Scouting Time: Scandinavia Special
In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. In this special episode, we look at four of the most exciting prospects in Scandinavian football: Viking’s Henrik Heggheim, Molde’s Stian Gregersen, Strømsgodset’s Johan Hove, and Vålerenga’s Osame Sahraoui.
Henrik Heggheim (Center-back, Viking)
Sometimes with any good young player, especially in a position like center-back, the key break they need is someone else getting injured. When Runar Hove went down in Round 3, for what would prove to be a season-ending problem, then it opened the door for 19-year-old Heggheim to showcase his talents. And he never looked back, going on to start 26 consecutive matches and missing very few minutes of action. Heggheim was one of the revelations of the season in the Eliteserien and very much became extremely comfortable at this level, improving as the campaign went on as well. For someone so young he has shown brilliant mental maturity and, combined with his excellent athleticism this has made for a great mix.
Heggheim has slotted into the right-hand side of central defense position in what is mostly a back four. Statistically, his best categories have been recoveries and defensive duels. His near 71% success rate in defensive duels is the 9th best out of anyone in the Eliteserien in 2020, which is very impressive for a young center-back in his debut year. He has showcased his various different qualities, whether it be through counter-pressing, positional ability or intercepting.
Heggheim is a fast and athletic defender and he makes use of this in certain situations. He has an ability to track back quickly and has impressed in 1-on-1 duels. For someone so young, his strength is also quite good and maybe underestimated by some attackers. Here below is a typical example of how he doesn’t shy away from a direct duel and relishes coming out on top.
Heggheim is often the last line of defense for Viking. They are a side who tend to take a lot of risks and leave themselves open on numerous occasions. Heggheim at times operated very much as the ‘cover’ defender. He uses his positional awareness and pace to great effect often finding himself in situations below.
There has been some talk linking him with a transfer away from the club but probably the most likely (and best) outcome for him would be another season in the Eliteserien to develop. There are two areas he needs to work on. The biggest part of his game that needs improvement is passing, but that will probably develop in time. He could also do with improving aerially, but he’s not a giant physically, so this is something he will likely have to master technically. The future is certainly bright though and Norway could have a gem of talent on their hands with this starlet.
Stian Gregersen (Centre back, Molde)
Gregersen is that weird mix of a very tall and physical defender who is also good on the ball. He has all the physical tools needed to compete extremely well in his position. In the air he is dominant, whilst his strength and pace are also a major quality. From a technical perspective, he has always looked comfortable on the ball and sometimes even likes to roam from position to go forward. He is a versatile player, capable of featuring at both defensive midfield and right back. The one area which probably holds him back is the mental side of his game. But now with more maturity at 25-years-old, the penny appears to have dropped. His positioning and decision making is now much improved.
Gregersen only featured in 12 Eliteserien matches this season due to injury problems. Incredibly, Molde won all 12 of those matches so it’s clear to see that his presence on the field is massive. He luckily managed to be fit for most of the Champions League qualifying rounds and Europa League group fixtures, during which he managed to catch the eye significantly. In the Eliteserien, nobody had a higher success rate of defensive duels than Gregersen (74.6%), whilst he was also 7th best for aerial duels (71.83%). You cannot underestimate the advantage of having such a rock at the back who basically hardly ever loses out in any key battles.
Gregersen has something ‘extra’ which sometimes statistics don’t show. It’s hard to judge him based on stats in 2020 anyway due to the amount of time he had on the sidelines injured, whilst in 2019 he was on loan at Swedish side Elfsborg in a completely different system. This is a player who has a certain sort of ‘weird flair’ about him though. It is slightly difficult to explain but he has an unpredictable and eccentric side to him, such as scoring the odd wonder goal or supplying an amazing pass. As aforementioned, he’s known to sometimes bomb forward wildly and join the attack as well.
MLS side Sporting Kansas City have been strongly linked with him for a fee believed to be around the £1.5m range. The player looks highly likely to move soon. But it is believed he prefers to stay within Europe and that Norwegian national team coach Stale Solbakken has recommended switching to one of the bigger leagues within this continent. He has all the physical tools to compete in most leagues and now that he is more mentally complete and mature, he would be a good catch for anyone. At 25, Gregersen is approaching his prime years and the next step will be a massive one for him.
Johan Hove (central midfielder, Strømsgodset)
Hove is best described as a ‘box to box’ midfielder. This is a role that is appearing less in the game these days but there is still a sprinkling of them around. The excellent energy levels and great engine that Hove has makes him very suitable for that role. Hove has now developed into a very fine all-around talent who has a bit of everything. He was always earmarked as a potential star in the making and actually made his Eliteserien debut for Sogndal back in 2016 when he was just 15-years-old! The following campaign he made nearly a dozen appearances and caught the eye. Eventually, he moved to Godset in the summer of 2018 and has gradually been imposing himself on the team. If 2019 was the year in which he cemented himself as a firm squad player, during the 2020 season he stepped up to become their most important man, bagging 10 goals from his central midfield spot.
Hove has always had the technical and mental ability from a young age. He was an early developer and ahead of most of his peers in this department. He has many different strings to his bow, tackling, passing, marking, great vision and work rate. What he really needed was to develop physically in order to fully make the most of his ability. In the last 18 months that has happened and allowed him to put in some serious shifts in the middle of the park. He has the stamina and drive to keep things up for 90 mins. He was named on the bench for the first match of the season but after that made 29 consecutive starts – rarely coming off as a substitute either. He has proven his durability and dependability because the Eliteserien schedule was at times brutal this season.
His biggest strength is an ability to find space, with driving runs from the deep and score goals. In total, he scored 10 times in the Eliteserien in 2020, with an xG of 8.78. This shows he is not the type of player who relies on individual freakish long-range attempts, but rather someone who gets into some high xG scoring positions. Nine of his ten strikes came from inside the penalty area. 36 of his attempted 59 shots came from inside the box at a very respectable 53% accuracy rate. A strong trend of his is to anticipate crosses and beat defenders with his intelligence and movement. There are many examples of him being in the right place at the right time.
Hove is really good at driving into the box and just getting on the end of those chances. There’s an uncanny likeness to someone like Frank Lampard in that department -he just has that knack of scoring goals as a midfielder. There is no doubt that he will now be on the radar of a few clubs after an excellent season. Strømsgodset have admitted in recent years that they are a ‘selling club’ so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Hove moves on either this winter or in the not-too-distant future. Here below is another typical example of one of his goals.
Osame Sahraoui (winger, Vålerenga)
This 19-year-old Vålerenga technical wizard burst onto the scene during summer 2020 in the Eliteserien. He caught the eye in some pre-season friendlies and was part of the matchday squad since round two. He made an instant impact just six minutes into his Eliteserien debut by winning a penalty against Stabaek and never really looked back. Sahraoui isn’t the tallest of players at just 170cm and fits into a typical sort of ‘winger’ type build; light on his feet, skillful, with plenty of flair. Osame is genuinely two-footed and appears capable of playing in nearly every position in the final third of the field if required. So far, the manager Dag Eilev Fagermo has been employing Sahraoui on the left-wing in what could be described as predominantly an inside forward or inverted winger type role.
Statistically, some of his biggest strengths have been offensive duels, dribbling and progressive runs. In terms of offensive duels, he averaged 17.56 per 90 mins, winning an impressive 47.70% which is one of the highest rates in the league out of anyone. High skill level, flair and decision making enable him to beat his man on a regular basis. His dribbling success rate was close to 60% at one stage during the season and Sahraoui is comfortable either directly one on one or in a crowded space. He ranked 7th in the Eliteserien for progressive runs and 5th for deep completions. This is an element of his game that might come as a surprise for a perceived winger. He has great vision and timing for a deeper pass, and this is why he perhaps has the versatility in the future to operate as a #10 type player, or even in a deeper role.
He is only 19-years-old and just played his first season at Eliteserien level, so it is understandable there is still an element of rawness to his game. His crossing accuracy was poor at just 24.1% and this is an area he will want to improve no matter what position and role he’s playing. His xG figure of 3.57 was higher than his actual goals scored of just three. Maybe in time, he will want to become more of a goalscoring threat even if his main role is to assist. Due to his size, Sahraoui will never be an aerial threat and that is probably why in a positional way using him out wide makes more sense. However, he has so many positives and from a mental point of view his head really seems screwed on for such a young player. His decision making is mostly very good and possesses a fine temperament. As a player comparison, he is similar to Hakim Ziyech and you wouldn’t rule out Saharoui reaching the same sort of heights in the future.