One of the key men in fine form this season has been Gustav Valsvik, and he spoke to VAVEL about what has gone and what is to come for the Lower Saxony side.
A super start to life in Germany
Valsvik arrived in the summer from Strømsgodset, signing a deal through to 2020, and has immediately settled at Eintracht-Stadion: “It’s been really good at Braunschweig. The first half of the season has been really good for me, I’ve got a lot of playing time and the team is doing good. I’m really enjoying myself.”
The Norwegian centre-back has been integral in their climb to the summit, having featured in all but three games this season. He has been a crucial part of a very solid defence and while he feels "we’ve played really well", Valsvik does feel there is room for improvement: "Maybe in the away games because we’ve dropped more points but we’ve won almost all our home games so if we continue it in the second half of the season it would be great.”
In recent years, 2. Bundesliga teams have placed more emphasis in scouting out the countries due north. Whether it be Denmark, Sweden or Valsvik's home nation, Norway. Jakob Busk and Kristian Pedersen have flown the Danish flag at 1. FC Union Berlin, who also have Swede, Simon Hedlund in their ranks.
However, Braunschweig also have a strong contingent from Scandinavia. Aside from Valsvik, Christoffer Nyman and Joesph Baffo are both Swedish, Mads Hvilsom - currently on loan - is a Dane and Nigerian forward, Suleiman Abdullahi arrived from Norwegian outfit, Viking during the summer.
Naturally, Valsvik said it played a part in his decision to join Braunschweig: “It was a big influence because I know some of the players who played here before and I know some of the players who play in 2. Bundesliga." He added, "I talked to them and discussed how it was. When I was talking to them I came to the conclusion that it was a good move for me and a good step to come here and keep developing.”
It's a division that the 23-year-old believes is extremely positive for development, "It’s a good level compared to Norway and Sweden and it’s a great step for us to keep developing and not take the biggest step to the first divisions in England, Germany or Spain."
He continued, "It’s a good step to come when you are this age and you can improve here and maybe take the next step in a few years.”
Valsvik is also thankful for Nyman and Baffo helping with his integration. Another positive of Eintracht's excellent recruitment, “They both speak Swedish and I speak Norwegian so we understand each other, they speak English as well. It’s good for me that me and Christoffer came at the same time so it’s been easier coming into the team, seeing the area.”
Braunschweig have boasted one of the most solid defensive units in 2. Bundesliga this season, and Valsvik's partnership with Saulo Decarli has been the basis for that.
When it comes to explaining how the two have hit it off so well, Decarli's partner can't put his finger on it: “I don’t know how to put it but I guess we are two players who fit really well and with the other players, of course. We play a lot together and we have formed a great partnership. We haven’t been together so long but we are two strong individuals so I think that’s a big part of it.”
There was one big change before the season started, and only just before it began, as Rafal Gikiewicz left the club for SC Freiburg. Jasmin Fejzic was given the number one spot and has been superb between the sticks for Braunschweig.
While he has just joined at the time, Valsvik paid tribute to the Pole: “I only trained with Gikiewicz for a week or two so I don’t know what his level was like. But I heard he was really good for Eintracht last season." However, he was similarly praiseworthy, if not more so, of the Bosnian stopper: "Jasi [Fejzic] has been really, really good for us – almost outstanding – for me I wouldn’t chose another ‘keeper."
With the Norway national team still without a manager, Valsvik is hoping his form can be recognised and earn a call up: "I know it was hard for the coach because he needed the players he was used to before so it was hard for him to bring in a debutant. But hopefully this season if I keep performing and playing, my chance will come.”
Praise for Lieberknecht ahead of the Rückrunde
As for the towering defender's goals for the remainder of the season, Valsvik wants a return to early season form: “We are training really well at the minute so hopefully we can keep things at the same level we have. Hopefully we can find the form we had at the start of the season because the last eight games were a little up and down but hopefully we keep winning and performing well."
Personally, Valsvik is staying grounded and, above all else, determined: "For me, of course, I will give my all and hopefully keep starting. That’s my main goal, then we will see. Just keep working hard in training and the coach will take the team up.”
In terms of the coach, Torsten Lieberknecht is one of the most well thought of in German football. He and sporting director, Marc Arnold have been the key figures in Braunschweig's recent history and Valsvik thinks it is "really good".
He added, "You know the club are thinking further ahead than one season and you are confident that the coach is here after signing a new contract. It’s the same with Marc Arnold who has done a great job. It’s a good feeling that the coach and the sporting director are here for a number of years, you can get a great relationship with them and work hard."