It's never easy moving 18,000 km across the world to pursue your career. Now imagine doing just that but in the middle of a global pandemic that has created uncertainty around the globe. Joe Bell has settled into life in Norway seamlessly so far despite outside forces seemingly trying to make the adaptation to a new country even harder than it usually would be. We had a chat with Viking's new midfield playmaker about how he is adapting to life in Norway and got his early thoughts on playing in the Eliteserien.
by Ben Wells
Ben: Hi Joe! First off, how did your move to Viking come about? I think it would be fair to say that clubs' scouting systems in Norway rarely stretch as far as the USA or New Zealand?
Joe: It mostly came about from the U'20 World Cup in 2019. We played Norway in the group stage & beat them 2-0, keeping Erling Haaland off the scoresheet I might add. The coaches were watching the game and we were in contact after the tournament eventually resulting in me having a short trial period in the summer, before eventually signing in December later that year.
Ben: So growing up, what sort of players did you used to model your game on? It's pretty clear you enjoy the playmaking role in midfield a lot! Was football always the number one 'career' choice for you?
Joe: In my head I like to idolize Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong however I am not too sure I play like them! I love the way they play the game with their minds more than their feet and how they make things look much easier than they actually are. Football has always been my number one career choice, for sure. If it wasn't that I think I'd be living in New Zealand shaping surfboards... But there isn't much money in that!
Ben: As an alternative career, that definitely doesn't sound too bad as a backup to football... So how has it been in terms of settling into life in Norway, especially given the disruption to your 'settling period' with the COVID-19 crisis & subsequent lockdown in Norway?
Joe: I think it's always going to be challenging moving to a new country, but luckily I have had a similar experience a few years back when I moved to the USA and the change there wasn't too hard. In all honesty, Norway shares many similarities with New Zealand so I have felt a lot more at home here because of that, though it is of course much colder! The COVID crisis was undoubtedly challenging but the support from the club and players within it made it more than bearable. So, although it was a lot with the self-isolation, it actually gave me the chance to learn more about the qualities of many players in the Viking team.
Ben: So especially now you have started and begun to impress a lot in competitive matches, has this also helped you settle in a bit quicker?
Joe: I wouldn't say my performances have had too much impact on me feeling 'more at home'. As a team we want to win matches so although I am happy to have played a good amount of minutes over the last few games I'd prefer to be looking back at more wins. I already felt I had a new family in the Viking team prior to the season starting so now it is all about on field results.
Ben: You've been playing alongside two very experienced players in Kristoffer Lokberg & Johnny Furdal, what sort of things have you learnt from them so far?
Joe: Yes, I've learned loads! In fact, I learn something new almost every day. It's great having players with that much knowledge & experience in the game just to converse with and bounce ideas off. Although getting on in his days, Johnny still manages to make me look stupid in training and Løk's work rate is unparalleled in the league. As a young player they are both invaluable resources and great teammates.
Ben: In terms of the playing level, how does the Eliteserien differ from other leagues you have played in before? Does it feel like a big step up in quality?
Joe: I am still learning & understanding this league but from what I have seen so far it is a very competitive and challenging competition. It has definitely been a step up for me from the collegiate game in the USA so I am enjoying the new challenge. It also appears that the league is really anyone's game at the moment in that apart from a couple of teams, there is not much to split one from another. This obviously helps to make it a very entertaining league to follow and be a part of.
Ben: I think it would be fair to say that in recent Viking games you've been one of the best players on the park. What's behind this run of form... Do you feel well suited to the role you are being asked to play at the moment?
Joe: That’s very nice to hear that you think that. I definitely feel most comfortable in the position Bjarne (Berntsen) is currently asking me to play so I think that has definitely helped. I wouldn’t say there is a single thing that has helped my performance in the last few games. I have learnt a lot from both the coaches and experienced players in the team over the last 6 months so when the opportunities arose I have just tried to do what the team needs me to do. I just hope in the next few games that results in more points.
Ben: Has the adaptation to artificial surfaces been tough at all? I know from experience that a lot of players new to the league have struggled at times to fully adapt to the surfaces?
Joe: I have had some experience with artificial before, more so in New Zealand than the USA, but I don’t have too many complaints about it. I much prefer a decent artificial than average grass, I know many would disagree with that though. I think our home pitch is actually nice to play on when it has been wet and from what I have seen of the over pitches, it is quite the same.
Ben: Finally, you've already made your New Zealand international debut at a young age... But what other goals do you hope to achieve in the future domestically and internationally?
Joe: The debut for New Zealand last year was a very proud moment for my family and I. In the future I really hope to build off that and try and solidify my position in the national team set up. There is obviously the 2022 World Cup coming up so for the short term my eyes are set on that. Domestically right now I am just completing focused on doing what Bjarne and team need me to do. There are definitely dreams of moving into the top leagues of Europe but that is a process and all that is important now is focusing on my performance and building some momentum into the next few games.
Ben: Cheers, Joe!