An interview with Markus Henriksen, by Callum McFadden for WFi.
You started your career at Rosenborg and won two titles at the club under Erik Hamrén. How do you reflect on your formative years at the club?
“I have a lot of positive memories from my time at the club in my first spell and now in my second spell.
“I was born and bred in Trondheim which is the city of Rosenborg so it was always a boyhood dream for me to represent the club just as it must be a dream for a kid from Manchester to represent Manchester United, for example.
“Rosenborg is the biggest club in Norway and to come through the academy at the club meant a lot to me.
”I was brought into the first team at a very young age and I made my senior debut at 16 years of age.
“It was such a special time to be able to grow as a player in the first team at the club I love and win titles under Erik Hamrén.
“I will always be grateful to him because he was the coach who believed in me and made it clear to me that my age was not a barrier for him.
“That was a brave move for a coach and he gave me the hunger to develop further as a player which led to interest from clubs across Europe in me.
”I have had a lot of coaches in my career but I will always remember Erik as being a special coach in my career and my development.”
Rosenborg agreed a fee with Club Brugge in 2012. You travelled to Belgium for talks before turning the move down to remain at Rosenborg. What happened?
”I thought that I was ready to move to Brugge. So much so that I actually travelled there with my family and completed a medical with the club.
“Everything was ready to be signed and ready to go but the move just did not feel right in the pit of my stomach.
”That is nothing against the club or the staff at Brugge because they treated me so well and it is a big club.
”My instinct was telling me that Brugge was not the right move for me at that time so I made the decision to remain at Rosenborg until I felt ready to move. I was not ready to move at that stage.”
You returned to Rosenborg for another six months before moving to AZ Alkmaar. Celtic were also rumoured to be interested in signing you. Was a deal ever close?
“I was aware of the interest from Celtic, to be honest.
“Celtic are without doubt a massive club and I also had interest from German clubs at that moment too.
“The Scottish league has two unbelievably strong teams in Celtic and Rangers and Celtic win almost every game and the title in most seasons so it was an interesting option.
“The atmosphere at Celtic is known around the world for being special so it would have been nice to play there but everything was set in stone and agreed with AZ.
”Therefore, I took the choice to join AZ at that time and I have no regrets.”
Why did you choose AZ out of the interested clubs at the time?
“First of all, the six months back in Rosenborg helped me mentally prepare myself for moving to another country.
”I knew that I could not turn down the opportunity to move twice in a row because that would put clubs off from signing me again in future.
“AZ felt different right away because they had scouted me extensively to the point that they had watched me play live on sixteen occasions before I moved there.
”That meant that they were able to pinpoint my strengths and weaknesses and prove to me how much they wanted me.
”I felt wanted right away and I also felt that the philosophy of the club matched my ideas of how football should be played.
”It felt like the right move for me at the time and it proved that way once I arrived at the club.”
You won the Dutch Cup in your first season at the club against PSV Eindhoven in the final at De Kuip in Rotterdam. How special was that moment for you?
“All of my years in AZ are filled with great memories and friends for life but the first season was indeed special.
”I enjoyed the culture of the Netherlands.
“Winning the cup final against PSV was an unbelievable moment for me and for the club because De Kuip was sold out and we went into the game as underdogs.
”I provided an assist in the final and we won the final 2-1. To win as the underdog was incredibly special.
“I enjoyed the whole season during my first year at AZ but cup success is undoubtedly the highlight.
”I played as a controlling midfielder in my first season at the club before becoming more of an attacking midfielder particularly when John van den Brom arrived as manager.”
Your best goal-scoring season in your career to date came under the leadership of van den Brom. What was he like as a coach?
“John was a very good coach. He pushed me into the number 10 role and gave me the captaincy of the club even though I was a young player.
”That showed his faith in me and he worked on my game to give me the freedom to become the attacking player that I was known for during my time at Rosenborg prior to moving to the Netherlands.
“Overall, John was a great guy and a great manager too.”
You moved from AZ to Hull City in 2016 under Mike Phelan. Was the opportunity to play in the Premier League too good to turn down?
“Yes, it was too good to turn down for me particularly being from Scandinavia where English football is a big deal for so many people as it was for myself growing up.
“The Premier League was and still is the best and toughest league in the world so I wanted to test myself there.
“That being said, leaving AZ for England was the toughest choice of my career to move. If I am being brutally honest, I do not think I would have chosen to join a newly promoted club again if I had to make the move to England.
“I do not mean that in any disrespect to Hull City as a club because they were a newly promoted side and there was always a strong possibility that we could go back down to the Championship which ultimately was the case come the end of that season.”
You worked with Mike Phelan, Marco Silva, Leonard Slutsky and Nigel Adkins during your time at Hull. Was the high turnover of managers frustrating for you as a player new to English football?
“It made my time more difficult because Mike Phelan was the one who really pushed hard to sign me then he was out of the door within three months.
”Marco Silva then arrived at the club and I was unlucky to suffer a serious shoulder injury against Manchester United in the League Cup semi final following a collision with Paul Pogba.
“That injury ruled me out of the second half of the season which was a real shame because I was playing well in that game.
“Things could have been different but I arrived back in the team when things were too late and relegation was an inevitability.”
You remained with Hull in the Championship. How did you find playing in that league because it is regarded as a notoriously difficult league to play in?
“The Championship is an extremely tough league due to the volume of games and also due to the fact that there is not too much of a difference in quality between all of the sides in the league.
”Anyone can beat anyone regardless of position in that league. I actually do not think it gets enough respect as a league as it should.
“I have full respect for everyone who plays in the Championship because their mentality is unbelievable given how competitive on every match day and is never easy.
”I enjoyed playing under Nigel Adkins during our time in the Championship because he was a manager who showed real belief in me.
”It was such a shame that he had a fallout with the club and left after two seasons because I honestly believe that he would have taken the club back to the Premier League if given another season.
“Unfortunately, I had issues with the president of the club at the end of my time at Hull City which was disappointing because I enjoyed my time at Hull and the fans were great.
“He promised me that I could move if a bid of a certain amount was made for me but when such a bid was made, he would not let me leave.”
You have represented Norway on over 50 occasions in your career. What does representing your national team mean to you?
”It is the biggest honour. The only disappointment is that we were not able to qualify for a major tournament during that time.
”Despite that, I am very proud of my international career.
”I believe that our current group of players is incredibly strong with more players than ever playing in the major European leagues which should stand us in good stead to qualify in the future.”
You are now back at Rosenborg for a second spell. How does it feel to be back home in Norway playing football again?
“My wife and I have a young family so after my time at Hull – which also featured a short loan at Bristol City – came to an end, we decided we wanted to come home.
“Our oldest is set to start school so it is nice to be able to return home for that to happen in Norway.
“The pandemic was a difficult time for so many people and following the lifting of restrictions across Europe, it felt like a natural time to return home.
”I had other options across Europe but I wanted to come home. It is a privilege to be back at Rosenborg and I look forward to the future with the club.”
Finally, Markus, which players stand out from your career as teammates and opponents?
”In terms of teammates, Tom Huddleston was a superb football. He had a top career but without the injuries that he suffered, he would have played at the highest level for even longer.
“I also had the honour to play with Andrew Robertson at Hull City and it has been great to see the progress he has made at Liverpool to become a Premier League and European champion.
”In terms of toughest opponent, I would have to say Cristiano Ronaldo for what he has achieved in the game across multiple counties and for his national team.”