By Dominic Wells
This year’s “Golden Boy” was awarded to Norwegian superstar, Erling Haaland, the poster boy of Scandinavia’s rising talents. A lot of clubs in Europe have started to utilise the region, and for good reason, as the combination of quality youngsters for affordable prices is very alluring. Some of the higher profile cases have been; Jens Petter Hauge moving to AC Milan, Alexander Sørloth to RB Leipzig, and – a little while ago – Martin Ødegaard moving to Real Madrid.
Norway is definitely experiencing a golden generation of youngsters, but a lot of people are ignoring the other sleeping giants in the region, in particular their southern neighbours, Denmark, who are also producing a lot of exceptional young talents. For me, one of the best players to come through the Danish football league’s, and surpass it immeasurably, has been right-winger, Andreas Skov Olsen.
At only seventeen years of age, Olsen broke into his boyhood club’s (FC Nordsjælland) squad, making two substitute appearances in their “Championship round” games – a small play-off system for the top six teams in the Danish league – during the twilight portion of the season. Unfortunately, FC Nordsjælland only gained one point from their two games in the knockout system, eventually losing their place to FC Copenhagen.
Olsen was afforded a mere twenty minutes during the two fixtures, but showed manager, Kasper Hjulmand (the current Denmark national team boss), enough of his qualities to be depended on in the following campaign. And, it was during the 2018/19 Danish Superliga season, with Olsen only eighteen years of age, that he showcased the true potential of his talent.
Under Hjulmand, FC Nordsjælland, had become renowned for implementing either a 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 formation, that facilitated Olsen in the front-three, primarily as the right-winger. Having a modern-day winger profile, Olsen is a left-footed right-sided forward, who possesses the qualities to utilise the inside and outside channels, but definitely prefers cutting inside.
The front-three system was flexible, which allowed Olsen to play as a de-facto second striker quite frequently – when the central player drifted between-the-lines or into the left half-space. Consequently, a lot of Olsen’s goal contributions that season came from receiving the ball centrally – most notably in the penalty area, showing a natural understanding of attack positioning, especially through the middle. This isn’t to say he’d perform better as a striker, it’s rather an additional quality that he possesses, making him more of a complete forward.
His greatest asset is his ball-carrying. I’m a massive fan of his dribbling technique, which focuses around his usage of the outside of his left-foot when in tight areas or around the box. When carrying the ball, Olsen takes a lot of small touches with the outside of his left-foot to keep the ball central in his frame. This allows the Danish-international to fluctuate between internal and external movements – making him extremely unpredictable, especially when combined with his very good bursts of acceleration.
(@ftblgifs) on December 17, 2020.
A Stone-Cold Killer
Inside the final third, Olsen is cold-blooded. For a young player, he’s got good composure which allows him to utilise the best option in the final third. Often, he’ll beat an extra man to unlock a better shot towards goal or drag a defender out before playing a teammate through.
The shots that he converted during his “breakout” season were instinctive, but also varied. It wasn’t the same goal duplicated many times over, Olsen has an adept finishing range and is comfortable using his weaker right-foot in front of goal – which is always encouraging to see from a young player. Below are his highlights from his breakout season with Nordsjælland.
(@ftblgifs) on December 17, 2020.
Olsen is a solid player across the board, but if I did have a drawback it would be that he’s very individualistic and doesn’t create enough chances for his teammates considering he’s a winger. He’s upped his 2.49 shot creating actions per 90 from last season, to 3.81 per 90 this season, and that’s good to see. At Bologna there’s a lot better options to find in the final third and Olsen is becoming increasingly aware of that. His scanning of players is good, but his confidence in front of goal maybe sways his decision-making towards shooting rather than off-loading. I’d suggest this is an area that will be improved in the coming years.
A Gem Among Stones
Going back to the 2018/19 Superliga season and it was an exceptional one for Olsen on an individual level (I will dissect the numbers shortly), but the team really underwhelmed. After finishing the previous campaign in third, FC Nordsjælland dropped to a dismal eighth place. If the 18-year-old hadn’t been firing on all cylinders, I’m fairly certain the club would’ve been battling relegation.
After making his debut in the 2017/18 season, Olsen clocked in with 3,053 minutes in the Danish top-flight the following season and was only eclipsed by Karlo Bartec in the Tigrene (“The Tigers”) squad. He wasn’t just filling space, Olsen ended the season with 22 goals and four assists – that’s a goal or an assist every 116 minutes, inside the club there wasn’t a player with comparable stats – in fact, it wasn’t even close, Godsway Donyoh (a 23-year-old forward) was second with ten goals and three assists. I stated earlier that Olsen is left-footed, which is absolutely correct (even with a good weak-foot), but of his 22 goals nine of them came with his right-foot – and one with his head, so he only scored 54.5% of his goals with his stronger left-foot.
Astoundingly, Olsen had become relied upon as creative force of FC Nordsjælland, and also the finisher. He was also presented with penalty duties – scoring all three of them in the Danish Superliga season. He’d become the fulcrum of the team and his stocks were increasing after every passing game. That’s why it didn’t take long to find a suitor, and Italian-side, Bologna, snapped him up that summer for an affordable £5.4 million.
Some Things Take Time
He’s been with I Rossoblù (The Red and Blues) for just over a season, and he’s been unable to cement himself in the starting XI. Olsen made an impressive 26 appearances for Bologna last season, but only started seven of those – often limited to small cameos from the bench.
He’s an undeniable talent, and it’s taking time for him to adjust to the Serie A. It’s a physically dominating league, where defensive resilience is relied upon more than creative flair. It’s also worth noting that Bologna have a good squad, and the qualities are distributed evenly across the attacking front-line. Prior to his switch, Olsen was FC Nordsjælland’s best player – by quite some way – and understanding that the responsibilities in possession are spread out is something he’s beginning to process.
This year, the season started strong for Olsen. A successful cameo from the bench versus AC Milan was rewarded with a start against Parma, where Bologna cruised to a 4-1 victory and Olsen etched his name onto the scoresheet. But after playing a part in all three opening fixtures for Bologna, he picked up an injury on international duty with Denmark.
Olsen was stretchered off with a fracture of the second lumbar vertebra (back) in their UEFA Nations League tie with Iceland; back in November and hasn’t played a game since. He’s expected to return either late December or early next year. Either way, his return will be a massive boost for Siniša Mihajlović, who is looking to improve on their start to the season. I anticipate good things for the Danish-international upon his return, but we’ll probably have to wait for next season before we see his “breakout” campaign in one of Europe’s top five leagues.