What is a golden generation?
One might be tempted to think of a national team full of superstars, like Hungary of the 50s or the Netherlands of the 70s, but such cases are extremely rare, while in reality this term is used much more frequently.
More often than not, a ‘golden generation’ is a bunch of decent players led by a limited number of exceptional performers.
The best example could be the Bulgarian team that reached the semifinals at the 1994 World Cup. They are most definitely remembered as the golden generation in their nation's history, but a quick look at the squad shows that only the mercurial striker Hristo Stoichkov and the classy playmaker Krassimir Balakov were true world class performers. It might be possible to add Emil Kostadinov's name to the list, even though that is open to debate.
All the rest – including the eccentric larger-than-life centre-back Trifon Ivanov and the balding Yordan Lechkov so famous for the magnificent flying header in the quarter-finals triumph over Germany – were definitely good footballers, but no more than that. Without Stoichkov and Balakov, they wouldn't have been remembered as legends.
Within those boundaries, the current Norway national team is quite likely to be remembered as a golden generation. They are lucky to have at least two young rising superstars, who are bound to lead a very able supporting cast full of solid and talented players. They could form a backbone of a remarkably successful squad that might reach dizzying heights.
It all starts with two outrageous young talents who – quite fortunately – complement each other perfectly. In Erling Braut Haaland, Norway have one of the best central strikers in the world, who can only improve as he is only 20, while in Martin Odegaard, they have one of the best young playmakers in the world. The partnership is truly mouthwatering, and it is hardly surprising that Odegaard provided two assists for Haaland in the recent 4-0 demolition of Romania.
Haaland's rise has been meteoric, but he chose a very sensible and steady route to achieve it. After flourishing at Molde under the guidance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he wasn't overly flattered by the interest of the likes of Manchester United – and signed for Red Bull Salzburg instead.
A year later, after an absolutely sensational debut campaign in the Champions League group stage, he joined Borussia Dortmund and instantly became a major hit. With 21 goals in 23 matches in all competitions, he continues to average roughly a goal per game.
Haaland is powerfully built and could be perceived as an old fashioned number 9, but in reality he is most effective in transition. He is incredibly quick and intelligent to find spaces behind the lines. That is exactly the type of partner best suited for Odegaard, a master of a through ball.
The midfielder was once the most famous wonderkids of the last decade, having joined Real Madrid at the age of 16 and replacing Cristiano Ronaldo on his debut. Enormous and unrealistic expectations could have ruined his career, but Odegaard was strong mentally, and managed to put his career back on track in difficult circumstances. Two moderately positive loan spells in the Eredivisie were followed by a superb breakthrough season at Real Sociedad last term. Zinedine Zidane chose to bring him back to Madrid a year earlier than planned, and he could be on his way to superstardom at the right age of 21.
This duo is the very core of Norway’s golden generation, but there are others waiting to make a name for themselves.
Alexander Sorloth is capable of becoming a brilliant striking partner to Haaland. For some reason, Crystal Palace refused to give him even a chance to prove himself, but the burly striker enjoyed an absolutely sensational season at Trabzonspor, scoring 33 goals in all competitions – and providing eight assists as well. Like Haaland, he is powerful and very heavily built. Like Haaland, he is extremely mobile, loves moving to flanks – and especially effective in transition. Their mutual understanding is superb, and both scored braces in the 5-1 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast last month. Sorloth has now joined RB Leipzig as a direct replacement for Timo Werner, and those surroundings are bound to make him much better.
Then there is Jens Petter Hauge, a winger who brings something different. Light-footed, blessed with dribbling skills and vision, he is a joy to watch – and yet unselfish and very effective. Hauge became a sensation with Eliteserien runaway leaders Bodo/Glimt, impressed in the Europa League fixture versus AC Milan who followed him for month, and duly signed him just a few days after he netted against them at San Siro. He will celebrate his 21st birthday next week, and at jis current rate of progression the sky seems to be the limit.
Solid holding midfielders are crucial to any team, and Norway have at least three very promising youngsters in that position as well. Sander Berge, a towering footballer from a family of basketball players, made his debut for Valerenga at the age of 17, made remarkable progress at Genk in Belgium, and eventually became Sheffield United's record signing for €26million in January.
Berge brings steel and tactical awareness, whereas Mathias Normann is a more subtle performer who specializes in long range passing. Born in the picturesque Lofoten Islands behind the Arctic circle, he was signed by Brighton back in 2017, but never got a chance in the Premier League – and is now flourishing at Rostov. With the Russian club experiencing major financial difficulties, the 24-year-old Normann should be available at a very reasonable price, and it is a gamble well worth taking. If he joins the right club, the cultured schemer could develop into a very good player.
The third option is Patrick Berg, the youngest member of the Berg dynasty from Bodo/Glimt. His contribution to the club's first championship title in 104 years of existence has been massive, and he was rewarded – just like Hauge – with the first call-up to the national team at the age of 22.
What about a decent central defender? Norway have that covered thanks to Kristoffer Ajer – 198cm of sheer force and commitment. He has become a key player for Celtic, and is starting his fourth season at the club at the age of 22. AC Milan were keen on signing him this summer, and Paolo Maldini definitely knows a quality defender when he sees one. There is a big room for improvement, of course, but the potential is there.
All of those players are 24 or younger – some are much younger. Together, they could be capable of achieving something special – and they have the most experienced mentor imaginable. Lars Lagerback spent a decade with Sweden, then produced miracles with Iceland, leading them to Euro 2016 qualification with much more limited squad. Now he is taking care of the possible golden generation of Norway.
Norway might have failed to qualify for Euro 2020, dramatically losing 2-1 to Serbia in Oslo in the playoffs, but the future looks very bright for them regardless.