Norwegian defender Brede Hangeland was a towering force in the Premier League and enjoyed spells with Crystal Palace and Fulham, but he’s remembered most fondly for his heroics during a memorable spell with the latter.
He is the son of a Norwegian oil company worker and spent the first two years of his life in Houston, Texas. His parents returned to Stavanger, Norway in 1981 and Hangeland spent his childhood playing with clubs in the local area.
Hangeland was taught to remain grounded during his youth career in Stavanger and he gave an insight into the people around him in an interview given to Football London in August 2018. Hangeland was quoted saying: “It’s about being a team player. So you were always told if you got carried away a little bit, in a nice way. Keep your feet on the ground. Remember it’s about the group, it’s about the team being successful. So everyone had to do their share of fetching the balls, putting the goals in place, all that stuff. There’s no way really at that young age that you can create a star mentality in your own head – someone will correct it.”
In 1998, Hangeland continued his development at FK Vidar, until transferring to local club Viking in 2002. Viking qualified for the UEFA Cup for the 2001/02 season and Hangeland appeared in all four of their European fixtures. They defeated Scottish outfit Kilmarnock over two legs, but succumbed to elimination via a 3-0 aggregate defeat against German club Hertha BSC.
Viking climbed to victory in the Norwegian Cup and Hangeland was again an influential figure in their success, playing in all seven rounds of the competition. The then 20 year old was being deployed as a central defensive midfielder and was flourishing in the Norwegian Tippeligaen.
He was quickly noticed by the Norway National Team and made his international debut as a central defensive midfielder in a 1-0 victory over Austria in November 2002. It was around this time that Hangeland began to pose a menacing threat inside the opposing penalty area, scoring two goals during the 2002 Tippeligaen campaign.
His hometown club failed to quench his thirst for success. Despite being named club captain and reaching the Group Stage of the UEFA Cup, Hangeland moved across Scandinavia to join Danish giants FC Copenhagen.
FC Copenhagen: Paving Stone to Greatness
Hangeland seamlessly slotted into the defensive line at Copenhagen alongside Danish captain Michael Gravgaard. The duo were notorious for their power in the air and came to be known as “the Copenhagen Air Force” during their time in the Danish capital.
In a two-and-a-half year spell, Hangeland won 2 Danish Superliga titles and 1 Royal League, whilst amassing five goals in 91 appearances in all competitions. The Royal League, which is now extinct, was a battle between the three Scandinavian monarchies; Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
It was a battle for regional supremacy and FC Copenhagen defeated Norwegian opponents Lillestrom SK to win the tournament for the second consecutive occasion. But it was in the 2006/07 UEFA Champions League that Hangeland showcased his quality on a global scale.
Copenhagen faced elimination at the group stage, but recorded a surprising victory over English giants Manchester United. Hangeland and Gravgaard maintained a watertight defensive line to thwart the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and FCK snatched the victory via a scrappy finish from former Aston Villa striker Marcus Allback.
In the 2007 summer transfer window, Hangeland was linked with an array of English clubs, including Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Liverpool and Manchester City. Hangeland insisted that he was content with life in Denmark, but subsequently joined Fulham in 2008 for a fee in the region of £3 million, according to Transfer Markt.
Creating Special Memories with Fulham
Upon his arrival at Craven Cottage, Hangeland was reunited with former Viking manager Roy Hodgson and Norwegian striker Erik Nevland. His impact was immediately felt and he was voted Man of the Match at the end of his debut in a goalless draw against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.
Fulham had kept just two clean sheets in the Premier League prior to the arrival of Brede Hangeland and the prospect of relegation was looking more and more realistic as each match passed. The Cottagers kept five clean sheets in the closing stages of the season and narrowly retained their Premier League status on goal difference via three victories in the final matches of the season.
Hodgson had discovered a formidable duo in the shape of Northern Irish defender Aaron Hughes and Hangeland. Hodgson implemented a defensive style of play and Hangeland and Hughes became integral components in his system.
The 2008/09 season was the campaign that Hangeland began to explode into life at Craven Cottage. He scored the only goal in a famous victory over Arsenal in just the second fixture of the Premier League season and Fulham finished the campaign with the fourth best defensive record.
By finishing seventh at the end of the season, Fulham were permitted into the Third Round of the UEFA Europa League qualification phase. Fulham slumped in the league rankings during the 2009/10 season, although this was largely due to the excessive fixtures in the UEFA Europa League.
They conceded only 15 goals at Craven Cottage in the Premier League, averaging at just 0.8 goals conceded per match. Despite regressing slightly in the league, Fulham enjoyed a memorable season and reached the final of the UEFA Europa League.
It was a fairytale story! They defeated Lithuanian outfit Vetra and Russian club Amkar Perm during the qualification stages and were drawn into a group containing AS Roma, FC Basel and CSKA Sofia. Hangeland scored a crucial goal in a 1-1 draw against AS Roma at Craven Cottage and Fulham guaranteed progression into the knockout phase with successive wins over CSKA Sofia and FC Basel.
In the Round of 32, Fulham met Ukrainian titans Shakhtar Donetsk and headed to Ukraine with a 2-1 advantage. Hangeland eradicated the sense of scepticism exuded by the away supporters to break the deadlock and place Fulham in pole position to reach the Round of 16.
Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano equalized for Shakhtar, but they were unable to find another late goal and Fulham held onto book an iconic tie with Italian giants Juventus in the Round of 16. Juve predictably played them off the park in the first leg in Turin, but a rampant Fulham caused shockwaves across the globe with an emphatic 4-1 win at Craven Cottage.
Two teams from Germany in the shape of VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV were their next victims and Fulham headed into the final at the Nordbank Arena in Hamburg full of confidence. Diego Forlan inspired the Spaniards to victory with the opening goal, and despite Davies’ equalizer minutes later, the former Manchester United forward scored the decisive goal in the dying stages of extra-time to hand the trophy to Atletico Madrid.