As Coventry City return to the Championship, they're catching the eye with a lot of their recruitment. Liam Tharme looks at one of their most impressive captures, the loan signing of Brighton's Leo Østigård.
Despite being just 20 years old, Leo Skiri Østigård has already played in the 2. Bundesliga, England’s premier youth division, the UEFA Youth League, as well as Norway's top two tiers: the Eliteserien and OBOS-Ligaen. Internationally, his pedigree is just as impressive, having represented Norway all the way from under-15 to under-21 level, amassing 47 appearances across six different age groups – and scoring at least once for each from centre-back.
Signed by Brighton and Hove Albion in August 2018, he played a central role for Norway in their Under-20 World Cup campaign, playing every minute of every group stage game. Despite defeats to New Zealand and Uruguay, Norway set a historic record with their 12-0 demolition of Honduras registering as the biggest scoreline a side has won by in Under-20 World Cup history. Østigård was on target that day, heading home from a corner, though team-mate Erling Braut Haaland scored nine goals all by himself, setting the record of most goals scored by a single player in an Under-20 World Cup game.
Following on from the U-20 World Cup in Poland, Østigård was once again playing senior football. Almost a year after his move from FK Molde to England's south coast, he joined FC St. Pauli in the 2. Bundesliga on loan for the 2019/20 season.
A dive into his St. Pauli specific numbers highlights how good the Norwegian defeder was last season in Germany's second division. Østigård ranked top for accurate short passes, aerial duels won, clearances, opposition shots blocked and interceptions. To merely say he ranked top would be an understatement in certain metrics too; he completed 87 clearances more than his next best team-mate, his 34 opposition shots he blocked was twice the amount Daniel Buballa managed in second place, and Henk Veerman’s 79 aerial duels won was less than of half what Østigård managed. His ability to compete in aerial duels in both penalty areas is especially good and a big feature of his game.
St. Pauli were by no means a particularly expansive side, averaging 48% possession per game. That without a doubt played to the strengths of Østigård, who faced 19 crosses per game on average. Not only is his defensive ability unmatched from a team perspective, the 1.1 opposition shots blocked and 4.7 clearances per 90 minutes he recorded ranked top when compared to every other under-23 defenders in the league.
His minutes alone speaks volumes: Østigård was loaned out to St. Pauli along with Brighton team-mate and Scandinavian counterpart, Viktor Gyökeres. Østigård recorded 2,346 minutes in the league alone – which equates to over 26 full 90s – while Gyökeres recorded 1,679 minutes. In terms of positions on the pitch, only left-back Daniel Buballa played more minutes in defence than the Norwegian, and he only completed 16 more.
Whilst his general directness may appear limiting from reading the above StatsBomb radar, it was essential from a tactical perspective. St. Pauli operated with Henk Veerman and Dimitrios Diamantakos up top, whom stand at 6'7" and 6'1" respectively; it only made sense to exploit their aerial advantages. As a team, St Pauli played 69 long passes per game, a figure only seven sides eclipsed. He completed eight through balls (passes behind/over the defensive line) too, which is more than any player at his parent club Brighton, though they admittedly play in a tougher division.
It would be remiss of me to dissect Østigård’s season without mentioning his stellar performance in the Hamburger Stadtderby at the home of cross-city rivals HSV. St Pauli won at the Volkparkstadion for the first time since 2011, with Østigård recording seven clearances (most on pitch), three interceptions (joint-most) and blocking three opposition shots (most). Playing a crucial role in keeping a clean sheet, Østigård celebrated by iconically karate-kicking the corner flag in front of the St. Pauli faithful.
A player who plays with passion yet has a control over his emotions is certainly important. He was booked the most of any St. Pauli player last season – eight times. That said, Østigård went a period of over 600 minutes without being dribbled past between February and May. His consistency does not stop there; he recorded at least one interception in 19 of his 29 league appearances, intercepting on two and four occasions in three games each, at his best making an interception on five different occasions against Wehen Wiesebaden in week 34.
With Østigård spending the current 2020/21 season on loan at Coventry City, who returned to the Championship following a long eight year absence. He follows the pathway that Brighton have established for many of their centre-backs. He joins Matt Clarke (Derby County) and Warren O’Hora (MK Dons) in the EFL this season. They all follow on from the outstanding success of Ben White, who played in each of the three EFL tiers and is now a Premier League starter with the first-team.
Given Coventry’s expectations to battle relegation, it seems a sensible move for a defender so comfortable defending in the penalty area. Given the success White had out on loan at Leeds United last season and his subsequent ascension to the first-team, another successful loan spell for Østigård will very probably provide Graham Potter another serious centre-back to pick next season.
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