be confident of another surprise season and a push for the top 6.

Espen Olsen is a man whom you could see being Strømmen boss for a very long time. He has a clear philosophy for the club and whilst it may not be the most ambitious in some peoples’ eyes, it is one that reflects the status of his side extremely well.

«My philosophy is simple, we want to have fun, enjoy the game and better each other every day. I think it is more important for us to build a strong unit, a group of people who work hard together and have a lot of fun, rather than always looking for skills.

I try to look more at the personality of a player and try to find someone who will fit in well with the group. Obviously they have to also fit into our style of play and have the skills to play OBOS Ligaen football but that does not matter if their personality is not right.

I always look to have a style of play that gets the best out of every player.»