Over the past few seasons, FC Nordsjælland have developed a reputation as a club that places faith in young players. The Danish club is owned by the Right to Dream Academy, an organisation that was created by the former Manchester United scout Tom Vernon in order to give opportunities to talented young children in Africa. In 2015, Right to Dream took the unusual step of buying a football club in Europe as they took a majority stake in FC Nordsjælland. While numerous academies around Africa have partnerships with clubs in Europe to create pathways for their players, this was the first instance of an Africa-based academy buying a football club outright.
What followed has been an interesting case study in talent development, as the Danish club have promoted players from their own academy which contains Danish youngsters and the pick of players from around Africa via Right to Dream. The key aspect of their talent development has been a trust in young footballers to play regular first-team minutes in a competitive league environment and for a club that is regularly competing for European qualification.
While the list of players who have been produced through Nordsjælland before moving on to top-five European leagues is significant, it is a young player who was not actually developed at the club that is the brightest talent there at the moment. That player is the 17-year-old Norwegian attacker Andreas Schjelderup, who only joined the club as a 16-year-old when he moved from Bodø/Glimt on a free transfer. It is a mark of the youngster’s quality that despite his young age when moving to Denmark, he immediately became a part of the first-team squad and his quality shone through right away.
Schjelderup is an attacking player who is perhaps most comfortable playing either wide on the left-hand side or in pockets behind the main striker, although he has already been used as a striker at times. He is technically strong with excellent balance and the capacity to create separation from defenders either through his clever positioning or when using his speed of thought and explosive movement to outplay and beat opposition players. Interestingly, for such a young player he has already shown a calmness and composure to his game with the ability to almost slow the game down when in possession. This ability allows him to make positive decisions on the ball, and to find and attack space.
Despite being just 17 years old, Schjelderup has already been capped twice by Norway at U21 level and it appears just a matter of time before he makes an impact at senior international level too.
I believe that interest in Schjelderup is only going to grow in 2022, and it is only a matter of time before the youngster is, again, being closely tracked by the biggest clubs in Europe.
The data profile above shows the youngster’s performance compared to all other wingers in the Danish top-flight who have played at least 270 minutes. At the time of writing, Schjelderup has played 1024 minutes of top-flight football this season.
So far this season, he is averaging 5.80 dribbles per 90 with a success rate of 42.42%. He is also averaging 0.26 goals per 90 from an xG per 90 of 0.22 from 1.05 shots per 90 and while taking 2.29 touches in the opposition area per 90.
His creative metrics are also strong, and Schjelderup is averaging 2.55 passes to the penalty area per 90 and 0.44 key passes per 90
Finding pockets of space
One of the biggest strengths that Andreas Schjelderup shows is his ability to drift away from opposition defenders and find pockets of space in the final third. These pockets of space allow the youngster to receive the ball in the final third and in areas from which he can immediately look to aggressively take the ball towards the opposition goal.
When he takes possession of the ball in these positions, Schjelderup forces the opposition players to have to break out of their defensive shape to cover his threat. This will, in turn, create space that teammates can exploit as they move forward to attack the ball. The young Norwegian finds these pockets of space almost naturally as a result of his constant scanning; if you watch him play, you will notice that out of possession, his head is almost constantly swivelling as he looks to map the positions of teammates and opposition players alike, allowing him to find space and better understand how and when to move in order to create separation from defensive players.
We see an example of his positioning in this example, as Schjelderup moves initially to run beyond the defensive line before cutting back and taking up a pocket in the half-space. This double movement has ensured that there is no player within 5 yards of him when he receives the ball.
Here, he takes possession with an open body shape before cutting inside to drive into the penalty area. From this position, he carries the ball at the defence before finishing with composure past the goalkeeper.
Here, we see an example of this positioning as Schjelderup receives the ball with separation from the opposition fullback. The play was already being built up in the final third and as the player in possession of the ball looked for an option to release the pass and play through pressure, we saw the young Norwegian attacker make an incisive movement beyond the defensive line.
He times his movements and runs extremely well and shows great game understanding in terms of understanding how to angle his runs to maximise the damage that he can cause the opposition’s defensive structure.
Composure in the final third
One of the most striking aspects of Schjelderup’s game is his ability to maintain his composure in the final third, whether in front of goal himself or when looking for angles in which to release passes that play in teammates. His ability to pause in possession and slow the game down is the mark of a top-level footballer. Crucially, although he does pause and slow down, he is still always in complete control of the ball and he maintains the ability to quickly explode in any direction should an opposition defender get too close in trying to make a challenge.
This composure also drags opposition players towards the ball and creates even more space that his teammates can look to take advantage of.
We see an example in this image of Schjelderup attracting players towards the ball before releasing a pass that sends a teammate into a promising attacking position. This time, he is positioned in the right half-space and drives forward in possession. As you can see, there are four opposition players around the ball and as Schjelderup moves forward in possession, he slows down and the opposition players step in as they think that they see an opportunity to regain possession. Instead, the young attacker is simply looking to buy time to allow his teammate in the wide-area to get forward into a more advanced position.
In the end, Schjelderup plays a well-weighted through ball that cuts through the opposition press and releases the wide player into a position from which he can cut into the opposition penalty area.
In this example, we again see the composure of Schjelderup, this time when he is positioned inside the opposition penalty area. This time, the young attacker shows composure as a defender looks to challenge and block the potential cross. The defender slides in but Schjelderup drags the ball back and outplays him. Still, however, at that point, there are five other opposition defenders between the ball and the goal.
In this position, a lot of young players would rush the decision and try to force a cross but Schjelderup pauses and realises that the late run by a central player from deep is the best option and he plays a low and accurate ball across the face of the defence that sets up a chance for that player.
Dynamic in possession
We have already talked about the fact that Schjelderup has composure in possession combined with the ability to read the game and identify space that he can take advantage of. He is also extremely dynamic in his movements with the ability to take possession of the ball in dangerous positions while under pressure before outplaying opposition defenders.
He has excellent touch and technique, and this allows him to receive possession in tight spaces before shifting his weight and dribbling past defenders.
Here, we again have an example of Schjelderup receiving the ball in space between four opposition players. Again, his ability to scan and find space is a key part of his attacking ability. As he receives the ball in these pockets, he has the quality to find progressive passes that play through lines to release runners or to play diagonal passes across to the opposite side of the field.
He also, however, has the ability to take possession as he does here and then outplay the direct opponent. He shifts and manipulates the ball well, using feints and body movements to unbalance opposition defenders and allow him to move past into space.
This time, he picks up possession of the ball right on the edge of the opposition area. He has soft feet and excellent body control and as such, he is capable of receiving the ball in these positions and taking a good touch into space and away from pressure. As defenders close him down in these situations, he is elusive and dynamic in his movements and can break into dangerous areas that can lead to him winning fouls or creating goal-scoring opportunities.
There is no doubt that Andreas Schjelderup is a midfielder with an extremely high ceiling. He took a risk in leaving Bodø/Glimt at such a young age but then made a mature choice in going to Nordsjælland as opposed to moving to a more illustrious club where his first-team opportunities would be more limited.
He is an extremely effective attacking talent who fits well into the demands of the modern game. In 2022, I have no doubt we will see the young Norwegian continue to go from strength to strength.