There is one very good reason why Norway midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen is such an exciting player to watch. When you grow up playing your football in the Arctic Circle, you quickly learn to entertain people - if only to keep them warm. "You have to do it, if not they go home," he jokes. "They have to clap their hands all the time."
Pedersen's laugh is contagious. "I always have a smile on my face, off the pitch as well," he tells uefa.com. "That's a part of me, a smile and a good mood." He has been raising supporters spirits since breaking into his local side Norild IL in 1997. He will be hoping to give them further reason to cheer this week when Norway take on the Czech Republic for a place at the FIFA World Cup. Should Åge Hareide's side prevail, Norway are likely to have much to thank the small fishing community of Vadsø for.
Vadsø lies in the far north-east corner of Norway on the same latitude as Siberia, Alaska and Greenland; not places normally associated with football excellence. Remarkably for a town of just 6,000 people, Pedersen is Vadsø's second recent export to make his mark on the international stage. He follows in the footsteps of striker Sigurd Rushfeldt and Norway will be looking to the Vadsø pair to provide the creative spark to outwit the Czech defence.
Pedersen has every reason to smile. It has been a terrific year for the 24-year-old left-sided midfielder who is now thriving at Blackburn Rovers FC after a difficult introduction to English football. His stunning volley against Fulham FC in August was the sign of a player in form. Two more spectacular goals in victory against Manchester United FC confirmed an exceptional talent. "The feeling was unbelievable," Pedersen said. "We had worked hard and deserved to take the lead in the game."
Hard work is something Pedersen knows all about. It is paying off for him this season after taking time to adapt to the Premiership following his €2.2m transfer from Tromsø IL in August 2004. "It was tough when I first came to Blackburn," he admits. "I played the first three games and then [we] lost the manager [Graeme Souness] and I was out of the team. For two-and-a-half months I didn't play, but I was working hard every day. I tried to prove I was a good enough player. When I got the chance I had to take it and I did."
'Give something back'
Pedersen combines flair with a strong work ethic. He is capable of the extraordinary, but the team always comes first. "I like to try different things," he says. "In some parts of the game it's not the thing to do, but when you have time you can maybe try something.
I like to play with the ball and give something back to the crowd. It's fun to try things but you have to be at the right place at the right time."
'Little bit extra'
Pedersen has timed it right for Norway. It was his exquisite lob in the final minute against Slovenia on 3 September that earned a 3-2 victory and as good as confirmed their place in the play-offs. He has been capped 19 times for Norway, but as his reputation blossoms Pedersen is finding himself an increasingly marked man. "You try and do a little bit extra, but it is not so easy every time because people know you and they want to take you out of the game. But it's not about one person, it's about the whole team."
Pedersen's willingness to try the outrageous on the pitch is a sign of his confidence. And he tends to achieve what he sets out to do. He taught himself to play left-footed and is now equally strong with either foot. He has risen to the physical demands of the English game and believes he is a better player for it. He has now set his sights on reaching the World Cup. Should Norway qualify he will take it in his stride. Pedersen may be the darling of the Norwegian media, but he knows the perfect place in the far north of the country to escape to when he needs to clear his head.
"I try to go home when I have the chance, see family and friends. Relax, get fresh air, meet people, old friends, have fun, hang out. I'm always myself.
I only want to be myself. I'm just a normal person who plays football. Somebody is a doctor, somebody is a teacher. I'm lucky that I can do what I love to do." So, for that matter, is Norway.
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