Why leaving Brighton was the ‘best decision’ of City midfielder’s career

Peterborough United's Siriki Dembele is tackled by Brighton and Hove Albion U21's Mathias Normann du

Mathias Normann in EFL Trophy action for Brighton U23s against Peterborough in October 2018 - Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wir

With a little more patience, Mathias Normann could have been lining up for Brighton at Carrow Road tomorrow. 

The emerging Norwich City midfield force would later describe his decision to swap the Seagulls for Russian side FC Rostov as the “best decision” of his career though, after breaking into the Norway squad two years ago. 

Normann signed for the Seagulls in the summer of 2017 when Chris Hughton was still in charge of the south coast club, reportedly joining for a six-figure fee and joining the Premier League club’s under-23 squad initially despite interest from Rosenborg. 

After breaking through at Bodo-Glimt, the classy midfielder played regularly but his team slipped to relegation. They would bounce back to the Norwegian top flight as champions but Normann was on his way to England after just eight appearances. 

Signing a three-year deal in July 2017, former Canaries boss Hughton said of his arrival: "We are delighted that we've been able to bring Mathias to the club. 

"He is a talented and versatile young player, who already has good experience playing regular senior football in Norway. 

"We are looking forward to welcoming him into the club, and his longer-term plan will be to break into the first-team group." 

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A month later and Normann was heading home, joining the latter stages of the title chase at Molde, playing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the eventual runners-up and earning his one and only Norway Under-21 cap. 

An initial seven appearances saw Molde extend that loan for the first half of their 2018 campaign and Normann became an established starter, with three assists and a goal in 10 games, only to have his momentum disrupted by a red card. 

Playing alongside current Borussia Dortmund and Norway star Erling Haaland during the striker’s teenage emergence, Normann returned to Brighton in the summer of 2018 to push for a Premier League chance. 

It was a mixed start with the Seagulls’ U23s though, helping to earn a 0-0 home draw with Liverpool but also being sent off after picking up a second yellow card late in the game. 

His U23s coach, Simon Rusk, had little issue with the decision and described Normann as “quite combative” as he spoke to the Brighton Argus after the game. 

Rusk, now manager of Stockport County, continued: “He has been out on loan at Molde, where he has done very well. I had some early contact with Mathias in the previous pre-season. 

“He has come back this pre-season and he wants to have a period of time in the building, within the training ground and be a Brighton player for four or five months before we reassess it.” 

That spell would prove profitable, playing alongside players including defender Ben White – who has since played for England and joined Arsenal for £50million - and striker Aaron Connolly. 

An excellent run of results in Premier League Two would include a 5-0 thrashing of Manchester City and wins against Chelsea and West Ham, with Normann starting regularly in central midfield, including in EFL Trophy wins over Peterborough and MK Dons. 

However, with the Seagulls’ senior side grinding their way to a second season of top-flight survival under Hughton, first-team chances didn’t follow. Interest from Rostov did though. 

At 22 years old, Normann wasn’t willing to wait around and even changed his agent to secure the move to the Russian Premier League. 

“The agent I had was not willing to help me go to Rostov. Then I just took another road,” he later explained to Norwegian broadcaster TV2. 

“He wanted me to be patient and work in Brighton. I was quite impatient at this point. But it turned out to be the right choice to go to Rostov.  

“It is the best decision I have made in my career.” 

Mathias Normann of Norwich goes close during the Premier League match at Turf Moor, BurnleyPicture

Canaries midfielder Mathias Normann clipped the crossbar with this effort at Burnley - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd 

At the time of his exit in January 2019, the Seagulls quoted U23s boss Rusk as saying: "It's been enjoyable to work with Mathias during his time at the club, but this move makes sense for all parties involved, with it being an excellent move for him. 

“After returning from his loan in Norway, Mathias has shown his qualities and played his part in helping the under-23s make a positive start to life in the top division. 

“We wish Mathias all the best for his latest challenge in Russia, as he continues to build a career within the game.” 

The move was sealed for an undisclosed fee and Normann barely looked back, becoming an important player for Rostov and earning his first Norway cap just nine months after leaving Brighton. 

Later in 2019, Goal was linking Normann with a Solskjaer reunion at Manchester United and claiming that Tottenham and Sevilla had been monitoring Normann’s strong form, having been named Russian Premier League Player of the Month. 

Also during that TV2 interview after his first call-up, Normann reflected: “The time in Brighton was very disappointing. I experienced adversity in my career and was a little stuck.  

“I learned a lot about myself and spent many hours alone at home. But, fortunately, Rostov came on the scene.” 

Mathias Normann of Norwich and Juraj Kucka of Watford in action during the Premier League match at C

Mathias Normann's Carrow Road debut included a fine assist but came during a defeat to Watford - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Burnley, Southampton and Fulham were all linked with interest by Norwegian newspaper VG at the end of last year, ahead of the January transfer window, but it wasn’t until this summer that Norwich managed to prise Normann away from Rostov. 

Sporting director Stuart Webber spent months trying to persuade the Russian club to consider City’s proposals and finally, with just a few days of the summer transfer window remaining, a deal was struck. 

Signing for a loan fee of £1.5m, the deal will be made permanent for a fee understood to be around £11m if the Canaries can secure survival, with reports in Norway suggesting add-on fees could take the overall package to around £17m. 

Normann will no doubt be desperate to impress against his former club on Saturday and has already shown in three appearances that he could be crucial to City’s hopes of shaking off their nightmare start and securing a Premier League future. 

The 25-year-old pulled out of the latest Norway squad to ensure he didn’t aggravate a minor abdominal injury, after playing his first full 90 minutes during the 0-0 draw at Burnley ahead of the break, but is back in training and expected to be fit to continue his Premier League progress. 

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