A footballer is for life, not just Christmas...

FIFpro, the world players union, invited Bosman players from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Ireland to its second winter tournament in Oslo on 16 December.

The tournament took place at the Valhall Arena. From Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall belonging to the god Odin. According to the myth, every man killed in combat is sent to Valhalla, where Odin selects only the most bloodthirsty to stay and fight with him. The myth partly fits the situation of the players who take part in the tournament. They are not soldiers killed in action, but players without a club, and in that sense they are vulnerable. They come to Valhalla not to be picked out by Odin, but by agents and scouts.

FIFpro have arranged tournaments since 2005 with a degree of success in securing players contracts with new clubs. Last year’s tournament in Oslo provided several players with contracts at clubs from the two top divisions in Norway.  Defenders Arnar Førsund and Eider Freijd joining Kongsvinger and Sandnes Ulf (who had recently secured promotion to the Tippeligaen) respectively. From the Irish squad, Eamon Zayed got a contract with Derry City and scored 22 goals in his first season which made him player of the year in Ireland. These signings show that the tournament can make a difference to a player’s life.

With the ongoing financial crisis in Europe, many clubs find it tough. In Norway, several of the clubs in the top flight have experienced a drop in attendances with subsequent budget cuts, smaller administrations, and, in some cases, fewer players. The difficult situation also affects players with outgoing contracts. This autumn the Norwegian broadcasting corporation, NRK, revealed that Adnan Haidar was refused an operation by his club Vålerenga. In an intern note, it was stated that Haidar needed the surgery, but with his contract almost at an end, and with Vålerenga needing to cut expenditure, the club decided not tell Haidar about his medical situation.

In the first match of this year’s tournament, Ireland beat Sweden 1-0 with a goal by Darren Meenan, while Norway beat Finland 3-1, with goals from Faysal Ahmed (2) and Adem Güven for the hosts, and Antti Okkonen for the Fins. Each game consisted of 2 x 30 minute periods, with coaches able to make as many substitutions as they wish.

Norway went on to meet Ireland in the final. The Norwegian side included six players with Tippeliga experience, and was coached by former Luton Town, Celtic, 1860 München and Rosenborg player, Vidar Riseth, and former Manchester City and Rosenborg player, Kåre Ingebrigtsen. The Irish side included fifteen players with matches from the top division, and among them four players who had represented Ireland or Northern Ireland in youth internationals.

Norway took the lead with a goal from Adem Güven, even though Ireland had dominated the early exchanges with a physical approach to the match. The home side had several technically gifted players, like Güven, who was later voted player of the tournament.  In the second half, Fredrik Karlsen was shown a red card after a truly awful two footed tackle, but given the friendly nature of the tournament, Norway were allowed to replace Karlsen with a new player. Ireland continued to control the ball, and finally got their reward when Derek Foran equalized. Even though Ireland continued their pressure, the game went to penalties, which Norway won 3-2.

After the final, I got a few words with Ireland’s John Sullivan, a 20 year old Dublin born midfielder, who has previously played for Limerick FC and Shelbourne.

First, what to think about the level of the players in this tournament? And what is at stake for you?       

I think the level has been high. All the teams had good fitness and I was impressed by the many technically gifted players. It was a bit unusual to play on the artificial grass, but good players need to handle this as well. We come here to Norway to find a new club, and hopefully the reports that go back to Ireland are good, and we all get new clubs.

What is it like to be a footballer in Ireland in these troubled economic times?

It is not easy. Players only get 40 week contracts, and for the players with families, that is hard. I would be happy getting a new contract in Ireland, as long as I play football, I am happy. Hopefully this tournament is a stepping stone. If a Norwegian club would offer me a contract, I would be happy to come over here.

The phrase To Valhalla! is a well known Norwegian war cry. Lately it was used be Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan, before going into battle, not without debate when the news broke back home. To the players who participated in this tournament, the war cry is probably not that well known, still Valhall represented an a opportunity. Now the uncertain road from Valhalla begins for this handful of Northern Europe’s second best players.