JO INGE Berget earned his first Norway cap from a man who was wrongly saddled with a reputation that was long out-dated, so it is no surprise that the Celtic midfielder is happy to give Scottish football the benefit of the doubt, too.
The celebrated Egil Olsen could never shake off the “long-ball” label even after beating Brazil at the 1998 World Cup finals, and Olsen had re-shaped his football philosophy by the time he gave Berget his international debut in 2012 during his second spell in charge.
Berget will face his third domestic opponent since the start of the Scottish Premiership campaign when Celtic visit Inverness Caledonian Thistle today. The 23-year-old Norwegian – on loan from Cardiff City – admits he knows little about John Hughes’ side, other than their status as league leaders.
Just a few miles up the road from Caledonian Stadium, Derek Adams has spent all week giving Ross County’s foreign legion of recruits a crash course. Adams claimed it was a “culture shock”, not for the usual cliched reasons of physicality, but because “they did not expect it to be so technical”.
Today, the champions will face a fluent Inverness Caley side which outscored Motherwell in possession when they won at Fir Park last week. That should impress Berget, who has now played in four countries – Italy, Norway, England and Scotland – after winning a move to Udinese as a teenager before Ole Gunar Solskjaer brought him to Cardiff from Molde.
“Of course the standard of the football is good,” declared Berget. “Celtic is a huge club with great players and the level is high, better than what I am used to back home in Norway.
“I came from Cardiff where I didn’t really play much but that was the Premier League, so I was training at that level for half a year and feel like I am ready for it.”
Asked if Scottish football is simply ‘long ball’ as critics often claim, Berget replied: “It’s not like that, not at all. I’ve only played two games, against St Johnstone and Dundee United, but it seems like the teams want to play. It’s not kicking the ball up and tackles.
“I don’t know much about Inverness but we watch videos of the opposition team and get to know their strengths and weaknesses.
“It’s all new for me because I have never played against these teams before and don’t know the opposition players but I just need to play my game and believe that if Celtic play the way we want to, then we can win every game.
“The game with Legia in Warsaw obviously wasn’t something we wanted. It was a bad result for us and a bad performance. However, we were fine in our first league game against St Johnstone when we won 3-0 and even better against Dundee United. That was a massive experience. To get two goals was good as well and there was a very positive feeling about the whole team after winning 6-1. It was a game in which everything worked out.”
Perhaps the greatest surprise from Celtic’s creditable 1-1 draw with Maribor in Slovenia in last Wednesday’s Champions League play-off first leg, was that manager Ronny Deila sacrificed top scorer Kris Commons to pack his midfield and avoid a repeat of Warsaw.
“I think it’s good to have competition in the team, not knowing that you’re going to play in every game,” reflects Berget. “It shows that we have a lot of good players, and I think you need that as we are going to play a lot of games. We played Wednesday, we play Saturday then we play Tuesday, so you need all the players as it’s difficult to be 100 per cent all the time.”
As the latest in a line of Norwegians to win a move to Celtic, Berget is aware of the expectations on Deila – on both sides of the North Sea – to deliver qualification for the Champions League group stage. “I knew they were a huge club,” Berget said. “We watch Champions League in Norway as well and Celtic are often being watched. Celtic has a big fanbase in Norway so they are often on Norwegian television. I watched a couple of their games.
“Drawing 1-1 away is a good result in Europe. It’s up to us now to do the job at home. Maaribor are going to come at us and have a go and we need to show them that this is our game and take it to them.”
As with Stefan Johansen – his compatriot with whom Berget stays in Glasgow – Deila had both men in his side at Stromsgodset in Norway, and Berget says the new Celtic manager understands his workers.
“He knows how to treat people,” said Berget. “He believes in how he wants to play, he’s good at making people believe in it. We are starting to look like a team now.”