Yash Thakur has another look at the talent factory that is Scandanavia and highlights three women destined to make an impact
Scandinavia continues to be a hotbed of talent and produces high ceiling players in almost all position groups. Players from the region have had an impact across the European leagues this season. Chelsea’s Guro Reiten is one of the best creative forces across all leagues amassing nine assists. Frida Maanum is dominating for Arsenal and Karen Holmgaard has proved to be a shrewd signing for Everton. Meanwhile, AS Roma’s Emilie Haavi has been integral to Le Giallorosse’s incredible run so far.
So naturally teams are on the lookout for more Scandi excellence, the next big thing from these nations who are also incredible value for money when identified early on.
Most recently mercurial talent Julie Blakstad secured a move to Manchester City in January. Emilie Bragstad, a great right footed ball playing CB, and Tuva Hansen both are going to be plying trade at Bayern Munich. The youngest star from our previous edition of Scouting Scandinavia, Kathrine Kühl, recently joined the Gunners for her next adventure.
This article will focus on U23 players playing in any Scandinavian league with bags of potential to become the next big thing from that region and ones club should be paying close attention to.
Cecilie Fløe Nielsen
Club: HB Køge
Fløe, as she likes to be called, is a very skilled, direct and dynamic attacking player who plays out wide on the left for HB Køge currently. She made her mark in the UEFA Women’s Champions League last season with her strong performances against some of the best teams in Europe. She has already featured for Denmark’s senior national side as well. Fløe has followed up her 14 league goal season last year with 8 goals in 14 games so far this season and is currently the top goalscorer for HB Koge.
Positionally, Fløe has been used largely on the left flank or as a striker in HB Køge’s 4-4-2/5-4-1 formation. As a right footed player playing on the left, she acts as an inside forward constantly seen as a part of the front two situationally in possession. She is dynamic enough to occupy the box when the striker vacates her spot. She couldn’t display the full extent of her offensive qualities in the UWCL last season but her proclivity to move inside can be seen with where she touched the ball in those games.
She has also been deployed at ST and RW roles, offering different qualities in both. From wide right, she can have an impact with her crossing but her dribbling becomes one dimensional while through the middle she can run the channels and in behind really well while her physical traits allow her to serve as a decent outlet as well.
Her dribbling style is heavily reliant on space ahead of her along with her pace and her raw athleticism. She can beat opponents with her explosiveness or skills while also being physically rugged dealing with challenges. Her dribbling style isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing or tidy but ability to drive with the ball in space from deep and help her side progress up the field adds a lot of value during transition situations. With powerful ball carrying and ability to attack space, she is very much adept at causing chaos to disorient defences and motor through them.
There are shades of inspiration from Heung-Min Son in her playstyle, particularly in the way she drives with the ball into space and attacks the box. She is a massive threat in transition situations, much akin to the South Korean superstar. Her playstyle also has some similarities with Hoffenheim’s Nicole Billa, in the way they are deployed by their respective teams, linking up play well and serving as reference figure up top in attack.
She is great at attacking the box and a strong presence aerially to offer a threat from crosses. At 174cm she is tall and her extremely agile nature allows her to generate the power in her jumps and headed shots. This is further aided by the way she attacks the crosses and times her runs to meet them.
With her shots, she is able to generate tremendous power with minimal backlift, owing to her great athleticism. She is fairly clinical in terms of her goalmouth actions and consistently gets on the end of good chances and puts them away under two touches. She is averaging an xG of 0.6 per 90 this season while recording a shot volume of 2.9 per 90.
Defensively, she tracks back and supports her fullback, not losing sight of the runners. Her pace can come in handy when closing down opposition and denying them time on the ball. On the ball is where there is further scope for improvement. Her passing needs to be refined to add further value to her overall play in possession. She is a great ball carrier but isn’t the most accurate or creative of passers and is susceptible to turnovers in settled possession scenarios.
With the scope to improve further and a technical skill-set and athleticism to boot, Fløe is a really exciting talent that can further develop into a top player in the correct setup.
Position: Midfielder / Winger
Sofie Bredgaard (pictured above) is widely regarded as one of the most talented youngsters in Denmark. She was among the 10 nominees for the “Golden Girl” award in 2022 and was among the three nominees for Denmark’s player of the year alongside Pernille Harder and Stine Ballisager last season. The 21-year-old youngster was voted the best midfielder in the Swedish League for her performances with Rosengard.
She is making a mark in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with Rosengard this season and this will surely catch the eye of the biggest players in the women’s game if she wasn’t already a sought after talent.
Sofie Bredgaard is a left-footed attacking midfielder, capable of filling in any role behind the striker position but has an affinity towards the right half-space. She is usually deployed as the #10 or on the RW in Rosengard’s 4-2-3-1/ 4-1-4-1 structure. We can see the different roles along with her zones of touches in her touchmap from the UWCL games this season, albeit some being from the bench. She consistently takes up positions between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines, offering verticality on reception while providing support and positional rotations on wide combination play.
Bredgaard’s excellent technical ability shines in her on-ball coordination and her spatial awareness on the pitch. She frequently scans before reception and understands her distances with her marker really well. She is blessed with a delicate first touch and an ingenuity on the ball. The Dane also offers a good box-threat with her movements and positioning in and around the edge penalty area and with her delayed runs into the box.
Using TransferLab’s preset player profiles, we can view how Bredgaard profiles compared to her positional peers. Bredgaard is rated very highly as a central midfielder in a box-to-box role, although there are question marks around aspects of her defensive work. For this reason, her true strength is more apparent when looking at her player profile in the attacking midfield playmaker or shadow striker profiles, where she scores 90 and 93 respectively.
She ranks above the 90th percentile in most departments; her lower rankings for passes reflect her proclivity to attempt high risk intricate line breaking passes in difficult parts of the pitch. Much more of a short range passer, she has decent distribution over medium ranges but long range switches and diagonals are a hit and miss from open-play situations.
Beyond the singular rating point system, it’s worth taking a closer look at her on-ball skill-set that makes her such an intriguing prospect.
Bredgaard, while retaining an inclination to play the killer ball, isn’t shot-shy either. She is blessed with a wicked left foot on her and puts it to very good use, very often. She is able to generate tremendous power on her shots and with placement to match and is able to launch shots with minimal backlift and space. Beyond the trickery on the ball, her left foot has a brilliant whip on it, allowing her to play perfectly weighted crosses into the box and allowing her to be threatening from dead-ball situations as well.
While being blessed with impeccable close control, quick feet, good body balance on reception and variety of body feints to turn away into space, Bredgaard is not entirely a ball carrier herself. She has the agility and the skillset to generate space and navigate out of tight spaces for herself but isn’t a driving force with the ball at her feet.
Her close control, deft first touch and initial burst of acceleration allow her to create micro-advantages to exploit with her shooting ability, vision and incisive passing, so while the volume (1.3 take-on per 90) isn’t high, the take-ons she does attempt likely add big value to the play when executed.
If we look at TransferLab’s similar player tool in order to gain an understanding about which players match her statistical profile, the two-time UEFA Women’s POTY and current Ballon D’or holder, Alexia Putellas, shows up at the top. While this doesn’t foreshadow Bredgaard’s trajectory but statistically speaking both players perform similar volume and quality of the same set of actions on the pitch.
With players like Weir, Cankovic, Grabowska and Lea Le Garrec being on the list, all representing the theme of being a creative and incisive passer from midfield, suggests Bredgaard is able to statistically produce the same impact with her creativity as these recognized stars, giving us further insight into her playstyle.
Comparing her metric-by-metric against these players, we see that she stacks up really well against her positional peers and does follow a similar age profile curve as Alexia and Cankovic, showing incredible promise based on her talent and playstyle.
The defensive acumen needs to be nurtured but there isn’t a lack of defensive appetite. Bredgaard works really hard off-the-ball and covers a lot of ground to create numerical parity in different phases. She has some way to go in terms of her physical development but has the tenacity in defensive duels. At this current moment, she lacks a bit of ‘pausa’ on the ball, meaning she can rush into playing the slickest of passes instead of waiting for a better lane to open up but at just 21, Bredgaard will pick up on the nuances as she fills her tank with minutes.
The 2002 born midfielder is highly spoken about among her peers. Women’s football and Swedish legend, Nilla Fischer, touted her as the best trialist she has ever seen at 18 during her time at Linkoping. The Danish youngster had a training spell at Manchester City in 2017 aged just 15. Bredgaard has already made her senior national team debut, winning 6 caps so far.
Bredgaard could potentially be on the move again, pursuing greener pastures, after joining Rosengard from Linkoping in 2022, signing a three year contract. Rosengard have prepared a replacement of sorts already by bringing in Olivia Moller Holdt recently.
Having recently turned 21, Bredgaard has her best years ahead of her and a technical skill-set that allows her to be malleable for different systems. It’s not hard to envision Bredgaard as an offensive 8, who shuffles across to the right flank consistently and thrives between opposition lines and has a wicked left footed shot on her, much like a certain Norwegian captain for the Arsenal men’s side.
An aesthetically pleasing left-footed, goalscoring and creative midfielder who can play on the flanks? Bredgaard doesn’t have much to not like about her and is potentially a name that we will hear lots of in the years to come.
Position: Central Midfielder/Left Back
Let’s travel further north from Denmark in our Scandinavian adventure to find another of our hidden gems. The 22-year-old Vålerenga midfielder, Thea Bjelde, is a talented and unique young midfielder coming through the ranks at Norway. The talent from Sogndal became a mainstay at Arna-Bjørnar, a club she joined as a 16 year-old and went on to become the club captain at 21 before switching to Vålerenga in 2021.
Despite her relatively young age and an injury in 2019 that kept her away from football for a year, Bjelde has experienced lots of football. She was an integral part of Arna-Bjørnar’s bronze finish in 2018. She had her breakout season that year and was voted as Arna-Bjørnar’s player of the year.
Bjelde is a right footed functional box-to-box midfielder who is tactically and technically very sound. The Norwegian midfielder is equally adept at performing actions with either foot. Her shrewd nature on and off-the-ball has allowed her to be deployed as the wide midfielder or, more often, left-back. While Bjelde largely operated from the right side during her time at Arna-Bjørnar, she has been deployed on either side of midfield in Vålerenga’s back five and back four formations across the two seasons.
More of a passer than ball carrier, Bjelde’s passing is geared towards short and crisp exchanges rather than lofty distribution across the field, as is apparent by a combination of her high score in short progressive passing and excellent adjusted pass accuracy metric. She isn’t a zone mover from midfield by herself but helps stitch play in either thirds enabling retention, progression and creation alike. She has a good understanding of when to accelerate play and when to slow it down, making her capable of controlling the tempo.
She always shows for the ball and has the dynamism without the ball allowing her to execute pass and move sequences frequently, making her a brilliant option in possession based systems. She is constantly moving around, escaping the cover shadow and presenting herself as a passing option. Her body-orientation and comfort receiving on either feet make her a viable outlet on either side of the pitch in all phases of play.
Defensively, her positioning is her biggest strength. She is able to win the ball back and kickstart breaks following high turnovers. She reads passing lanes and keeps track of the opposition runners really well. The 22-year-old has an inherent understanding of distances, allowing her to maintain access to opposition players. While her positioning and game awareness gives her a headstart in disrupting opposition play, her short stature means her standing zone of control is relatively small. She has to maneuver a lot to cover space. Her recovery pace alongside her positioning, compensates for it in some capacity.
Her lack of physical dominance does play a part in her experiencing varying degrees of success in defensive duels but while being capable of playing in that role situationally during the game, that’s not her primary role.
Focusing on Bjelde’s passing tendencies by looking at the cluster of her attempted passes in the last five seasons, we can note some stylistic features about her on the ball. Her top 4 passing clusters are spread in either thirds of the field, highlighting her proclivity to be involved on either ends of the pitch, executing the box-to-box role as a midfielder.
When inside her defensive third, her role is more focused on circulation rather than pure progressor. The lateral and backward passes help retain possession and keep the ball ticking along at the back. She has the lateral elusiveness about her on the ball which allows her to retain possession when under challenge in the deeper areas of the pitch.
As the possession reaches the final third, she is a bit more incisive and forward thinking. Her passes in these areas are geared towards providing support underneath for wide combination play or finding players in space on the flanks with a quick one-two. She understands synchronized counter movements well and positions herself to support the attack accordingly.
While Bjelde isn’t a flashy worker on the field with lots of end-product yet, she has been vocal about that being the next step in her progression. She does have a powerful strike on her from range and supports attacking play very well with her diagonal outward runs from midfield or lurking at the edge of the box.
Her importance however stretches beyond awards or goals or assists. She flies under the radar and works in shadows but her presence is vital to add balance to her team’s structure. She stabilizes the floor and baseline performances for her side by consistently plugging gaps and being omnipresent across the entirety of the football pitch.
A tidy midfielder who does a lot on the pitch and has a very strong technical foundation to her game, Bjelde has experienced the leadership and injury aspect of football already. Might not be the “talisman” herself but provides the foundation for the talismanic figures to thrive. A vital asset in improving a team’s possession play.
Header image copyright IMAGO/Just Pictures/Marcio Machado/Eurasia Images