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Oscar Bobb’s Man City rise: From Norway to Manchester, the making of Pep Guardiola’s precocious new superstar



Cole Palmer will feel that he has justified his decision to leave Manchester City for Chelsea given his impact at Stamford Bridge but as he returns to the Etihad Stadium there is satisfaction that Oscar Bobb has seized the opportunity to take his place.

The 20-year-old Norwegian winger has already played more Premier League minutes than Palmer managed to accrue last season and has made a bigger impact too. His match-winning goal against Newcastle could prove to be a key moment in the title race.

Kevin De Bruyne took the headlines for his perfect pass that day but he was careful to credit his young colleague. “If he does not run then I cannot pass the ball so he dictates what I can do.” The goal made the assist just as much as the assist made the goal.

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Kevin De Bruyne made a dream return from injury in the win over Newcastle last month

The very fact that Bobb was on the pitch at such a crucial stage of the game reveals the trust that City have in him. Pep Guardiola turned to him ahead of Jack Grealish at St James’ Park. He was in search of a goal rather than control and Bobb delivered for him.

It reflects the player’s growing stature within the group. His team-mates believe in him. “That is more important than the manager,” says Guardiola. “When the team-mates can say that a player can play with us that is the best success – and it was immediate.”

Guardiola talks of how Bobb can play in five different positions and of his hopes that City have found a player who can be a big part of the team for many years to come. “He is so dynamic. His work ethic is unbelievable. He does not feel the pressure much.”

Over in Norway, there is pride and satisfaction because Bobb’s journey to this point began long before he started making such an impression within City’s famed academy. This is a young man whose talent was identified at the age of just seven years old.

That appetite to impress and the mentality to handle difficult situations, as well as his technique and the tactical flexibility, all of it was being worked on during his time with Fotballprogresjon Norge.

Oscar Bobb as a young boy while training with Fotballprogresjon Norge [Credit: FPN]
Oscar Bobb as a young boy while training with Fotballprogresjon Norge [Credit: FPN]

For six years, a formative time in his development, Bobb was with FPN – an organisation specialising in personal training. Danny Sannes, the founder, and Kim-David Hunstok, the sporting director, have helped to build FPN into Norway’s leading development school.

The pair work hand in glove – so much so that they prefer to be quoted together rather than individually. Ironic given that their work is all about the individual. “You cannot compare,” they tell Sky Sports when asked how their training differs to that offered by clubs.

“What sets us apart is that our approach resembles a structured form of individual training. While the club focuses primarily on team development, we dedicate our time to the development of individual players. We firmly believe that our work is crucial.”

“In traditional clubs, it is challenging for a coach to provide personal attention to each player. For those aspiring to become professional football players, extra training outside their club environment becomes very important. Our mission is to develop that talent.”

Danny Sannes, founder of Fotballprogresjon Norge
Danny Sannes is a founder of personal training organisation Fotballprogresjon Norge

Bobb has become a poster boy for their work, having been at FPN from the age of seven to 13. “We have many precious memories of Oscar. He was a very dedicated boy who loved to train. He was easy to work with, cheerful, smiling and polite, always eager to learn.”

They recall his first day. “The legendary first session!” Maintaining focus was not easy. He was seven, after all. “He was more interested in what was happening around us.” But once they were able to put together a small group of young talents, that changed.

Mathias Emilsen, Mats Aaserud and Elias Aarflot joined too. “We got three new little bundles of energy and training became a kind of superhero gathering for football-loving kids. Great memories.” All three are now pursuing professional careers of their own.

Bobb’s ability to take in new information so quickly – essential now working with Guardiola – soon became a key feature of what made him so special. “Having an individual meeting with him at the age of eight or nine was almost like conversing with an adult.”

Technically, he was outstanding from the outset. “When it came to exercises that combined coordination, technique and tactics, you could see the sparkle in his eyes, and you could see that he had something entirely different to the rest – something special.”

Bobb would “dominate the one-on-one sessions with his incredible touch” and “establish the benchmark for boys born in 2003 in Oslo and later throughout the entire country.” But as Guardiola was just as keen to highlight, his rise is about his will as well as his skill.

“We also remember days when Oscar would be on the field before school started in the morning. Just him and a ball and a few cones. Individual training with quality. While others were still rolling around in bed, Oscar was working on improving his skills.”

Oscar Bobb as a young boy while training with Fotballprogresjon Norge [Credit: FPN]
Oscar Bobb was the shining light at Fotballprogresjon Norge [Credit: FPN]

It is remarkable how thorough their coaching vision is when working with such young players. “We integrate tactical aspects,” they explain. “Our training is not isolated to technical skills. Football understanding is a crucial element in our approach.”

They coach players to think quickly. “We used coloured cards, each indicating different instructions, stimulating players to make quick and accurate decisions based on what they see. In recent years, we have incorporated various light systems as well.”

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Children as young as six are being given an insight into the mental aspects of being a footballer. “When the challenging days arrive, they have a lot of mental skills to solve many of the problems. We strongly believe that this positively shapes their development.

“Our goal is to develop mentally strong players with a mindset of courage. We want players to take risks, dribble, try difficult passes. And when a player does a mistake, we work on their reaction, focusing on the upcoming task rather that dwelling on the past.”

And they try to remember to make it fun. “We want a positive atmosphere in training. Negative comments or negative body language are not allowed. Everyone should leave training with a smile, with the feeling that they have been seen and coached.”

Oscar Bobb as a young boy while training with Fotballprogresjon Norge [Credit: FPN]
Talking to a young Oscar Bobb was like talking to an adult [Credit: FPN]

As many as 60 players are making that next step from FPN to a career in professional football and there is excitement about the progress of a number of them. Players at Atalanta and Anderlecht, at PSV, Heerenveen and Twente are among those mentioned.

The model works. “It is becoming more and more challenging to break through on your own. Very few players will train effectively independently. Discipline and proper expertise are essential. Otherwise, there is a risk of doing incorrect training,” they explain.

“The game is evolving at high speed and to stay ahead we need to be somewhat ahead of the curve. The small details and percentages are becoming increasingly crucial for success and personal coaching services are sure to play a more significant role in the future.”

Kim-David Hunstok of Fotballprogresjon Norge
Kim-David Hunstok of Fotballprogresjon Norge gets to work on the training ground

But one young man stands out above the rest.

In September, Bobb made his Premier League debut. A senior international debut followed in October and his first goal for Norway came in November. The month of December saw him play in City’s Club World Cup final win. January brought that goal at Newcastle.

“Oscar’s goal was amazing. Absolutely magical. The first touch, the control, and the instinctive finish, these are elements we recognise from the time he trained with us on a weekly basis. The intelligence of his movement without the ball is remarkable.”

“It is satisfying to witness these skills translate to such breathtaking moments at the highest level of football. Our joy is primarily for him but it means a great deal to us too. It will be really interesting to see Oscar playing more regularly alongside De Bruyne.”

Who knows what the months and years to come will bring.

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