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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

Kasey Wehrman: The former Socceroo calling Norway his second home

A host of Australians are plying their trade abroad, both playing and coaching, within countries and leagues seemingly obscure to the traditional routes the country's exports have historically taken. One man who fits this criteria is former Socceroo and Olympian Kasey Wehrman, who has spent most of his fascinating career in Norway. Front Page Football recently spoke to Wehrman, appointed the new manager of Norwegian club Ullkisa in December, about his close relationship with the Scandinavian country, coaching in its third tier, and the current Aussie influence in Norway.

Former Socceroo Kasey Wehrman was appointed manager of Norwegian third tier club Ullkisa in December. (Image: Ull/Kisa Fotball Facebook)


Hailing from the rural town of Cloncurry in Queensland, Kasey Wehrman's early playing days saw him develop at the Queensland Academy of Sport before joining the Brisbane Strikers in the National Soccer League. There, his career took flight, with Wehrman named the competition's Under 21 Player of the Year for the 1996/97 season, as the Strikers secured the NSL championship. Another successful move to Perth Glory followed before Wehrman's Norwegian adventure began in 2001.


It started with a trial, where his English agent at the time used a connection in the Scandinavian country to help him break his way into the European scene. Understanding the background behind Wehrman's close affinity with Norway from his playing days is essential, as his coaching career has followed a similar route.


Speaking to Front Page Football, the Australian manager explained the logistics of how he was able to play in Norway and how his stay in the country extended after immediately impressing.


“If you come to Norway, you can play in the top two tiers as long as you get paid a certain amount. You can play in the top two tiers without having a European passport, so that’s sort of what brought me here in the first place," he said.

 

“I trialled, the team said, ‘Yep, come back. We’d love to have you stay with us’, so I packed my bags from Perth, went to a little place called Moss, which is sort of south of Oslo…spent a year and a half with them, and then another club brought me called Lillestrøm, which is just outside of Oslo."

Wehrman during his playing days in Norway. (Image: Verdens Gang)


Wehrman spent four and a half years at Lillestrøm before returning to Moss and signing for a club called Fredrikstad. After two and a half years, he returned to his home country by joining the Newcastle Jets for a two-year stint, briefly ending his association with Norwegian football.


It may have been an easier European route for a talented Australian player, but why Norway? Why move across the world and leave behind everything you know for a football environment largely untested by Australians? Wehrman explained how only on-pitch factors influenced his initial decision to go abroad before meeting a special someone brought about the commencement of his current Norwegian coaching career. Norway truly is a second home, and although no return is imminent, Australia is always in Wehrman's mind.

 

“Originally, it was all down to football. I moved for football, and I met my wife sort of towards the end of it. She loves to travel as well, so she came down to Newcastle with me, to Australia, and we had a great time," he said.

 

“We spent five years there, moved back up to Brisbane for three years, where my family’s from, and then we decided to come back again (to Norway). Purely because she found the right job as well, and it was my turn to follow her instead of her following me.

 

“Once you’ve been in Scandinavia, once you’ve been in Norway, it’s hard to leave because it’s a fantastic country.

 

“My wife, she's in love with Australia, and in the back of her mind, she’s talking about the Olympics in Brisbane and being involved in some kind of work capacity, so you never know what happens. We could be packing up in a couple of years and back home again—who knows? But right now, we’re comfortable where we are."

Wehrman is undoubtedly comfortable, and recently, his ongoing coaching journey reached a new checkpoint. The Australian manager was appointed the new boss at Norwegian third-tier side Ullkisa, leaving Strømmen IF after two seasons at the helm. Ullkisa is now the fourth club in the country Wehrman has worked at, with the former Socceroo returning to Norway for coaching purposes in 2015 after his first managerial stint in Australia with Western Pride.

Wehrman's main body of work in Norway has come at Strømmen, where he had three separate stints, two as an assistant and one, most recently, as their manager. After the club's relegation to the third tier in 2021, Wehrman helped steady the ship, securing on-pitch stability with a sixth-place finish in 2022 before the club improved to fourth under his guidance last year in the PostNord-ligaen.


Though Wehrman was seemingly building a long-term project at Strømmen, ultimately in the hope of returning the club to Norway's second tier, he moved to Ullkisa in December. This club finished directly below Strømmen last season. Thus, the appointment was peculiar. But the Australian pointed to factors beyond the football on the pitch to explain the reasons behind his latest managerial move.


"Ullkisa has the potential to go all the way to the top division. They have a lot of support through local sponsorship and are the fastest-growing city in Norway. An old traditional club with a lot of history and a strong standing in the area," Wehrman said.


He went on to cite the club's track record of producing young talent in recent years. Their most notable name is Norwegian winger Elias Solberg. He was only 17 when Italian giants Juventus brought him from Ullkisa for a hefty fee during the 2021 season.


Working at a club that seemingly prides itself on producing promising youngsters should suit Wehrman, who coached a relatively youthful squad at Strømmen. He cited how the less well-off clubs in the Norwegian third tier are more semi-professional, similar to NPL clubs in Australia, and thus there are more younger players.

Wehrman's Strømmen side trained at 3:30 p.m. to accommodate a squad consisting of players still studying and others holding day jobs at schools. Those at schools went straight to training after finishing their working day.

Wehrman at previous club Strømmen IF. (Image: Strømmen IF X)


However, other teams in the league operate on an entirely professional basis. Wehrman explained how there is a divide among the competition regarding finances. Similarly to when an English Premier League club drops to the Championship, second-tier sides in Norway who are relegated to the third tier often still have the resources to stay professional. At the other end of the spectrum, teams promoted into the third tier from the fourth are closer to an amateur-level setup.

“There’s teams in our league that are like amateurs that don’t pay anything, and there are teams that will pay a player like $10,000 a month, crazy money, to make sure they go back up again," Wehrman said.


Despite being a second-tier club before Wehrman joined, Strømmen is not as financially well-resourced as other clubs in the third tier, meaning the Australian had to think outside the box when recruiting players. So much so that Wehrman was not the only Australian present during his time at his previous club, as he brought in fellow countryman Cameron Crestani back in 2022. In his youth, Crestani made three A-League appearances for Brisbane Roar towards the end of the 2016/17 season. The duo had worked together previously in Brisbane, and to reunite them in Scandinavia, all it took was a phone call where Wehrman asked the defender if he had a European passport, which he does.


Wehrman explained how bringing in Crestani's attitude and work ethic was crucial in setting a culture in the dressing room at Strømmen.

“He comes from a farm outside Brisbane; he’s been driving tractors and working on a farm his whole life, so his whole make-up is about you get up, you work. So I knew his demeanour was what I was looking for," he said.

“I remember him from down there (Brisbane). He’d travel three hours to training, three hours there and three hours back, so I just thought to myself as well that here’s a guy that is dying to probably go and play some football somewhere else other than Australia, get into Europe, and just have an experience and an adventure."

It seems Crestani's adventure has also been enjoyable, with Wehrman stating that the defender has a job working for a local council and a Norwegian girlfriend. That was despite not always being a regular first-choice option under Wehrman; Crestani only started six league games for Strømmen in 2023.

While Wehrman has moved on, it seems that his countryman will remain a Strømmen player for the 2024 season, which is set to kick off the first weekend of April.


Crestani settled into a new lifestyle in Norway after being unable to gain regular A-League minutes and having stints at multiple clubs in the NPL Queensland. His successful move raised the question of whether Wehrman has looked elsewhere back home for players seeking a similar opportunity.


He confirmed that conversations have been had previously with agents in Melbourne, the premise being that only Australians with EU passports can move across. Wehrman explained that numerous nuanced factors would influence an NPL player's decision to leave home for a Norwegian club. But he believes it can be a successful pathway.

“Cameron (Crestani), I knew he’d pick up a job and work as well; I just knew his type. But you want to be able to provide enough that they can live off. If you’re ever across here, you’ll find that Scandinavia is…it’s crazy (expensive), so you want to provide [something where] they get a roof over their head and that they get themselves a meal," he said.

“So I’ve been in contact with a few guys in the NPL in Melbourne and things like this. I know that when you get those top ones, the ones that sit in that OBOS-ligaen (second-tier) area but want to be in Europe, they’ll come across and play in my division. Then I think they’d do really well, and before long, you sell them, and they’re off to another club.


"You’re always trying to look somewhere where you can go, ‘Ok, where can I get a player [on the] cheap but is too good for this league as well’; everyone across the world is looking for that kind of area.

“So I believe there is one there (a hotbed) when it comes to Aussies coming into Norway, playing in the second division, having a European passport. I think there’s a market there for that, but the iron's got to be hot at the right time, and you’ve got to have all the right details for it to happen as well.”

A hotbed is seemingly developing between the A-League Men and the Eliteserien. Over the past three years, some notable players who have moved directly from Australia's domestic top flight to the Norwegian first tier include Socceroo Patrick Yazbek, striker Nicholas D'Agostino, and, back in August 2021, defender Gianni Stensness. Almost two months ago, young Melbourne Victory left-back Franco Lino joined the trio, with all four at the same club, Viking FK. That pathway could be between the A-League Men and one particular Norwegian club.

Wehrman, who played in the Eliteserien for many years, discussed the sudden rise in young Australian players joining Viking. He believes the playing differences between the top tiers in Norway and Australia are not too dissimilar.


“I’m sure there’s an agent that has found one Aussie and then found another one, and it worked, so he did it again and again. It’s hard to keep pushing the same ones into the same club; that makes it difficult. But yeah, they’ve (the Australian players) done really well," he said.

“I’ve taken notice of D’Agostino’s rise because he was a Brissy (Brisbane) boy to start with. With some strikers, it takes time; some of them hit it from the start, and some it takes time, and I think he’s one of those. I think his best years are still in front of him, and Viking’s a really good footballing team; their philosophy is based on a really good, smart style, possession-based and quick, fast, counterattacking football, which suits him down to a tee.

“The difference is not huge between an A-League player and an Eliteserien player here in Norway, and culturally, we’re right near each other. It’s about timing, making sure you take your opportunity when it comes, and hopefully finding coaches that have the patience to wait to see that ‘Ok, something is developing here’ as well."

Wehrman went on to point out the Australian presence in Norway and Scandinavia in recent years, particularly when he was forging his playing career in the country. Clayton Zane and Jade North had Norwegian stints, Luke Casserly briefly played in Sweden, whilst Mustafa Amini, Awer Mabil, and Buddy Farah's careers in Denmark all became well-known. Farah has extended his influence in Denmark following his playing career, using his connections as an agent to help players secure moves to the country.


It is likely not a coincidence that Yazbek, D'Agostino, Stensness, and Lino are all Australian and are part of the same club. Wehrman explained, from a coaching perspective, why it is beneficial to sometimes prioritise players from the same country when approaching recruitment.

“It helps when you’ve got a couple of Aussies on the same team. It's kind of like if you sign a Nigerian guy, sign two of them. It might cost you a bit more, but sign two because now he’s got a mate there as well," he said.

With no inside information, one might say French club Stade Reims were not the most keen on Yaya Dukuly when they signed him alongside Mohamed Toure in July 2022, but bringing in a close friend of the more talented Toure can be a ploy to help make his transition into European football smoother.


Whether it be the French, Italian, Asian, or, more pertinent in recent times, the Scottish market, Australian football followers are always intrigued by why specific overseas markets scour the A-Leagues or NPLs for young Australian talent. So what value do Viking, or any other clubs in Norway, see in targeting Australian players and the A-League Men? The perception seems promising, and Wehrman appeared to back that up, pointing to a very different reaction local Norwegian players tend to have when foreign players - Australian or otherwise - join their club.


“I mean, I think anywhere there’s always apprehension because it’s like, ok, will it work or won’t it work, until you get out onto the training field and you meet your teammates and you go through a session, and they look and go, ‘This guy can keep up, no problem at all," he explained.

 

“So it’s probably more local, not really across the board where people go, ‘Oh, he’s an Aussie, I wonder whether he’ll make it.’ It’s probably more arrowed in on the people in Viking, the people at the club, the players, and they’re going, ‘Ok, Aussie guy, we don’t get a huge amount of those over here, but let’s see how he goes’.

“The Aussies are great at making friendships and making themselves liked in a dressing room. So I don’t think there’s any apprehension if anyone signs an Aussie these days, anywhere across the world. They just think, ‘The gaffer’s signed him, and the club’s signed him; he must be doing something right, and he’s probably at our level and going to compete’.

“If anything, when players come from abroad, the rest get their backs up a bit because he’s (the new player) looking to take a spot, so you better be on your game because you might lose your position in the football team as well. But there are tougher countries to do that in than Norway; the people are very nice."


Yazbek, D'Agostino, and Stensness have all done an adequate job adapting to life in Norway from a playing perspective. Based on the sample size of this trio, the adaptation can be relatively swift for young Australian talent. Yazbek was a regular in the starting lineup last season, whilst D'Agostino and Stensness only had their 2023 seasons derailed due to injury. The former was in and out of the lineup. But he still chipped in with a handful of goals and assists, whilst Stensness played almost every minute before suffering a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. He was one of the first names on the team sheet in previous seasons.

Looking at the Australian-Norwegian football dynamic from a broader perspective, FIFA rankings will tell you Australia is ahead. The Socceroos are currently sitting 23rd, whilst Norway is languishing just inside the top 50 at 46th. However, reducing the comparison to only rankings is ignorant, as the Norwegians produce more players capable of competing in the top five European leagues. Their talent is undoubtedly valued highly by the biggest clubs and competitions worldwide.


Wehrman explained how, from a national player pool perspective, Australia might harbour better talent per capita. However, the difference can be seen in the "top bracket" of quality.


“I think we’re quite similar when it comes to the technical ability and how to play the game. I probably think across the board with numbers, we’re probably a little bit better in Australia. But when it comes to that top bracket, the Norwegians are right up there as well; playing in Europe, (Erling) Haaland at City and (Martin) Ødegaard at Arsenal, so there are a few big names.

“But it’s been like that in the past for Aussies, with the Vidukas and Kewells and whatnot. We just don’t have those kinds of players right at this moment, so it comes in different waves and generations."


Haaland and Ødegaard made breakthroughs in their domestic league, which cannot always be said for past and present Socceroos, especially those who have contributed at a high level. Nonetheless, throughout its history, the A-League has still helped produce many players for the national team, many of whom are currently donning the green and gold regularly.

With Australia arguably in a stronger position at the national team level right now than the Norwegians, does that mean the A-League Men is a better quality league than the Eliteserien? Are the NPLs stronger leagues than Norway's second and third-tier competitions? Wehrman had a nuanced answer, suggesting the quality gap at the top is minimal. But it favours the Norwegians at a lower level.

 

“The levels are a little bit different; it’s a bit difficult to judge. But we’ve had boys from the A-League come over here and play in the top league and not make it; we’ve had a couple that have made it, so it’s not sort of, just because you’re in that league you’re going to make it in this league. It’s all about timing, it’s all about who is the coach at the time, and can you get an opportunity," he said.

“In relation to where the levels are, probably the third tier here are good NPL players. Your better half of the NPL players, they’re probably in the division I’m in.

“So the second tier of the Norwegian leagues is probably where you find it would get a little tough for those top NPL players; some of them would skip into the second tier of Norwegian football, there’s no doubt about that."


If Wehrman's comments are anything to go by, there seems to be a significant drop in quality from Norway's top two divisions to the third tier, the league he currently coaches in—a drop perhaps akin to the one from the A-League Men to the NPLs.


In the A-League Men or otherwise, there seems to be, more than ever, a more comprehensive range of playing styles and tactical approaches taken by the respective coaches. Through the early 2010s, with the Dutch influence on the Australian approach at its peak, most teams seemed married to playing out from the back. They would adopt a 4-3-3 system, irrespective of personnel.


Today's A-League Men paints a different picture. Most sides are comfortable in possession and want to play on the front foot. However, with coaching constantly evolving, managers show more flexibility.


Take the two sides currently leading the chasing pack atop the league table. Giancarlo Italiano's Wellington Phoenix are a defensively stubborn, direct outfit, priding themselves on protecting their penalty area and using speed to get in behind the opposition. Meanwhile, Mark Jackson's Central Coast Mariners are a complete team capable of winning in multiple ways, whether sitting in their shape to secure a narrow win or using their relentless pressing and ambitious 3-2-5 buildup shape to overwhelm the opponent from the outset.

So, with this background in mind, what approach do Norwegian teams usually take? What style of play does Wehrman usually find himself coming up against?


“Norway was very successful through the 90s playing a very direct, long ball, pick up the second ball and play from there style, so that’s slowly deteriorated here in Norway over the years, and there are only a few teams that still play that in the lower divisions," he explained.

“A lot of teams these days want to keep the ball down, not necessarily the fact that the coaches want to do that. The coaches would maybe want to take a little less risk in playing out of the back, but the players want it. The players are craving that ‘We don’t want to just kick it away every time we get it and hope that we get the second ball.’ So players crave that, and they’re looking for that. So there’s definitely a distinction there."

This answer is fascinating, highlighting a different mentality between modern footballers and those from decades past, irrespective of the country they are playing in. The greater focus on laying technical foundations in today's grassroots coaching approach seems to be leading to more professional players wanting the ball on the ground as opposed to in the air.


Wehrman added more about how that very focus, teaching sides to be more comfortable keeping possession for long periods, was one Football Australia guided coaches to maintain during his formative coaching years in Queensland.


“I can remember when I was working in an NPL club in Australia, and we were under the guidance and help of the FA, of course, and they were trying to help teach what we could do better and whatnot, and a lot of it was about playing out of the back and keeping the ball on the ground, and playing football, not just in the air the whole time or getting the biggest guy at the back to kick it as far as he can to the guy that’s fast at the front that can go and score a goal, because there’s another eight or nine players on the field and what are they doing at this time? So, looking to see if you can manipulate spaces," he explained.


A manager can only do so much tactically. Setting your team up with the appropriate tools is one thing, but players must apply themselves to execute. Having worked with Norwegian players for many years, Wehrman has gained a vast knowledge of the mentality of local players and how that informs their approach to improving every day.


In a positive reflection on Australian players, or the "Aussie DNA", you might say, Wehrman pointed to players from down under having a better work ethic than their Norwegian counterparts. As he explained with Cameron Crestani, an Australian entering an overseas environment with the right attitude can become a positive disruptor to the dressing room.

“There’s not a big casting difference between Norwegians and back at home. They’re young lads trying to play the game of football, if anything, the Aussies; I’d rather have more of them here because their work ethic probably edges out the Norwegians.

"The Norwegians…they’ve been sitting on a cloud of, everything is taken care of here, everything is looked after, and there’s nothing you need to do. If you’re in trouble with something, you can go to the government, go to your doctor. They’ll give you time off work, fix everything, and you’re taken care of, no problem.

“So there’s a bit of, ‘Oh, well, if I don’t make it, it doesn’t matter, I’ll be taken care of, Norway’s just a great country.’ Whereas Aussies are more like, ‘Yeah, we could be taken care of, but why would we let anyone take care of us? We’re going to work hard and try to fix this.’ So those are the things I look for in players when it comes down to picking players and whatnot.”

 

READ MORE AUSSIES ABROAD CONTENT ON FPF

Patrick Yazbek's strong start to life at Viking last year has seen him now debut for the Socceroos. (Image: Subway Socceroos X)


From a perspective of having a greater comfort level about issues with the game down under, another positive for Australians to read is that football also has challenges relating to other sports in countries like Norway.


Wehrman explained how football competes with other codes in a way where there are different seasons for the major sports. This dynamic is similar to a common rationale for the A-Leagues being played in summer, which is that it does not compete directly with the AFL for viewership, crowds, and mainstream media coverage.


In Norway, the skiing season takes over once the football finishes in December. The round ball game is substituted in interest for downhill skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, and the like. The other reason for the season running through the calendar year (like the NPLs but much longer) is that countries like Norway and Sweden become too cold over their winter, making it unsuitable for the football season to be aligned with the rest of Europe.


But with the Norwegian leagues set to return over the next couple of weeks, football is now ready to reclaim the spotlight. For Wehrman, it means hitting the ground running with his new club after a solid stint at his previous one.


Not every day a former Socceroo manages in the Norwegian third tier. At face value, many would not understand this. But once you dig deeper into the former NSL and A-League midfielder's journey, it becomes clear that the Scandinavian country is his second home.


You can start tracking Wehrman's latest coaching adventure at Ullkisa on Sunday, April 7, at 11 p.m. AEDT. His new club faces Stjørdals-Blink away from home in their opening game of the 2024 PostNord-ligaen season.


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