Andreas Skov Olsen was not supposed to be a winger. In fact, he was not even supposed to be a footballer, but this year he can be a star at the Euros.
The long sinewy limbs. The towering lithe stature. At 6 foot 2 Andreas Skov Olsen is close to a giant.
He’s supposed to be in goal or at the back using his height to knock down crosses.
But Andreas Skov Olsen is Danish.
And the Danish defy the odds.
In 1992, Denmark were not supposed to win the European Championship. Peter Schmeichel was not supposed to outwit the best marksman in the world, Marco Van Basten, at what the Dutchman did best. John Jensen and Kim Vilfort from little Brøndby were not supposed to send the best defenders in the world sprawling and tumbling in their wake.
But they did.
And now Skov Olsen is following in their footsteps.
The gangly giant wanted to become a winger. He did not care that people called him ‘too tall.’
That was just talk.
At every hurdle Andreas Skov Olsen has stepped up to shatter the doubters and naysayers.
3 goals and 4 assists in 5 international caps for Denmark in just 179 minutes, has made him a prized asset for Kasper Hjulmand’s side and one who could play a key role in the country’s future endeavours.
Now no one is talking about whether he can play as a winger anymore.
But back in 2018, and even before that, Skov Olsen’s journey could have taken an entirely different path.
Andreas Skov Olsen and his father were sitting in a doctor’s office. He was 14. On the brink of giving up.
Hip problems made him miss almost a year of football. Andreas’ dreams were dissipating in front of him.
Maybe it was time to quit football. The doctor shook his head.
He knew Andreas’ problem and he told him and his father a surgery would fix it.
After a successful surgery, a year and a half later Andreas was back on the field to complete a remarkable recovery.
His teammates and coaches at Nordsjælland were pleased to see him. Opposition defenders were not. Skov Olsen went back to what he did best. Turning defenders into football cones and running rings around them scoring 15 goals in 14 games at U19 level.
But even so, there were difficult times.
Everyone saw the talent he had, but not everyone was convinced about the mentality. Denmark’s U19 coach Henrik Clausen wanted more.
‘He was a talented and skillfull player with good offensive impact but also with varying performance,’ Henrik tells FTF. ‘At that time he was also a little immature.’
So when it came to decisive U19 European Championship qualifiers, Henrik gave Andreas the shock of his life.
He dropped him.
‘At that time we played more with wide midfielders than wingers and I knew that Carlo Holse (Now Rosenborg) would be the first choice and combined with a lot of ups and downs for Andreas I decided to drop him in correspondence with his club, who also felt he was not developing good enough. Mikkel Damsgaard (now Sampdoria) replaced him.’
At first the rejection was jarring. For some it would evoke arrogance and self pity. But Andreas is a Danish fighter. And the Danish do not give up.
‘From what I have heard and have been told it was one of the things that made him focus more on developing and getting better, than just being satisfied with his current level. I have heard both him and Flemming Pedersen (Now Head Coach in FCN) say that it was an important lesson for him,’ Henrik recalls.
A star is born
It certainly proved to be the case.
A year later, Andreas Skov Olsen was no longer playing against boys, he was playing with men and scoring 26 goals and 6 assists in 44 games for Nordsjælland’s first team earning the crown of Denmark’s best Young Player of the Season.
Playing under Kasper Hjulmand, Skov Olsen made sure no manager would ever dare to drop him again.
He became Herculean.
The Danish giant controlled the ball with his heel. He sent defenders chasing his shadows and goalkeepers waking up in cold sweats remembering the deafening burst of the net.
‘His speed, 1v1 and his left foot are his best traits,’ Henrik Clausen says.
With 1.84 progressive runs per 90 only four other wingers ranked higher than him in the Danish Superliga. And when it came to goal conversion (19.82%) no one could match him.
His 3.2 shots per 90 was the sixth highest in the entire league.
Skov Olsen’s height and long limbs did not prohibit him, if anything they make him harder to play against. The ball stuck to his feet like glue.
Tall men can’t dribble is an old-fashioned stereotype obliterated and blown asunder by Andreas Skov Olsen.
You can try stopping a 5 foot 7 winger, you can use your height advantage, shove him off the ball, head the ball when it’s in the air. But what do you do with someone like Skov Olsen? It’s impossible. At his best he is a nuisance.
People in Bologna saw that too.
Life in Italy has not always been simple. Injuries have held him back in both campaigns. Andreas Skov Olsen has often had to play deeper in a wing-back role under Siniša Mihajlović conservative tactics.
But even so there have been glimmers, and he is showing signs of improvement too.
Especially when it comes to his dynamism.
Back in Denmark he averaged 6.34 dribbles per 90 with only a 49.3% success rate. Skov Olsen is averaging 6.7 dribbles per 90 in the Serie A this season and his success rate is 59.6%.
Sure, 2 goals and 3 assists is not a great return, but stats do not tell the full story.
He averages 3.46 progressive runs per 90 which is higher than Chiesa, Kulusevski and Wilfried Singo and is the 2nd highest for U21 players in the entirety of Serie A.
Take a look at his heatmap and the drop off in goals from his 18/19 season is understandable.
His shot-maps creates a much clearer picture too, Skov Olsen is averaging 2.1 shots per 90 this season but these shots are much further away from the goal.
Skov Olsen is no longer just an attacking maverick, he is a dynamic wing player. The no-nonsense brutish Mihajlovic has chiselled him into a well-rounded player who is contributing more defensively.
In Denmark colours Andreas Skov Olsen is different. There he is still the boy from Nordsjælland with the killer instinct and the freedom to charge into the box at will.
Kasper Hjulmand knows him well. He practically ‘made’ him in Nordsjælland during the 18/19 season as his first senior coach.
And Hjulmand gives the same freedom to the 21 year old as he did back at the Right to Dream Park.
Skov Olsen’s 1.4 average goal per 90 and 1.4 average assist per 90 is proof of exactly that.
Especially his performance in the 4-0 dismantling of Austria.
In 35 minutes, Andreas Skov Olsen made Ulmer, Laimer, Dragovic and Trauner sweat profusely.
He ran in behind the lumbering Austrian defence like a gazelle and finished past Schlager with that venomous trademark finish which made the top corner of the net bulge taut.
At UEFA Euro 2020, Hjulmand will not throw his protege in the deep end. Denmark have ample options going forward.
But with Russia, Finland and Belgium to beat, Andreas Skov Olsen has shown he can provide the quick impact off the bench to change games.
He’s done it at Nordsjælland. He’s done it against Austria.
Andreas Skov Olsen is the man to defy the odds. The trump card Hjulmand will keep under wraps and Denmark’s best kept secret.
‘Using his strengths he can cause trouble for everybody though I think it might be a little early. But you never know,’ Clausen concludes.
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