The Caltex Socceroos upcoming clash with Norway in Oslo has brought back some special memories for former national team defender Shane Stefanutto.
Having spent almost six years of his career playing in Norway, the Scandinavian nation will always hold a special place in his heart.
Stefanutto, born in Cairns and who burst onto the scene with Brisbane Strikers in the NSL, started his time in Norway at Lillestrom before a couple of years at Lyn Oslo.
“I stayed four seasons in Lillestrom and had some really good times there. I was a part of one winning Norwegian Cup final [in 2007],” Stefanutto recalled to www.socceroos.com.au this week.
“I had good years there. It’s not the biggest club, not a massive club like Rosenborg, but a really competitive club.
“We were hitting the top four nearly every year I was there. And fourth is a pretty big deal for a club like that.”
But Stefanutto had to work for the success he ultimately achieved in Norway.
The first 18 months were tough for the all-action left-back as he struggled to break into the first team at Lillestrom.
With things like the language barrier, homesickness, the climate and a different culture to deal with, it took time for Stefanutto to find his feet.
Ultimate Guide: Caltex Socceroos vs Norway
But once he did, there was nothing holding him back.
“Those first years were tough but the couple of years after that, especially at Lillestrom, that’s where I played my best football while I was in Europe,” he said.
“And that’s when I got rewarded with my Socceroos debut against China [in 2007] and got called into London for a few camps.
“It was good because people were starting to take notice of me and my performances. It was a good time and part of my career.”
And Stefanutto still keeps a close eye on Norwegian football and his former clubs, regularly logging on to the website of local paper VG to read up on the latest results and news.
While it’s a way of maintaining his proficiency of the local language, he also has a deep interest in the country’s footballing fortunes.
“It was a big part of my life,” the now 38-year-old said.
“My daughter [Stella] was born in Norway, in Oslo.
“There is a strong connection and I know I wouldn’t have played for the Socceroos if I didn’t leave Australia and play in Norway.
“I have a lot to thank the country and the football there for and specifically Lillestrom football club for everything they did for me.”
Norway has produced some fantastic players over the years, the likes of ex-Manchester United trio Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ronny Johnsen and Henning Berg, as well as former Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo.
Berg, who won EPL titles at both Blackburn and United, was also Stefanutto’s manager during his time at Lyn Oslo.
While those times in the mid-90’s were heady days for Norwegian football, success has been hard to come by for the national team in recent years.
“And the people in the country, the football supporters are frustrated and sad at the situation,” Stefanutto admitted.
“Football gives everyone hope and there’s a real interest around the country in the national team.
“Their football culture is one of deep history and a lot of passion so for their football team, which has played at World Cups and performed really well, they are in a bit of a regeneration phase now.”
So what does Stefanutto think about the clash in Oslo next week?
“I think it will be tight. Norway are trying to build so they will be enthusiastic and will work hard and plan for the future,” he said.
“It will be a really good challenge for Bert [van Marwijk] and the boys because a nation like Norway is not someone we regularly come up against.
“I hope it’s exciting and I hope the Socceroos do really well because they are getting ready for a World Cup and there’s nothing bigger than that in our country in terms of football.”
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