Nordtveit, Norway's latest export hit
The vibe around the Borussia Monchengladbach training ground is decidedly positive at present. As head coach Lucien Favre delivers his morning training session in a firm but friendly manner, his charges diligently obey as a handful of enthusiastic fans observe the team's progress from the sidelines.
Going back only three months, few would have predicted such a scenario. It was only at the end of May that the 1970s powerhouse were on the brink of relegation from Germany's top tier, a fate they only staved off thanks a narrow play-off victory over VfL Bochum.
Now, following early-season victories over Germany's most successful club Bayern Munich and 2009 champions Wolfsburg, Gladbach spent the entire weekend at the top of the table for the first time since 1998/99.
Cynics will point to the fact that the last time this happened, the club were relegated at the end of the campaign, but midfielder Harvard Nordtveit is refusing to countenance such thoughts, as he explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com: "If you think negatively, you'll never improve. You have to concentrate on the positives. If you do that, you can achieve anything."
The 21-year-old has every reason to feel confident at the moment. As one of the driving forces behind Gladbach's excellent start, the Norwegian’s strong performances have seen the Foals concede just two goals in three league games to date. Aside from Hannover 96, they are the only side in the division yet to suffer defeat.
Nordtveit has been given a pivotal role in Favre's 4-2-3-1 formation, pulling the strings from defensive midfield and providing the link between defence and attack.
The talented youngster’s displays have attracted praise from various quarters, including former Norway and Eintracht Frankfurt striker Jan-Age Fjortoft: "Havard is a great guy with a fantastic attitude. He's discovered his role in Gladbach and is fulfilling it with aplomb."
“Of course I've noticed people are talking about me," Nordtveit told FIFA.com in light of the acclaim. "You have to keep your feet on the ground, though."
In spite of his age, the baby-faced midfielder exudes a maturity far beyond his years having already experienced a great deal in his fledgling career. After making his professional debut in Norway at just 16, the tattoo enthusiast joined Premier League giants Arsenal a year later, continuing his development during subsequent loan spells at Salamanca, Lillestrom and Nuremberg. Last January, Nordtveit agreed to join five-time German champions Gladbach.
"It was good for me to get professional experience at such a young age," explained the emerging star, who has nothing but praise for his former employers. "The early move to London wasn't hard at all because Arsenal looked after me so well."
Nonetheless, the 6'2 midfielder opted for a move to Germany during last season's winter transfer window in the hope of getting more first-team action and the chance of a call-up to his national team. Having since established himself as a first team regular at the Borussia Park, Nordtveit will have done his international prospects no harm whatsoever.
"Borussia is a great club," he continued. "I can continue to improve here. I've got everything I need for my development."
Fjortoft, now a television pundit in Germany, believes his compatriot has a great future ahead: "In my eyes he's a clear candidate for the Norwegian national team. His only problem is that in Norway, people see him as a centre-back."
Impressively, Nordtveit proved he could perform in either position in Gladbach's emphatic 4-1 victory against Wolfsburg last Friday, showing himself to be an assured central defender throughout. Norway boss Egil Olsen will no doubt have taken note.
'Drillo', as Olsen is affectionately known in his homeland, already handed Nordtveit his international debut at the beginning of June, bringing the Gladbach talent on for the second half of a 1-0 victory over Lithuania." It was a great moment for me," said the midfielder at the time. "It's what I've been working hard towards every day."
After missing out on a place in the senior squad for the recent 3-0 win over Czech Republic, Nordtveit is now determined to make the cut for his country's upcoming UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers against Iceland and Denmark at the start of September.
Norway are currently joint-top of Group H, level with Portugal and Denmark, but still have plenty of work to do if they are indeed to make it to their first continental showpiece since 2000.
"Of course it's going to be difficult to qualify for Poland/Ukraine, but it's not impossible,” added Nordtveit at the end of our interview. “We're just concentrating on ourselves and striving to collect the necessary amount of points. Hopefully we can take our chance."