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Exclusive: Ollie Banks – A fresh start in the Football League at Swindon Town

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Swindon Town manager David Flitcroft described on-loan midfielder Ollie Banks as a “top, top, top player” after his first appearance for the County Ground outfit.

Officially announced as a Town player the Friday morning before the Robins’ Saturday League Two fixture, Banks went on to play a starring role in his new side’s 1-0 victory over local rivals Forest Green, following which he collected the afternoon’s Man of the Match accolade.

The 25-year-old midfielder, who joined the club on a temporary basis from League One side Oldham, had found first-team chances hard to come by with his parent club and spent a short spell on loan at Tranmere Rovers, where he impressed for the National League outfit.

Speaking to The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview, he explained the rationale behind his move to Swindon and the role manager David Flitcroft had to play.

“I finished my loan at Tranmere and they offered me a deal to stay. I really enjoyed my time there. It is a brilliant club. But I wanted to get back into the Football League. I told Micky Mellon that I needed to give myself the best chance I could and I didn’t want to jump into any decision.

I waited for a few days after speaking to Micky, then Dave Flitcroft at Swindon rang me. He said he wanted me to come down and express myself and get the club where it needs to be. From there it was quite an easy decision to move down South.”

After a mixed start to the campaign for Swindon, who occupy eighth position in League Two at the time of writing, the January transfer window was always set to be a period of reinforcement for the club. New signings were required to strengthen the starting XI and enforce a sense of consistency, particularly to rectify a miserable home record of four wins in 13 league matches (prior to the new year).

Flitcroft’s background in scouting and recruitment has been a regular feature since he took the County Ground hot seat. His quest to bring the required quality of player, while ensuring the right characters and mix of temperaments remain at the club, has seen him turn to trusted peers, both in his playing and back room staff.

For the former Bury manager, recruitment is the key to success. Every deal has to be deemed the correct move for the club and this was no different in the case of Banks. Long-term and thoughtfully considered interest in the 25-year-old resulted in an offer being made for his services, as he revealed:

“Flitcroft said he has always kept track of me and tried to sign me a few times before. It is always important to have a manager who believes in you and likes you as a player. To have the backing of the manager is a huge plus. It allows you to go out with confidence and put good performances in.” 

Banks’ move to Swindon has represented new challenges to the 25-year-old, not least the prospect of living away from what he considers ‘home’.

Having always plied his trade in the north of England, most recently with FC United of Manchester, Chesterfield, Northampton Town, Oldham and Tranmere, this is the first time he has featured for a club in the southern counties.

“The move has been different, to be honest. I have never really had to live away from home, so it has been a bit strange, but I’ve enjoyed it. The lads and the gaffer have been really welcoming.

Banks made little of his role in debut victory over Forest Green Rovers. Nonetheless, his references to the competitive nature of the play-off race make both his and Swindon’s objectives for the end of the season glaringly obvious:

“It felt good to get Man of the Match, but there were a few good performers on our team and just to get three points in a local derby was a big thing. With it being so tight at the top of the league three points was the main aim, but to settle in so quickly is always a bonus.”

The central midfielder already has one League Two promotion on his CV, having won the title with Chesterfield in the 2013-14 season. Like all those associated with Swindon, he will be hoping to add another before the end of the current campaign.

Keen to be a figurehead throughout the club’s promotion charge, Banks followed up his debut heroics with Swindon’s only goal in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Coventry. Having fallen 2-0 behind after just 22 minutes, the 25-year-old slid onto the end of a low cross into the six-yard box to pull one back for the Robins.

This strike was to no avail, as Coventry proceeded to score a third late into the second half, but it was perhaps a sign of things to come from the Oldham loanee. Not typically know for his escapades in the final third, he is hoping to add goals to his game at the County Ground.

“I prefer playing slightly further forward, as it means you do have chances to get on the scoresheet. I’ve been playing a bit deeper throughout the last few years and I’ve found goals quite hard to come by, but hopefully playing a more advanced role under Flitcroft could lead to a few more goals.”

Bringing a creative spark and eye for a pass in the middle of the park, Banks’ has shown his ability to take up decent positions around the box too. Since his arrival, he has stood out in a Swindon midfield lacking a real presence, helping his side to two wins in three appearances – including a remarkable 4-3 comeback victory over Crewe Alexandra on Saturday afternoon.

The 25-year-old scored once in eight appearances during his time at Tranmere, impressing for the Merseyside outfit. The club, who currently occupying 5th place in the National League, had managed just three victories in eight matches leading up to his arrival, compared to the five matches won with the 25-year-old in the squad. Nonetheless, he underplayed his influence.

“A few weeks before I joined a few of the boys were saying that they weren’t taking their chances. I would be very naive to believe it was all my doing, the way lucked change, but I think the team just started taking chances were they previously hadn’t. That was the main factor.”

Rovers had been crying out for a player willing to take an unselfish role in the centre of the park and Banks provided this. Despite the short term nature of his move, he was able to strike a positive partnership with fellow midfielder Ollie Norburn, for whom he was full of praise.

“I would actually say that he [Norburn] is one of the best midfielders that I have played with for a while. He likes to get about and leave the middle of the pitch more that many midfielders do, so it became my job to hold a deeper role in midfield and work from there. “

Banks knows too well the trials and tribulations of the Football League and the volatility that comes with playing in the lower divisions. From being a regular starter at Oldham, under manager John Sheridan, to being a fringe player following Richie Wellens’ arrival, he found himself low in self-belief and in need of a fresh start.

Having made 33 League One appearances for the Latics in 2016/17, the 25-year-old had been limited to just seven first team appearances in the same competition this year. Ultimately, the November move to Tranmere made sense for all parties:

“Confidence was a major thing, especially personally. The spirit that we had from the backend of the season before didn’t seem to be there. You can go into all sorts of details as to why things didn’t work, but ultimately we just weren’t getting the results that we had before.”

“Richie Wellens came in and he didn’t fancy me as a player, so you just move on and hope that it works out elsewhere.”

With a year remaining on his contract at Oldham it seems unlikely that Banks will extend his current deal at Boundary Park. When questioned on the chances of signing a new contract with the Latics, he was answered, “I highly doubt that I will be extending, to be honest.” 

Instead, he will use the remainder of his time at the County Ground to prove his worth of a move elsewhere and, having made a positive impression just a few weeks into his spell at the club, interest from the Football League is likely to be high.

David Flitcroft is a man with an edge when it comes to scouting and recruitment. To be praised so highly by the Swindon head coach, after just two days at the club, is good indication of what is to come for the humble, but highly talented midfielder.

Chris is the founder of The Boot Room. He is a Swindon Town supporter, having lived in Wiltshire for most of his years. His work has also featured on Squawka, Bleacher Report and Eurosport.

Exclusives

Exclusive: Adebayo Akinfenwa – Wycombe Wanderers, growth of eSports and League One future

Few players outside of the Premier League command the type of attention and admiration as ‘The Beast’.

Jake Jackman

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Adebayo Akinfenwa
Photo: Getty Images

Adebayo Akinfenwa’s reputation has surged during recent years thanks to the FIFA video game series. He has been ranked as one of the strongest players in the game and earned the nickname ‘The Beast’ as a result of that.

Throughout his career, he has been successful in the lower leagues and this season saw the striker win another promotion, this time with Wycombe Wanderers.

However, it is gaming that has taken him global. In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, the 36-year-old was keen to make that point when asked about FIFA’s impact:

“Massive, massive, massive, I’d be lying if I said that I could, sat here, say 5-6 years ago saying how my life could’ve gone. The FIFA series, the game community is a world within the world we live in, it’s a community.

It has taken me internationally without even going to these places, of course moments happen, playing Liverpool on tv and I scored and it’s a domino effect. But with how big FIFA is globally there are places I’m known that I’ve never set foot in.

It’s been mindboggling, it’s humbling the way FIFA in itself has changed my world.”

It speaks volumes about the outreach of the gaming community that it has had such a huge impact on Akinfenwa’s career. There are some overlaps between the gaming and football community, but it is the former that has increased the striker’s profile.

A number of prominent YouTubers brought attention to his in-game character and how effective he could be, despite being a lower league footballer.

It is interesting that he notes the domino effect that it has had on the pitch, as opposition teams will be more aware of him and it is likely that clubs have signed him due to his reputation. However, it is his off-the-field activities that have increased due to EA’s popular gaming franchise.

“I mean I interviewed The Rock 4 weeks ago, it’s opened up so many doors. For me I’d say that to get involved with it, at first, you’re going along with it then you realize the doors opening up and the realms it’s taking my life to. It’s mindboggling, it’s opened up so many doors.”

Akinfenwa has been humbled by the way he has been taken in by the gaming community and he has been keen to give something back. Professional gaming is on the way up as an industry and eSports are starting to evolve across the board.

There are no limits to how far it can grow and the influence of people like the 36-year-old can be huge in aiding that. When asked about eSports, the Wycombe striker spoke positively about the industry:

“I think it will be the future, I think that you take gaming which has been around forever, and you take a competitive element and you fuse them together, it can only get bigger and you see it.

“It’s funny because when I was younger my parents were like “get off the computer and get outside” and now parents are like “get on the computer”. It’s the way society is moving and fusing two loves, a competitive edge and gaming. It can only get bigger.”

There will be many within football that fear eSports as genuine competition to the sport. Children may choose to follow in the footsteps of their favourite YouTubers and professional gamers, rather than looking as football as a career path.

The fact that the FIFA eClub World Cup was shown on Sky Sports underlines how gaming has moved into mainstream channels. Meanwhile, Hashtag United has tried to combine football with gaming and are moving into non-league competition in the 2018/19 campaigning.

Football as an industry will see the rise of eSports as a threat, but they should take Akinfenwa’s stance and embrace it. He sees many parallels between the two industries and they should be able to co-exist and thrive.

“I think there’s a comparison to anything professional really or with the desire you want to put in, even if you’re not professional but say you want to get bigger and you’re going to the gym every day, you need the dedication and to put the hard work into it.

“Just because they put the word professional in it – the difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional didn’t quit and that’s the only difference.

“With the whole Gfinty Elite series, I’m talking to these gamers, and they prepare like I prepare for a game. They’re not half-stepping and just waking up and switching on the computer, playing and hoping, no, they’re honing their skills and training every day, they’ve got their formation that they tweak and change every day, it’s a direct comparison.

“If you want to be the best you can be you’ve got to put in the time nobody can wake up and be the best and that’s the same with these players in these competitive leagues they put in the work. That’s what I’ve noticed the most, their determination and work ethic, it’s the same as a professional footballer.”

The mentality of football and eSports are very similar. Akinfenwa has clearly taken that away from his time spent being involved in both. Those that compete at FIFA professionally have to put the time in and work hard, just like footballers going to training every day. Above, the Wycombe striker refers to the Gfinity eSports Elite Series, which he is directly involved in.

When asked about the competition, Akinfenwa spoke about the quality and how he managed to become a part of it.

“The elite series is the best of the best, they’re not half stepping. The players have managers and with FIFA anyway it’s literally like a last man standing, a team of four, PS4 and Xbox, you pick your best players and you go through a tournament process to the final and the winner is the winner.

“The good thing is you find out about the different players like Gorilla, the best in the world, and there are different teams and players trying to navigate through the series and win in the end.

“Initially, I got approached and knew one of the production managers from my time at EA and he said “well, look we want to do this and think you’ll be a great fit”. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to doing more next season.

“I’ve teamed up with Lauren and I felt the chemistry was there, the good thing about it is that I didn’t know much about Gfinity or eSports, I mean I knew, but not much about it.

“It’s let me dive into their world, see how seriously you need to take it and have dedication. I went along this year as a novice and now I know much more and I’m looking forward to next season.”

Despite being 36, Akinfenwa isn’t looking to end his playing career anytime soon. That said, he will have one eye on what he can do once he does hang up his boots. If eSports continues to grow, there is no reason why he can’t become more involved and become an ambassador for many more projects like this one.

Wycombe are the focus of his attention for now after he was rewarded for his form with a new contract earlier this season. He will remain at Adams Park for the 2018/19 campaign, which will see him given another chance to make an impact in League One. The powerful striker believes that the Choirboys are ready to push on at a higher level.

“Yeah, outside the Wycombe team, the fans, the board, we weren’t favourites to go up but in-house we aspired to that and wanted to achieve and it’s the same.

“When you get promoted, consolidating and staying up is the key. I think most managers and players will say that first and foremost is hitting the benchmark that you’re not going to get relegated. As soon as you can hit that benchmark you can kick on. We’ll try and hit our goals as early as possible and kick on from there.”

Akinfenwa hasn’t played in the third tier since the 2013/14 season, in which he played 34 times for Gillingham. It was a solid if unspectacular season as he contributed ten goals and five assists. A similar return would go a long way to seeing Wycombe establish themselves in League One.

Over the course of the last year, it can be argued that Akinfenwa has matured and found a consistency that has been absent previously. During the promotion-winning season, the striker contributed 17 goals and 14 assists, which is a remarkable impact.

“I rate it up there as one of my best seasons, I believe that I needed the players around me to help me get my numbers. As long as I enjoy the game and I feel fit I’ll go out there and I know what I can do and what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at and I stay away from that.

“This season, as a club and a team we concentrated on what I was good at and therefore got the numbers both for goals this season and minutes played.

“It’s always nice to get acknowledged for the work you’re putting in but for me I’m glad we got promoted. Individual accolades are good, and I won’t knock that.

“When you retire you can look back on it, but collective accolades mean ten times more so for what I was nominated for and being in the team of the year; if we didn’t get promoted, personally it would’ve counted for nothing. It was nice for it all to culminate into a promotion and then get the accolades.

(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

“For me, people would argue it should be my best season to date in my football career – It’s hard to argue because my stats say that. For me I’m enjoying it, numbers and stats take care of themselves. As long as I’m enjoying it I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

It is refreshing to hear Akinfenwa talk about the importance of team achievements over individual awards. Through the exposure supplied by the FIFA series, the attacker has got a lot of recognition as an individual, but he hasn’t let that affect his on-pitch performances.

He remains an excellent lower league striker and that is why he is rarely without a club for long. Last season, Wycombe benefitted from his goals, but it was his unselfish hold-up play that made him indispensable to the team, as underlined by his assist tally.

The 36-year-old will know that it will be tough to replicate those figures in League One, but if he can continue to deliver consistent performances, he will continue to offer something to the team. The growth of eSports is certainly proving to be exciting off the pitch, but Akinfenwa doesn’t plan to stop playing in the immediate future.

“Mentally I’m as good as I’ve ever been, and I feel fit I’m playing more minutes than I’ve ever played especially over these two seasons. But I think growth plays a massive part in the experience, I know what I’m good at and when you’re younger you’re trying to find what you’re good at.

“I’ll always say as soon as you can find out what you’re about, the better you will be – that’s what, especially in the last three years, I’ve found out what I’m good at.

“I’m not trying to do step overs and beat 4 players and I’m okay with the player I am. Some people will be for me and some will be against me but ultimately, I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’m about. As long as I stay fit and as long as I’m enjoying it, putting my body through this, I’ll keep playing football.”

League One defenders will be worried to hear that. Despite getting towards the end of his career, Akinfenwa remains as dangerous as he ever has been thanks to his power and physical frame.

He has the ability to dominate any defender in that division and, over the last couple of seasons, he has added intelligence to his game. The striker knows his own limitations and that has helped him get the best out of his ability.

It will be interesting to see how he and Gillingham fare next season. They have a bright, young coach in Gareth Ainsworth and they have a team that appears to enjoy playing together. Akinfenwa has played a huge role in that and few would back against him making an impact again during the 2018/19 season.

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Championship

Exclusive: Steve Morison raves about Millwall fans, discusses ‘difficult’ Leeds spell

The Welsh international spoke with pride when reflecting on Millwall’s most recent Championship campaign.

Jake Jackman

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Steve Morison
Photo: Getty Images

Millwall achieved an impressive 8th placed finish during their first season back in the Championship and were ultimately only three points off of a play-off place.

The Lions were one of the surprise packages of the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season and Neil Harris deserves a great deal of praise for the results that he has delivered at The Den.

One player who symbolises what the club represents is striker Steve Morison.

The 34-year-old has played over 200 matches for the Lions and will undoubtedly go down as a Millwall legend.

In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, the Welsh international spoke proudly about the recent campaign, praising the incredible team spirit as the reason behind the club’s success:

“We’ve got an incredibly tight-knit and committed squad of players who work hard both individually and collectively.

“Since he first took charge, the manager has implemented a way of playing which gets the best out of the players he has at his disposal and also, since the back end of last season, we’ve formed a great bond with the supporters.

“Each of those elements are important individually, but when you add them all together then it shouldn’t really be as big as surprise that we have surpassed expectation as it has been made out by some.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Although Millwall cannot compete with the finances of some of the bigger clubs in the second tier, they boast an ardent fan-base and they have found a set of players who have been successfully able to connect with those in the stands.

In the past, the supporters have been difficult to play in front of and some players have struggled to live up to expectation but that hasn’t been a problem for the current squad. Understandably, Morison was keen to emphasise the tremendous role that the supporters played throughout the campaign.

“They can be a tough crowd to play for when things are going against you but so long as you keep putting everything in to each performance, playing with passion and desire, then they will continue backing you.

“I’ve played at Millwall for a long time now all-in-all and I’m sure they respect my achievements and personality, as I do their honesty and love for the club.”

It is no surprise to hear Morison speak highly of the club’s supporters. After all, he has played more matches for Millwall than he has at any other club he has been with.

This is his third spell at The Den and he is a player that the supporters have formed a genuine connection with.

A no-nonsense centre-forward, who benefits from the atmosphere created by the fans, Morison doesn’t shirk a physical encounter, making him the perfect striker for the current squad.

“This really feels like home for me as a player. The club gave me my big chance when I first moved here, which was a platform to go on to play for my country and in the Premier League.

“Since that first spell I’ve been back twice, firstly on loan which wasn’t so successful for me or the club, and more recently since the gaffer took over.

“The style of play suits me and I suit the style of play, which is why I think my best performances have tended to come in a Millwall shirt.”

This season, Morison has shown no sign of slowing up, playing 44 of the Lions’ Championship matches and becoming one of the mainstays of the team under Neil Harris.

The 34-year-old only scored five times, but he was an important part of Millwall’s success. In addition to his goals, he contributed eight assists and was a handful every time he stepped out onto the pitch.

Over the course of the campaign he moved to within ten of 100 goals for the club.

(Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

“Personal records and accolades are always nice to receive but if I’m not scoring and the team is winning then I’m far happier than I would be if it was the other way around.

“I’ve had some great memories of my time at Millwall and hope there is many more to come, including reaching that goal landmark which any player, no matter what club they play for, should be proud of.”

That would be a major landmark to reach and it is likely that he will be given more than a fair opportunity to get the goals required.

Naturally, Morison is right to speak about the team being more important than personal achievement, but there is a good chance that he can enjoy both at The Den.

It would be a great moment for him, as he has enjoyed his best years at the club and to reach 100 goals would be a fair representation of his contribution.

Morison will be remembered fondly by the Millwall supporters, but the current manager in the dugout is already legend at the club.

Neil Harris achieved a lot as a player and has had a similar impact since taking over as the number one at The Den.

His former team-mate speaks positively about his current boss and it is obvious that he sees him as havingd a bright future in management.

“The gaffer is one of those who knows how to get the best out of players both individually and, when all put together, as a team. He is very honest and up front and we regularly have lengthy chats about all sorts of things. He respects the opinions of his players, especially senior ones like myself.

“He knows this club so well – he’s a Millwall legend – but he was right when he said, after his appointment, that he wanted to be judged on his performance as a manager and not as the player he was.

“Since then we’ve been to Wembley twice, winning promotion once, and almost secured a Play-Off spot for a chance to get to the Premier League. Those achievements speak for themselves and ultimately say a lot about his quality as a manager and a person.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

There are times when a manager and club fit like a glove. Harris and Millwall are an example of that.

He played the majority of his career at The Den and is one of the players who, like Morison aims to, scored more than 100 goals for The Lions.

During his playing career, he learnt everything there was to know about the club and it isn’t a shock that it has allowed him to transition seamlessly into management.

Harris started as the boss of the Under-21s and is now emerging as one of the most exciting coaches in the country.

Millwall’s style of play is functional, but it has earned the club good results.

An 8th placed finish is a superb achievement and sees them finish above the likes of Leeds United, Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday, all of whom were seen as teams that could challenge for promotion this season.

He may now be seen in a similar way to Harris, but Morison hasn’t been at Millwall for his entire career.

The Welsh international tested himself at a higher level with Norwich in the Premier League. Meanwhile, he also played for Leeds United, but failed to make an impact at Elland Road.

It didn’t work out for him in Yorkshire, but he doesn’t want to make excuses for his lack of impact.

“I’ve been fairly honest in my assessment of my time at Leeds in the past. It just didn’t work out anywhere near as well as I’d hoped or the club had hoped for me. It was a difficult time to be a player with the controversy and uncertainty in the background, which does have an impact on performances and results.

“But as an individual I don’t want to make excuses. I didn’t play as well as I would have liked and as I have done since.”

Although it didn’t work out for Morison at Leeds, he won’t finish his career looking back at the spell with regret. Ultimately, it led him back to Millwall and that is where he feels at home.

The atmosphere and playing style allow him to play to a high standard, despite approaching 35 years of age.

Although some would consider Morison to be nearing the end of his time as a player, he isn’t ready to call it a day just yet.

“So long as I feel fit and I’m contributing then I want to play as long as possible. You’re a long time retired as a footballer and I want to prolong my own career as much as is possible.

“I feel that I’ve contributed well again this season and am looking forward to coming back for training again at the end of June to get ready for another campaign. I don’t look too far forward.

“As a club we’ve got to ensure that this season and the success we’ve enjoyed becomes a platform for progression and even bigger and better things in 2018/19. That has to be our aim.”

There is a lot for Morison to achieve before hanging up his boots. The 100 goals will be on his mind, even if it isn’t his main priority. Also, he will want to continue to play a part in the progression of Millwall.

The Lions finished 8th this season and there will be a desire to go one step further and make the play-offs during the 2018/19 campaign. It would be an incredible achievement for the club to reach the top-flight, but the last 12 months show that it shouldn’t be considered impossible.

Morison still has a part to play and it is clear he has the hunger to deliver sustained progression at the club.

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Arsenal

Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – Hoffenheim move, Julian Nagelsmann and facing Liverpool

The Norwegian international discussed his time at Hoffenheim and his experience of English clubs.

Mathew Nash

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Havard Nordtveit
Photo: Getty Images

This summer West Ham United utility man Havard Nordtveit called time on his career with the Hammers, after just one season.

Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer he suffered from the London outfits’ own struggles, the change of stadium and being asked to play out of position at right-back.

After just 21 games for the Hammers, he headed back to Germany, where he had such success previously.

Now, speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, the Norwegian international has discussed working under an exciting new manager, facing Liverpool in the Champions League and coming through the ranks at Arsenal.

Plenty of teams in Germany would have wanted Nordtveit this summer.

He built a fine reputation in the Bundesliga during his time with Gladbach.

In fact, just hours before his July transfer was announced, he was being linked with Bundesliga rivals Hamburg.

In the end, it was Hoffenheim who snapped up the Norwegian. They had just finished fourth in the Bundesliga and it was a brilliant move for the 27-year-old.

(Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images)

But, as the former Hammer explained from Germany, it has been a topsy-turvy season:

“It went well in the first couple of months. But then my games weren’t as good as I was hoping for,” he admitted. “Then obviously I was not good enough for the team. I have been training hard and lately, it has been back to normal again.

“It’s good to be back in Germany and also I needed half a season to get to know the new coach and the new system. I am looking forward to the rest of the campaign.”

Nordtveit started the season playing in the Hoffenheim back three, but found himself out of the squad entirely from mid-December until last month.

Despite his problems, he did not sulk and simply worked hard to get back into the first-team:

“I am not that person,” proclaimed the Norwegian international. “I have been in that situation before with West Ham and Gladbach. It’s all about giving everything you can instead of moaning.

“You have to be positive,” he continued. “This is a team sport. You have to give your best for the team. If that means you are playing or not you know that you will get the chance in the end.”

This season Hoffenheim and Nordtveit were challenging for the Europa League.

However, at the start of the campaign, the Bundesliga outfit were in Champions League action for the first time in their history.

They took on Premier League side Liverpool in the qualifying rounds, with Nordtveit playing in both games.

Liverpool were not yet working under Mohamed Salah power but still proved far too strong for their German opponents over two legs:

“We knew they were strong. With their attacking forwards they are brutal. We had a very good home game. But in the end, it is a little better a feeling to know we went out of the play-offs against a team that reached the finals,” Nordtveit explained, with a sense of vindication for his club’s exit.

“What Klopp has done with the club is massive and also Salah, at this time, maybe is Europe’s best player.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Hoffenheim’s entrance to the Champions League was masterminded by their brilliant young coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old is just a few years older than the Norwegian but has proven himself a top manager:

“He is fantastic,” said an excited Nordtveit. “He has great experience and his own style of play. It is a lot of tactics for every new player. Also when I came in then there was a lot of new things I had to learn quite quick.

“I am now starting to see that I learn something in myself to get into the rhythm that he wants. He is like a young, bright, football professor.”

He then gave him high praise, by comparing him to his former Gladbach boss Lucien Favre:

“He reminds me a little bit of Lucien Favre. He thinks about football 24/7. Small details, always, which can mean we take the three points.

“If I could compare him with someone it would be Lucien Favre, which is not a bad comparison.”

Nagelsmann’s clear ability has seen him linked with taking over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

The Norwegian came through the ranks at Arsenal, but made it clear that he spent most of his time working with the current Arsenal assistant Steve Bould:

“I spoke with him of course but he was more observing the training. I was more with the reserve team.

“I was more with Steve Bould, the legend. He was quite important for me, a really good guy. I think he was one of the more important guys in Arsenal when I was there.”

Working under the Arsenal legend as a young defender must have been a big learning experience for the Hoffenheim player, who speaks highly of his time at Arsenal:

“I went quite early, about 16,17,” remembered the talented utility man. “It was perhaps the most important choice I did in my career because there I learnt how to do the basics in football.

“I did not play much with the first-team but the experience of training with the first-team and getting to know English football and a really high standard was really important to me.

(Photo by Nikolay Doychinov/Getty Images)

“From there, when I moved to Germany, I had the perfect base to have an OK career.

“Jack Wilshere was there before he finally broke through to the first-team. We had Wojciech Szczesny now second goalkeeper for Juventus. Many of the players are having big careers.  

“For me and a lot of the players we were quite lucky to have this opportunity.”

But Nordtveit still remembers his time fondly. He still follows the club, where good friend Granit Xhaka is also playing.

The Gunners have been unable to put a smile on the face of Nordtveit by picking up the Europa League trophy in Arsene Wenger’s final year.

However, with London outfit set to compete in the competition again next season, under a new manager, the two could well come face-to-face. 

That would be an opportunity Hoffenheim’s intrepid Norwegian would relish.

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