This interview was originally published in April 2015 for Moresport
Robin Shroot’s career in England was stalling, and he knew it. In any profession, it’s important to keep testing yourself and improving your skills, even if that means a change in direction. Shroot was earning a comfortable salary at Stevenage but internal politics and managerial changes left him out of the side and in search of a new challenge. He found it in the most unlikely of locations: western Norway.
“I was deemed surplus to requirements at Stevenage. I think I just obviously wasn’t the manager’s cup of tea which was fair enough”, Shroot reflects. “I trained with the kids for six months”. At 26 years-old, he felt he’d reached a crossroads in his career and was desperate to play for a club with a more technical approach to the game.
Faced with several unappealing loan moves, Shroot decided instead to cancel his contract and go it alone. Having made one brave decision, he took another and cast his eye further afield in an attempt to fulfil a lifelong ambition of playing abroad. “The opportunity came up to go to Sarpsborg, Brian Deane’s club. I went there for a week and it was great”, he recalls of his first experience in Norway. Deane and his assistant Ian Burchnall, who is now at Viking Stavanger, were a huge help and he took to his new environment immediately. “It was really refreshing to experience a new football culture and I really enjoyed it.”
“Then they put me into Hodd, the club I was at last season”. Hodd, who play in the Norweigan second tier, proved to be an ideal destination for Shroot. Based in the small town of Ulsteinvik, he found the club’s community feel a big factor in his bedding-in period. “I went from living amongst 10 million people to living amongst 7,000 in one of the most beautiful parts of Norway”.
“Was it a culture shock? I would say no, because I’m the sort of person who enjoys adapting to wherever I am and I was set amongst wonderful scenery, amongst fjords and mountains. I’m here to get better at football, I don’t need all that buzz and city action to be happy. I’m happy wherever I lay my hat.”
While Shroot was adjusting to his immediate surroundings, an unfortunate injury prevented an instant impact on the pitch as Hodd struggled in the first half of the season. However, once he recovered there was no stopping Shroot or the team. “It clicked towards the end of the season and we had the best form in the League for the last eight games”, he says. “I got 16 league goals. I felt so much more appreciated by the management and the football environment I was in. I was given confidence and freedom to express myself. When you have that, it doesn’t matter what level you play at, you’re always likely to produce better football from yourself when you’re given those things.” Stevenage couldn’t have been further away in Shroot’s mind.
Hodd finished 8th, five points off the Playoffs, while Shroot was the League’s 2nd top scorer. In all competitions he managed 19 goals in 20 starts, including four hat-tricks – a handsome return for his first season abroad. Having played 18 months of continuous football – half an English season, followed by a Norwegian one – he returned to his home in London to assess his future. “I rested, I did my yoga and got on my bike. I really chilled out. I took a step back from football – anything you do, you always need to give your head a rest and come back refreshed and hungry.”
While there was interest from a few teams in the Tippeligaen, Norway’s top tier, it was an approach from newly-relegated Sogndal that appealed to Shroot. Sogndal are managed by former Leeds midfielder Eirik Bakker and have Havard Flo (cousin of Tore André) as a sporting director. Working with two household names of Norwegian football was a big pull for Shroot.
“They’re fantastic. Eirik, obviously, has had a career in England that speaks for itself. He played in the Champions League for Leeds in one of their best ever teams, so he’s been there and done it. Havard is a director, so he sees everything. It’s great to have guys who have been in and played at the top of European football. They know what it’s like, so to learn from their experience and hear their ideas on football is always interesting and will help you improve.”
There’s a sense of ambition around the club at the moment and this was something Shroot has found easy to get on board with. “Sogndal are a very progressive club. It’s a new management staff with great footballing ideas, they want to play football. And the players are just realising, they’re learning that they have to develop a sense of freedom and creativity to go out and play with their football intelligence.”
Promotion is the first target but Sogndal and Shroot are confident of playing European football sooner rather than later. It’s an opportunity that he could only dream about while still playing in England. “There’s so many players out there who are playing in the Champions League, and if you look at their CVs on Soccerway or Wikipedia and you see where they’ve come from and where they’ve been playing, you’d be so surprised of the journeys players have been on.”
“Score goals, enjoy life, play in the Champions League, play against the best players in the world – there’s no excuses are there.”
Shroot takes his inspiration from a rather unlikely role model. “I always say this about Rickie Lambert. He played in the League Two Playoff Final in 2007 and now he’s at one of the biggest football clubs in the world, having played Champions League football. You’ve got to follow your dreams, you’ve got to go for it. You just have to put everything into it and have faith. I’ll tell you what – you’ll be a lot closer to them when you finish than when you started if you have that attitude.”
He also hopes English players would be a bit more outward-looking and consider a move abroad. “I think players are frightened because it’s a step into the unknown. It’s not. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You go abroad and it doesn’t work out. Players think England is the be-all and end-all and they think if they get released from a club in England, it’s the end of the world. But the quality of the game in Europe is so much higher you think. You will improve so much as a player and as a person in any role.”
Having scored six goals in Sogdnal’s pre-season, Shroot is raring to go as the season kicks off in Norway this month. If the club are to reach Europe anytime soon, he is sure to have a big say in their chances.