Hands up. Only weeks ago, who gave Norwich City a chance of staying up? 10 games without victory, without an away win since December 19, and falling to some woeful defeats. It looked set to be an immediate return to the Championship for Alex Neil’s Canaries.
Now, however, there is some hope around Carrow Road. Two successive victories has now led Norwich City fans to dream that they can escape the Premier League drop. One of those victories could be perceived as one of their biggest of the season yet. Yes, they demolished Sunderland in August and registered a shock defeat at Old Trafford back in December, but victory over relegation rivals Newcastle – at this stage of the season – is huge.
Shoot takes a look at the man who netted the winner – his first goal of the season – in the victory at Carrow Road on Saturday for Alex Neil’s men, Martin Olsson.
Where did it all start for Olsson?
Born just three days after Wimbledon’ shock victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final, Olsson was born into a football family. He and his twin brother – Marcus – loved the game and both – from a young age – had the ability to progress into the professional game. While Marcus had to progress through the Swedish leagues before attracting the attention of Blackburn Rovers in January 2012, Martin attracted the attention of English scouts from a young age, signing for the Ewood Park outfit in January 2006 after setting Swedish youth football alight at Hogaborgs BK youth academy.
After signing for a Blackburn side who the previous season had finished 15th in the Premier League under the guidance of Mark Hughes, it felt as if a dream had come true for the youngster. However, his first task was too play his way into the Lancashire side’s first team.
What happened next?
After shining at youth level, Olsson eventually made his professional debut in the UEFA Cup in August 2007, when he replaced Steven Warnock in a 2-0 victory at Ewood Park in a two-legged tie against Myllykosken Pallo-47. His next appearance would come a month later when he appeared in a League Cup tie against Birmingham City – this time starting a game under Mark Hughes for the first time. But there was still no Premier League. The opportunity looked to come true eventually when, in fixtures over Wigan and Man City – games in which the Rovers failed to pick up victory in – he was chosen to be amongst the substitutes.
The dream of Premier League football came eventually on the penultimate day of 2007, when he replaced Morten Gamst Pederson at the then called Pride Park Stadium in a game against a Derby County team who would only register 12 points that season – the lowest tally in Premier League football. His reward for that season was a new contract, signed in May 2008, which kept him at the club until the summer of 2012.
Despite only making nine appearances the following year, Olsson became a regular within the Blackburn squad in the 2009-10 season. This was the campaign which also saw the youngster register his first Premier League goal, when he cut inside from the left and struck into the far corner just 16 minutes into a fixture against Hull City on a cold, breezy Wednesday night at Ewood Park.
How did it end in Lancashire for Olsson?
By June 2010 he was an integral part in Blackburn’s Premier League side and signed a new contract that kept him at Ewood Park until the summer of 2015. However, by December 2010, the board had had enough with current manager Sam Allardyce and the Venkys family appointed a shock replacement in Steve Kean as Allardyce’s successor. Cue one of the darkest periods in Blackburn Rovers’ history which eventually resulted in the club’s relegation to the Championship in 2012 after 11 years in the Premier League.
Despite picking up a knock at the start of the 2012-13 season, Olsson made 29 appearances in the second tier but was frustrated with the club’s 17th-placed finish. A return to play in the Premier League seemed a no-brainer.
How has he performed at Norwich?
It was July 2013 – the same month that Andy Murray ended the 77-year wait for a men’s British winner at Wimbledon – that Olsson made the move to Norwich for an undisclosed fee, thought to be in the region of around £2 million.
His impact was immediate, scoring his first goal from left-back in a League Cup tie against Bury just weeks into the start of the season and, after finally proving himself worthy enough to feature in the Premier League, Olsson became an ever-present within the Canaries’ set-up, playing 90 minutes in the league all the way from September to May (that is 27 consecutive league games.)
However, that wasn’t enough to keep the Canaries in the Premier League as they were relegated back down to the second tier of English football finishing eventually three points off safety.
After a rather below-par start to the season in the Championship, Norwich appointed Alex Neil in January 2015 following the resignation of club legend Neil Adams. The former Hamilton player-manager joined the Canaries with them three points off the play-off position. But from that moment onwards Norwich lost only three of their last 22 games and, unsurprisingly, were set for a top-six finish. Olsson played a key part in the run through the play-offs as he played the full 90 minutes in both legs of the semi-final over their fiercest rivals Ipswich, as well as also playing the full 90 minutes on a bank-holiday to remember at Wembley for the Canaries as they beat Middlesbrough to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
How does Olsson perform on the international front?
Olsson has flirted with the Swedish national side since his early days in England with Blackburn Rovers and has represented his nation at under 19, under 21 and senior level. He eventually made his debut in May 2010 for the Swedish senior team in a game against Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a debut to remember as well as Olsson netted two of his side’s four goals in a 4-2 victory over the Dragons.
By 2011, he had made his first start for the Scandinavian country in a fixture over lowly FIFA ranked San Marino and had developed a relationship with the star player of the senior team, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. By May 2012 he was, predictably, selected in the national side’s Euro 2012 squad. Here he featured in all three of Sweden’s group stage games, but with defeats over England and Ukraine, the Swede’s fell to bottom of their group and were eliminated at the first stage at the European Championships for the second consecutive time.
Was his goal at Carrow Road at the weekend a surprise?
Yes, arguably it was. Despite him making forward runs on the left flank he is not a regular goalscorer – but instead decides to deliver balls and has contributed to goals at times this season, including getting two assists in a 6-2 defeat over, coincidentally, Newcastle back in October. His strike on Saturday which sent Carrow Road into pure euphoria was his first in a Canaries shirt since September 2014. What a time to get it as well!
Super Stat: All three goals that Olsson has been involved in this season has been against Newcastle (2 assists and 1 goal)