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Another League Title, Another Rebuild For Norway's Most Captivating Club

The Eliteserien once again belongs to Bodø/Glimt, but can the Norwegian side overcome another round of significant departures?

Against all odds, Bodø/Glimt was just seconds away from a second consecutive Norwegian league title. Up 2-1 against SK Brann in the dying moments of injury time, Glimt just had to defend a desperation corner and they were league champions.

There would be no celebrations on that December day though, as an injury equalizer conceded against Brann prevented Glimt from sealing the Eliteserien championship on home turf.

This was a Bodø/Glimt team though that knew how to circumvent difficult situations — whether it be losing its best players or traveling for tough European fixtures.

The following week, Bodø/Glimt traveled to Mjøndalen to face the league's worst side. It felt like a home match for Glimt though, as The Yellow Horde filled Mjøndalen's Isachsen Stadion with gold and black. 

With the hosts all but relegated, the match quickly turned into a route, as Glimt scored twice in the first four minutes and won 3-0. 

After a century without a top-flight title, Glimt took home the title two seasons in a row.

The Lightning also had another significant achievement just three days prior, as a draw against Zorya Luhansk in the Europa Conference League (UECL) ensured Glimt a spot in the knockout round of a European competition for the first time. A February tie against Scottish giants Celtic now awaits the boys in yellow.

While the UECL is a third-rate competition to most, it still provided Glimt with a signature breakthrough moment: a 6-1 thrashing of Serie A side Roma.

Manager Jose Mourinho blamed a weakened squad for his side's defeat, but two weeks later Glimt traveled to Italy and earned a 2-2 draw against Roma's "A" side.

These Northern Norwegians were the real deal.

Bodø/Glimt first hit the scene in 2020, winning the Eliteserien while setting league records for goals scored, goal difference, points, wins and title-winning margin.

The side based in the Arctic Circle was led by the electric front three of Jens Petter Hauge, Philip Zinckernagel and Kasper Junker, who put up a combined 56 goals and 40 assists.

But by the start of the 2021 season, all three had joined different clubs. Junker moved to Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds, Zinckernagel joined Watford on a free transfer and Hauge was sold to AC Milan for a Glimt record $5.28 million.

The Lightning was far less prolific in 2021, ranking third in the Eliteserien in goals scored. The goal-scoring burden was much more balanced as well. Erik Botheim led the way with 15 goals, but 11 players in total scored multiple goals — including four players who had between five and eight league goals.

They also had a renewed commitment to defense, allowing seven fewer goals and posting four more shutouts in 2021. Two holdovers from the 2020 squad proved to be the key players during this season's title defense.

Left back Fredrik André Bjørkan, who has played in 87 of Glimt's last 90 league games, is a strong defender who also tied for the team lead in assists (six). He has a high work rate and his frequent forays up the pitch were pivotal to Glimt's attack. 

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But the centerpiece of the Norwegian upstarts is holding midfielder Patrick Berg. A deep-lying playmaker, Berg is adept at cycling the ball and finding attacking openings. Defensively, he acts like a custodian, cleaning up messes and snuffing out counterattacking opportunities before they happen.

Both Berg and Bjørkan made their much-deserved debuts for the Norwegian national side earlier this year.

The result for Glimt, while a little closer and a little less dazzling, was still the same — another league title.

"Their system is so solid that it doesn’t really matter who plays in it," Norwegian football journalist Ben Wells told The Athletic after Glimt's 2021 Eliteserien crown. "As long as the players know their roles well, the counter-attacking style of football they play is just so effective."

The depth of Glimt's talent was tested this year, and the system once again proved to be title-worthy. But now the squad will be tested again after the departure of three more crucial players.

Fullback Fredrik André Bjørkan signed with Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin at the start of the month on a free transfer, where he will be matched up with former Glimt winger Jens Petter Hauge, who is now at Frankfurt.

Then earlier this week, midfield maestro Patrick Berg signed with Ligue 1's RC Lens for a fee that approached Hauge's club record (estimated around $4.98 million).

The transfer pipeline didn't end there though, as striker Erik Botheim's moved to Russian club FK Krasnodar was made official within the last day — a surprising switch for a player linked to Europa Conference League nemesis AS Roma.

The departure of Botheim means Glimt will once again have to find a new leading scorer, and the loss of Berg leaves the Norwegian side without the heart and soul of its midfield.

These moves bring in a healthy bundle of cash, but also leave Glimt short six starters from its 2020 title-winning side.

Glimt has been careful with its spending so far, limiting the number of players it brings in and avoiding transfer fees when possible.

New boy Amahl Pellegrino had six goals and a pair of assists in the Eliteserien this year after joining midseason from the Saudi Professional League, plus the gangly winger added a goal and an assist in the 6-1 demolition of Roma.

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The Lightning also added versatile midfielder Mattias Käit — a former Fulham youth player and Estonian international with 39 appearances for his country — plus Ghanan winger Gilbert Koomson, who last played for Kasimpasa in the Turkish Süper Lig. All three arrived via free transfers.

This is a contrast to the foundation of homegrown players, Northern Norwegian players — like Jens Petter Hauge, Patrick Berg, and Fredrik André Bjørkan — that Glimt has built a title-winning squad upon.

Now the question is, who does Glimt rely on going forward?

The Lightning still has co-captain Ulrik Saltnes, a Glimt youth product who has been with the senior side since 2012. He is built in the same mold as Patrik Berg but is more of a goal-scoring threat, with 20 league goals across Glimt's two title-winning seasons.

Right back Alfons Sampsted and center back Marius Lode have been regulars for Glimt over the past few years and both earned recent call-ups to their respective national sides (Iceland for Sampsted and Norway for Lode).

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Plus there are young attacking-minded players Hugo Vetlesen and Ola Solbakken, with Vetlesen leading the club in goals+assists per 90 minutes in 2021 (0.85), while making two-thirds of his appearances off the bench.

This is now a key juncture in Bodø/Glimt's future. A club predicated on local talent ("We aim to have 40 percent of our squad from northern Norway, and 15 percent of playing minutes for local players," youth academy coach Orjan Berg says) is becoming increasingly saturated with imports and players from outside Norway's Northern half.

For small clubs, football has always been about operating in the margins. Glimt took advantage of the talent right under its nose to create a squad that could compete on the European scale. But with this positive exposure came the reality that bigger clubs would snatch up their local talent.

Glimt continues to identify and acquire promising Norwegian players, but it has also begun to outsource — looking to leagues in Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, and Turkey for under-the-radar signings.

Despite a steadfast mission, Glimt has been incredibly flexible in achieving its goals by exploiting the periphery of European football. But are these margins big enough for a third straight title?

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