Scouting Scandinavia: Three U21s to Watch

Yash Thakur casts his eye over three exciting prospects from a region with a strong history of player development

Scandinavia has produced some of the most recognisable names in world football, talents like Ada Hegerberg, Caroline Graham Hansen, Kosovare Asllani, Lotta Schelin, and Pernille Harder. But despite this, the region still remains a largely untapped resource for the game’s powerhouse leagues. While this is changing to some extent, with highly rated prospects like Frida Maanum, Sofia Svava, Ingrid Engen, and Hanna Bennison all moving to big clubs, there are still brilliant young players to be found in Scandinavia.

Most recently, Julie Blakstad secured a move to Manchester City in January. Emilie Bragstad, a great right footed ball playing CB, is also set to complete the move to Bayern Munich in the summer. And there is more Scandi excellence on offer for those looking in the right areas.

This article will focus on Scandinavian league U21 players with the potential to make the jump, players clubs should be keeping an eye on.

Olivia Moller Holdt

Age: 20

Club: Fortuna Hjorring

Position: Forward

Country: Denmark

The 2021 “Profile of the Year” in Denmark’s Elitedivisionen, Olivia Holdt has enjoyed great success since joining Fortuna Hjorring. She recently made her debut for the Danish senior national side in 2021 and already has a couple of goals at senior level. The 2001-born Holdt formed a great partnership with Emma Snerle last season in attack, and finished the season with 15 goals. She recently scored in the Danish club final to help her side to glory.

Positionally, Holdt is versatile. Depending on the formation, she either starts out as a left winger with a tendency to move inwards, or in a strike partnership in the 442, where she shoulders more of a creative playmaker role. She is capable of filling in roles across the front line, but the best use of her skillset comes as a part of a front two. We can see the zones she tends to operate in from the heatmap in TransferLab’s profile as well.

Holdt has a low centre of gravity, which in conjunction with her skilful on-the-ball quality, enables her to be press-resistant. She can beat challenges and navigate tight spaces very well. Her ability to shake off defenders and generate or move into space to play the pass or get her shot off is excellent. Her dribbling ability allows her to glide past players.

In terms of chance creation, Holdt has good vision and the ability to execute driven or chipped balls into space consistently. Her late arrivals into the box from wide areas and her ability from range translate most frequently into goal-scoring chances. Her awareness and movement to appear in the box in space are fantastic assets.

Without the ball, Holdt works really hard. She presses well from the front and understands pressing angles, closing down passing lanes by pressing from certain angles. Her defensive work rate and strength in defensive duels is an important skill set that makes her an asset for the team’s approach without the ball.

We can use TransferLab’s similar player feature to look at players with similar profiles to Holdt. Her role and playing style is quite similar to that of Sassuolo’s Sofia Cantore. Looking at their statistical profiles, we can see significant congruence, except maybe Holdt’s clear disadvantage in aerial situations.

For teams looking for an inverted winger or second striker to complement a more advanced striker, Olivia Holdt presents a brilliant option with massive upside to develop further.

Rikke Nygard

Age: 22

Club: Valeranga

Position: Central Midfielder

Country: Norway

Rikke Nygard has looked ready to step up for a couple of seasons now. Her overall development has gone brilliantly since her U19 days with the Norwegian national side. Currently playing for Valeranga in Toppserien, Nygard has consolidated herself as an integral member of the squad after the departure of Spitse.

Nygard’s best role comes as the #8 in a midfield three or in a double pivot, partnered with a more defensively-minded midfielder. She excels in that box-to-box role, constantly moving to provide an extra body ball-side to create numerical superiority and form tight connections. She is great at ball circulation and distribution, identifying and moving into spaces out wide really well. This allows her side to have rotations out wide in the attacking third, as can be noted from the horizontal hotspots in the final third in her action heatmap. 

Her first touch and body orientation when receiving a pass allow her to turn quickly away from incoming challenges and pressure. She is calm when put under pressure and puts her close control to good use. Her press-resistant nature is vital for helping her side get out of their own third.

Ball distribution is one of her standout traits. She has the range and accuracy to execute passes over long distances; this, coupled with her vision to spot runners, adds to her creative potential as well. She is great at playing long diagonals to switch the point of attack. She is constantly looking to move the ball forwards with her passing and her ability to circulate possession and control the game’s tempo really stands out. She isn’t much of a ball carrier and rather prefers passing as her mode of progression.

Her shooting from range is a significant adding threat. She routinely positions herself at the edge of the penalty box or tries to make late runs into the area. The right-footed Norwegian is also very adept at letting fly with her left, showcasing her ability to shoot with either foot.

Without the ball, Nygard is excellent at presenting herself as a vertical option for her side. Her positioning encourages progression, as she constantly shows up in pockets of space in between opposition lines, demanding the ball. Her constant scanning of her surroundings and dynamic movements make her hard to mark out of a game. Her scanning frequency and timing is near perfect, as she is always aware of the potential threats before reception and potential spaces opening up on the field.

While Nygard isn’t the quickest player, she is extremely sound positionally and can sniff out threatening situations with ease. She is brilliant at keeping track of opposition receiving options, closely marking and intercepting passes to them. Her reading of the game and passing lanes more than makes up for her speed, but it could still prove detrimental in transition situations. She is solid in her 1v1 defensive duels and uses her body really well to recover possession. She is quick to react to loose ball situations.

Rikke Nygard seems a safe bet for most possession-based teams and her off-the-ball awareness makes for a player capable of being a very well-rounded midfielder, who can influence games on either ends of the pitch.

Katherine Kühl 

Age: 18

Club: Nordsjaelland

Position: CM

Country: Denmark

Kathrine Møller Kühl is the youngest player on our list. The 2003-born Kühl has featured for the Denmark national team nine times, scoring once. Starting her football journey at  Hillerød Fodbold at the age of five, Kühl  currently plays for FC Nordsjaelland in the Danish Elitedivisionen. Named the 2020 “Fighter of the year” at 16 following a cup win with FC Nordsjaelland, Kühl  has gone from strength to strength since her youth international days, notably being the youngest player on the U19 national team.

Positionally Kühl can play as an interior on either side or as an offensive midfielder at the tip of a diamond. She has largely been deployed as right-sided interior for the club, which explains the high volume of actions in the right half-space in the attacking third in her action map. She is very active in the final third of the pitch.

Her biggest strength lies in her on-ball ability. She is fairly comfortable with either foot and possesses the ability to consistently execute driven passes and clipped balls that either target the free space or the player. Her passes regularly threaten to break the opposition’s last line and find players in behind. Her vision to spot these passes matches her execution to pull them off on most occasions.

She always opts for options that maximize her team’s probability of scoring. Even with the proclivity to attempt high-risk, high-reward passes, Kühl ’s distribution is crisp and accurate for large parts. The weight and timing of her passes can cut through settled defences.

Her first touch is excellent, as is her close control, which allows her to navigate through crowded spaces. She can turn away from challenges and dribble past players with ease, thanks to her ability to scan her surroundings and her brilliant body shape while receiving. She has a quick burst of acceleration to create separation while dribbling. She has the ability to test the ‘keeper from outside the box in her repertoire.

She adds a vertical passing option when possession is in the middle third with her positioning, by running channels or simply occupying the right half-space. She is very dynamic, constantly shifting into free spaces to receive the ball. She never shies away from receiving and consistently demands the ball by dropping deep and presenting herself as an option, which highlights the intangible factor of trying to impose oneself on the game and be decisive.

Despite all her positives in possession, she also works very hard without the ball. She is ready to provide support defensively, helping even out numbers in the defensive third.

Kühl has been touted as having the potential to reach the level of her national team captain, and one of the best footballers in the world, Pernille Harder, and it’s not hard to see why. Brian Sørensen, Harder’s coach at 15, has been quoted comparing both players at the same age: “I have not met anyone who is as determined as Pernille Harder. But compared to the tools that Pernille had at that age and that Kathrine has now, I think Kathrine is better technically”. She has the potential to be one of the best interiors in the game.

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