February 2008 saw Newcastle United launch what they described as a ‘new recruitment drive aimed at bringing the best young talent from across the globe to Tyneside.’
At 17, Ole Soderberg was one of the first to be brought in by Dennis Wise, who had just been appointed as the club’s executive director of football.
Soderberg was signed as one of Europe’s rising stars and United had spent two years on the deal to bring him to St James’ Park.
Now 29, and despite still playing full-time with Swedish side AFC Eskilstuna, Soderberg runs his own music production company and admits it’s been an interesting journey to this point.
As a youngster, a career in football had never been the priority – playing the sport was fun but the aim had never been to make it into a job.
But encouraged by his brother Tom, a Swedish international, Soderberg continued to impress as a teenager but it wasn’t until United called to invite him over for a trial that he realised the talent at his feet.
From the left Jeff Vetere welcomes Fabio Zambiera and Ole Soderberg alongside Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez during a photocall at St James’ Park
Under the watchful eye of Glenn Roeder Soderberg impressed and plans were put in motion to sign him later down the line.
“When you’re good at something it becomes more interesting and fun – it wasn’t really a dream from a young age but the interest grew the more I developed, and I have to thank my brother for that.
“I realised there was something in it when Newcastle called.
“I understood it was big, the seriousness of it.
“I was thankful for the opportunity but I was 15 and I didn’t know much about the game as a profession, I just played the game because it was fun.
“So when I went over I didn’t really like the whole transition of moving to another country, you become quite comfortable where you are, if you grew up in the same place all your life – I was afraid of that.
“When I was 15, it didn’t really feel that good, I knew going to Newcastle was a big deal but then I was okay going back to Sweden.
“Two years later it was a completely different story and I knew I couldn’t say no to that opportunity – I would hate myself for the rest of my life had I not said yes to that chance.”
Soderberg arrived at Newcastle at a time of excitement – a new owner in Mike Ashley and the return of Kevin Keegan just a few weeks earlier.
He had grown up near Gothenburg, and Soderberg knew of the size of the club but interestingly not of the coaches he would come to work under.
“I was aware of every club in the Premier League,”Söderberg adds from Sweden.
“I was interested in football but it just wasn’t my passion from the beginning.
“I knew about the club, I knew of players – Alan Shearer and Michael Owen, I knew it was an amazing chance to develop.
“I wasn’t aware of the coaches – Kevin Keegan, I’d never heard of before I went there but I quickly learned he’s a legend in England.”
Fabio Zambiera (left) and Ole Soderberg during a photocall at St James’ Park
Spending most of his time with the youth side, Soderberg was partly shielded from the turmoil that was soon to play out at St James’ Park as Keegan quit and the team tumbled into the Championship.
With fans up in arms at the treatment of Keegan and the drop into the second tier United became embroiled in a civil war, one that Soderberg admits he didn’t fully understand until he became more involved in the first team.
But that opportunity was halted by a wrist injury in September 2008 and then major knee surgery the following summer.
While Soderberg accepts injuries are part of the game, he admits that it impacted on his Magpies’ career.
“That really affected my development at Newcastle,” he says.
“I would say that’s the main reason why most of the players who work hard and have some sort of talent but don’t develop in the right way – it’s injuries that is the devil in football.
“It’s what keeps you from developing.
“It was a really difficult time.”
But having worked back from the injuries, United were back in the Premier League and Soderberg was handed an opportunity, as an injury to Steve Harper resulted in him becoming second choice.
He spent 20 games on the bench without making an appearance – pinpointing one game in particular as the turning point in his United career – the League Cup clash with Chelsea in September 2010.
“I was told I was very close to starting after a team meeting but before the game they went against it.
“You know, if you play those games that can change your career.
“But I’m very happy to get that opportunity to be in the first team and and to get 20 games – to just be involved and experience everything.
“Yet if I had played that game, then that would probably have changed my career.”
For many that moment would eat away at a player but Söderberg isn’t bitter, and certainly isn’t a fan of thinking ‘what if?’
“No, not really,” he replies when asked if it plays on his mind.
“I’m not really thinking like that I’m thinking more that it was great to have those 20 games and to be involved with the first team.
“It’s easy to think back and analyse the situation, and to ask what would have happened if I had worked harder? Or if I did this or that.
“You can always change the scenario in your head but you can never change the reality.
“So I’m just happy to have been part of the whole situation.”
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That situation included working with some of the Premier League’s finest goalkeepers – Shay Given, Steve Harper and Tim Krul.
Soderberg holds special praise for both Harper and Krul for helping him settle as a young man at Newcastle.
“I learned a lot especially from Steve Harper.
“Tim [Krul] took me under his wing when I came over. He probably understood the situation I was coming into, a different country, all alone and not knowing anybody.
“So he helped me out a-lot just being there and in training.
“Harper was a really good guy and Shay Given was the most consistent goalkeeper I’ve ever seen.”
Two loan loan spells followed – resulting in six appearances for Darlington, and a further four for Chesterfield as his career on Tyneside drew to a close.
Soderberg looks back on his time at Darlington fondly, and although his time at Chesterfield wasn’t as enjoyable, it’s the experience and development which he took away he feels was key.
With six months left on his contract Soderberg claims he was told by Alan Pardew that he was to be released, and in truth, it wasn’t something that shocked him.
“I wanted a new challenge but of course I felt like I hadn’t developed as I wanted to at Newcastle but I felt when Pardew came into the picture he didn’t want me from the start, so I just felt okay let’s move on.
“It was time to try something new and open new doors – obviously I would have been happy to to get another opportunity but it wasn’t to be.”
Ole Soderberg of Athletic FC Eskilstuna makes a save on a header from Mervan Celik of BK Hacken during the Allsvenskan
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer called and took Söderberg to Molde in Norway, where he won the league and cup.
A move to Kalmar FF was next before ending up at AFC Eskilstuna – where his contract is up in the summer. At 29, Söderberg is happy with what he’s achieved and has gone back to his first love – music – with his production company South Nation Music.
But what about his time on Newcastle? What did he take away from it?
“The passion and the culture of football there.
“Even though I didn’t have that hundred percent passion with football in my life, I understood people’s passion for football over there.
“That really got me to to really love the city and feel like you were part of this even though you came from a different country.”