Signed to replace Damien Duff, Norwegian midfielder Morten Gamst Pederson became an unlikely star at Blackburn Rovers and lit up the Premier League.
As manager Graeme Souness entered what would ultimately be his final season at Blackburn Rovers, his powers were waning. Known to be an authoritarian, the Scot had clashed with several high-profile players at the club including Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole – who left for Fulham and Birmingham City, respectively. Souness needed to replace these stalwarts, and fast. Paul Dickov was recruited from Leicester City. Robbie Savage made the switch from Birmingham and Dominic Matteo joined from a Leeds United side who would eventually be relegated. These were big signings – notable names who had already established themselves in the Premier League. However, it would be a relative unknown who would shine brightest at Ewood Park; a bleached-blonde winger from Norway.
Morten Gamst Pedersen was a rising talent who shot onto the scene with Tromsø in the Tippeligaen – the Norwegian top league. He joined the club at the age of 17 when he impressed in a friendly match with his local side against the professional outfit. In his second season, Tromsø were relegated to the second division; disappointment at face-value but opportunity in reality. Playing in a lower division provided Pedersen with more first-team experience on the left-wing, which he exploited. He scored 21 goals in 28 games as Tromsø rose back up the ranks and Pedersen remained a key player for them in the following two-seasons, earning an international call-up for Norway against Northern Ireland scoring a brace on the night. It was clear he would be snapped up by a bigger club sooner rather than later as English sides circled like sharks. Wimbledon and Middlesbrough had previously shown interest, but now Manchester United were watching, as were Aston Villa. However, it was Blackburn Rovers that won his signature with a deal worth £1.5 million.
The Lancashire club needed a winger after Damien Duff departed for Chelsea and Pedersen was their man. However, just days after his signing, Graeme Souness left for Newcastle United and former Rovers striker Mark Hughes came in as his replacement. Initially there were promising signs as Pedersen started the first game of the Welshman’s reign but it proved to be his last appearance for some time. “He thought maybe I wasn’t 100% ready for the Premier League so I was sitting in the stands for three months. I always knocked on his door and asked what I could improve to be in the team and how I could prepare myself,” Pedersen said about the situation. The player would get another opportunity and, just like he had done in the second division of Norwegian football, he grasped it with both hands. Pedersen made his return to the team against Cardiff City and scored three goals in the next three games guaranteeing his name was on the teamsheet for the remainder of the season.
Hughes added further to the squad in the summer transfer window leading to what is considered one of a cult group of players assembled in the mid-noughties years of the Premier League. Brett Emerton, Robbie Savage, Paul Dickov, Craig Bellamy, Peter Enckelman and Tugay Kerimoğlu were just a few of the eclectic names who graced the Ewood turf and right in the centre of it all was Morten Gamst Pedersen. He hit the ground running in his second season with the club with his trademark blonde hair and thunderous shots. The power and velocity with which Perdersen hit the ball have entered Premier League folklore.
As well as great goals – such as a spectacular volley against Fulham – he also scored important ones, two of which came against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2005. While not the only factor in Alex Ferguson’s side coughing up the league title that year – it certainly didn’t help.
Blackburn went on to finish sixth just four points off Arsenal in fourth place. However, United would get their revenge, knocking Hughes’ side out of the League Cup in the semi-final. With ten goals to his name that season, Pedersen was now one of the top wingers in the league and remained a star for the club under Hughes’ tenure which lasted until the end of the 2008 campaign.
While age, managerial changes and the other generalities of football came into play in the following years which may explain why he never hit the heights of his first few seasons at Blackburn, something far grander was happening to the sport which likely had a bigger impact. Slowly but surely – largely thanks to Pep Guardiola – the four-man midfield was eroded. Coming up against three central midfielders made life difficult for those still playing with two wingers as possession became paramount.
While still an important player, the position Pedersen had once made his own was now becoming redundant and, as such, his influence on games began to dwindle. After eight years at Blackburn, the Norwegian left for Karabükspor in Turkey before returning home to Rosenborg and finishing
off where it all began at Tromsø.
Pedersen might have been regarded as a ‘luxury’ player in today’s game – someone not worth having unless he could conform to a ‘system’ and do ten things on top of his regular duties. He’s unlikely to be regarded highly by the Playstation faithful either because his stats wouldn’t necessarily jump off the screen. But he belongs to a time when that mattered little. His fair hair, long-range free-kicks and thumping shots stand the test of time more than any numbers in a video game – a golden-haired hero for a golden era.
Enda Coll is an Irish journalist, podcast host and YouTube creator for Breakdown Inc.
The 8th edition of the Póg Mo Goal magazine is now available now. With over 70 pages, Ireland’s only football magazine features excellent feature writing, beautiful photography and illustrations from contributors across the globe. Issue 8 features photography and illustration from Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Australia and more. It also includes features on the greatest cult footballer you’ve never heard of, Glentoran’s European adventures, the Hungarian data pioneers from over half a century ago, Denise O’ Sullivan’s rising career, and more…