Rejection fuelled Viking’s fighting spirit

Pompey attacker Erik Huseklepp in training Picture: Robin Jones
Pompey attacker Erik Huseklepp in training Picture: Robin Jones
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Erik Huseklepp knows all about rejection.

As a teenager, he suffered the pain of being told he wasn’t going to make it as a professional footballer.

Back then, Huseklepp was told he was too lightweight to withstand the physical elements of the game.

Twenty six international caps and a move to Italy and England later, Erik the Viking would beg to differ.

The Pompey fans’ favourite has never forgotten the moment when Norwegian second division outfit Fyllingen gave him the news he was dreading.

His unexpected release led to the attacker joining tiny provincial outfit Vadmyra to continue in the game.

Huseklepp refused to give up hope, however, and the belief that his ability would shine through remained.

And so it proved, as a return to Fyllingen led to a late-starting journey which took him to big-guns SK Brann in his homeland and Bari in Serie A, before landing at Fratton Park last summer.

The 27-year-old said: ‘When I was 16 or 17, I was at Fyllingen.

‘I then left and changed club, but I came back when I was around 20. It was around 2005.

‘When I was 16, I was around only 1m 60cm tall. But four years later I had the height I have now.

‘I was a late developer. That was why I changed from Fyllingen the first time – I didn’t make the youth elite team.

‘So I changed to another local team called Vadmyra when I was around 17.

‘But in the end they took me back to Fyllingen in the Norwegian second division.

‘I don’t rely on the physical side so much, anyway. I’ve always tried to play a different way.

‘I like to have the ball at my feet and do things with pace and give a tempo to the game to make the difference.’

It would be understandable if Huseklepp had been a little startled by the problems Pompey have been affected by during his short time at the club.

The manager who signed him for £1.5m, Steve Cotterill, left seven games later after bringing him to the city. Then came the news of the regime who stumped up the cash to land him falling apart.

Huseklepp is well versed in his team suffering off the pitch, though, with Bari going through similar problems after his move to the south of Italy.

That never spoilt his enjoyment of mixing it with some of the world’s best players in one of the toughest leagues.

And he insisted his experience of Pompey so far was one that has left him with an overwhelmingly positive feeling.

Huseklepp said: ‘I played 14 games in Serie A. That’s a nice experience.

‘I scored two goals. One goal was against Bologna and one against Roma.

‘The one against Roma was a header and it was a tap-in against Bologna.

‘It was crazy time for Bari but it was fine for me and I enjoyed it.

‘But now I’m at Portsmouth I feel good here and it’s good to be here.

‘It’s difficult when a good man leaves like Steve (Cotterill) did, especially so early after I arrived.

‘But Michael Appleton has come in and worked well for us, so it is not so much of a problem.

‘I live here and I’m happy. It’s a nice place and I enjoy it here.

‘The culture is not that different from Norway.

‘It was a bigger move for me to go from Norway to Italy and what I was used to there.

‘The divide between those countries is bigger.

‘I’ve heard managers say that, when they get Scandinavian players they know what they get.

‘That’s why you get a lot of Scandinavians here, and I’m happy to be here.’

It took little time for Huseklepp to be taken into the hearts of Pompey fans after being signed in August.

He is one of the few players Appleton has at his disposal who offers genuine pace and forward-thinking intent.

That has been seen in his 21 outings so far, with his eye for the spectacular evident in his three goals.

His place in the team is far from nailed on as he comes in and out of the equation under his new boss.

Huseklepp, though, promised he was happy to do whatever he could in whatever position was needed, for a manager he’s pleased to work for.

He said: ‘The fans have been great.

‘They follow the team away from home a little bit in Norway and Italy – but not in these numbers.

‘When you play in London, there are always a lot of Portsmouth fans.

‘When you play up north there are always Portsmouth fans there and they are vocal.

‘It’s really great and they are helping us a lot.

‘Michael has done a good job and the training is always high intensity.

‘We always go into the game very prepared, every time.

‘He speaks to the team in general and he speaks to me personally over some things.

‘I mainly have played left and right in the past. I almost haven’t played anywhere else.

‘I like the left more. It’s no problem for me to play on the right, but I like the left more.

‘But I’m happy to play wherever I can to help the team.’