A Norwegian international with 86 caps and 19 goals to his name, the midfielder plied his trade in his homeland with Molde and Rosenborg before coming to England in 1994 to join Wimbledon.
Three years later he linked up with Liverpool, the club he supported as a boy, but after a lack of regular game time in his second season with the Reds he swapped Anfield for White Hart Lane in the summer of 1999.
Over the next three years he played 72 times for us, scoring 11 goals, before departing for Aston Villa in 2002. He spent one season at Villa Park before returning to Norway with Lyn and latterly Strømsgodset.
Now coaching in the academy at Norwegian top flight side Stabæk, the 45-year-old was back at White Hart Lane last month to watch our 3-0 victory over Fiorentina in the Europa League and, speaking to us from Norway today (Wednesday, March 30), he’s expecting a highly competitive battle between two of his former clubs on Saturday…
First of all, Oyvind, tell us about your time at Liverpool between 1997 and 1999…
Oyvind Leonhardsen: It was a great club with a lot of expectation, so the pressure was always there. I was at the club for two years before I went to Spurs, we managed to finish third in my first season but we had Manchester United and Arsenal in front of us so it felt like we’d had a really bad season because of the history and everything. When I was young I was a Liverpool supporter and for me to go there was special. It was obviously good to be a player for them but after Gérard Houllier came in he didn’t play me that much in my last year and that was maybe the first time I hadn’t played first team football regularly, so it was quite hard.
How did your move to Spurs come about?
Oyvind: I learned a lot around that time and when Tottenham asked me to sign, I wanted to play. When I arrived I felt like I was in good shape – I was maybe in the best form of my career when I came to Tottenham because of the motivation to play regularly again. I’d worked really hard to come back, I’d played the last seven games for Liverpool that season, then I had a good pre-season with them before I went to Tottenham and I think, when I look back at it, the time I had at Spurs was probably the best for me on and off the pitch.
What was it that endeared you to the club?
Oyvind: With the spectators at Tottenham and everything around London, it was perfect for me so I only have good memories of my time at the club. I always felt that Tottenham was the best place for me to be when I was in the Premier League. Of course, I got a couple of injuries – there was a hamstring and groin problem – but Tottenham has a big place in my heart because I was there at a time when I wanted to play. After a while, Glenn Hoddle came in as manager and then I didn’t play that much again so I went to Aston Villa for the end of my English career but, when I look back at it, I should have stayed longer at Tottenham. That’s maybe the one thing I regret.
One of your first games for Liverpool was against us when you beat us 4-0 at Anfield in November, 1997. You scored in that game – do you recall it?
Oyvind: Yes, I remember that! It’s interesting because when the sides met back then, Tottenham were in the middle of the table and Liverpool were one of the top four. It has changed now – Tottenham are second and Liverpool are a few places below. Things are different and, for me, I can see that Tottenham have a chance now. There are seven games to go and I think it’s very important for the club to win the game this weekend and also the next one. If they can get some points out of those matches it will be a really interesting end to the season.
Do you get much of a chance to watch the Premier League from where you are in Norway?
Oyvind: There is a lot of football on television here and I do manage to see some games. I was at White Hart Lane recently for the European game against Fiorentina with my son Gabriel and my impression of the Spurs team is really good. The manager must be doing a really good job on the training ground because the players look very organised defensively and offensively, it looks like they know what they are doing all the time in all facets of the game. I’ve been so impressed with how they look and, as a coach myself, it’s made me very curious to see the manager’s work. I can see that he’s doing a lot of things right.
What sort of test do you think we’ll encounter this weekend?
Oyvind: Of course, Liverpool at Anfield is always tough. In their last home game in the league they won against Manchester City and with Jurgen Klopp in charge it’s a bit of a change for them so it will be a hard, hard game for Tottenham to go there. It will also be interesting to see how the five players from England come back. Myself, when I came back from internationals I’d be tired, of course, but also I had a lot of inspiration to get back. I always think I did more, even if I felt tired, and played well when I came back to the Premier League after the international games so I hope those players who have been away will bring that into the game on Saturday.
You mentioned our players in the England squad – how important is it for players like ours to play international football?
Oyvind: There is a lot of inspiration for all the players to play for their countries and I think England in particular are looking good now – it’s really interesting with the players they have. Spurs have five at the moment, maybe more, and it just shows that the club is doing all the right things.
It’s been a while since we last heard from you so, just to finish off, can you tell us a bit about what you’re doing these days?
Oyvind: I’m coaching in the academy at Stabæk, which is a top club here in Norway. Our boys are Under-15s now and next year they’ll be Under-16s so I’m on the ladder going up! I finished playing in Norway in 2007 so this is the ninth year on this side of things but I’ve been involved in football a lot, teaching young players, and it’s been a real learning curve for me since I stopped playing. I’ve started from the bottom and I’m looking up now – I’m ambitious as a coach on my level, I’ve been travelling a lot and visiting some of the best academies around Europe and I’m aiming to do the last part of my UEFA Pro Licence now so I’m still very much involved in football. We’ll see where it will take me!