RedNation Online recently had the chance to catch up with Canadian forward/midfielder Robbie Tice as he settles in with his new club, Norwegian side Kjelsås IL. At 20 years old, the White Rock, British Columbia native is a promising young player who has already completed three professional seasons in Europe while playing in Scotland, England and Norway.
In this interview, the former Vancouver Whitecaps Academy player offers his thoughts on the benefits of playing professionally in Norway, the ways in he has benefited as a young player from playing in Scotland and England, his experiences as a youth player with the Vancouver Whitecaps, his recent trial with FC Edmonton and the goals he has set for himself at the beginning of his tenure with a top Norwegian club.
RedNation Online: Robbie, congratulations on signing with Norwegian club Kjelsås IL. Is it a hectic time as you settle into a new city and with a new team?
Robbie Tice: I have been here for the last three weeks now, so I am starting to get settled in and finding my way around. So everything is going pretty well so far.
RedNation Online: How did you end up back in Norway? Was that something that was always an option or something that was in the back of your mind when deciding the next step in your career?
Robbie Tice: It was kind of always an option. After I finished my season with Bodø/Glimt last year, there were a few teams in Oslo that were interested in bringing me in for this season. So I just kind of looked at the different options and decided it was best to come back to Norway because I really enjoyed playing here last season.
RedNation Online: Have you started training yet? Or are you just getting situated?
Robbie Tice: I have started training. I actually started training the day I got here and actually came straight from the airport and went straight to training, so I was pretty tired the first day. I’m pretty settled in for training now and I have played one game for the reserve team. I haven’t played for the first team yet. I was on the bench on the weekend and I haven’t played my first game yet, but it should be coming soon.
RedNation Online: What has team management told you about your role on the team?
Robbie Tice: I think they definitely see me contributing quite a bit to the first team this season and playing a lot. I think they really want to strengthen their midfield, so they were pretty happy to bring me in. I think they mostly want me to play as a winger – and I can play on either side – but they have said they also could use me down the middle, so I’m not entirely sure what my role is going to be for the most part. But hopefully I will be playing quite a few games this season and making quite a big impact with the team.
RedNation Online: You are still a young player. What goals have you set for yourself for this season?
Robbie Tice: I think I just want to try and play as many games as I possibly can. I think there is only one more game before the summer break, so I hope to play my first game then. But if I don’t, there are still a lot of games left to be played in the second half of the season and I’m just hoping to establish myself in the team and really be a key player for the club. And once I’m playing, I hope to score as many goals as I can. We’ll see how it goes.
RedNation Online: You are not the first Canadian to play in Scandinavia. A number of Canadian players, including very prominent ones like Rob Friend, Patrice Bernier and Atiba Hutchinson, have played in countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Do you think it is an easy adjustment – both stylistically in terms of the soccer and culturally off the pitch – for Canadians to play professionally in Scandinavia?
Robbie Tice: Absolutely. Before I came to Norway, I was playing in the UK in Scotland and England for a year in each country. And I had a good experience there for sure. But I feel that it has been really easy to adjust to Norway. With the culture and the way people are here, I think it’s very similar to the way that people are in Canada. And I think that the playing style is also very similar to what we have back home. So it’s actually been a pretty easy adjustment for me coming to Norway. I think the most difficult thing is language, but everyone speaks great English here and I’m trying to learn Norwegian and trying to do the best I can with that. Overall, I think it is a pretty easy adjustment to make.
RedNation Online: In terms of an adjustment to the playing style, was there much of an adjustment in moving from playing in Scotland and England to playing in Norway?
Robbie Tice: Yeah, I think so. It think that in the UK the game is really very physical and lot of long balls – which you can get in Scandinavia as well – but I think that at least for the clubs that I have played for here, they try to play more of a passing game, with short passing. I think it suits my playing style a lot better here than in the UK.
RedNation Online: Following your high school graduation you decided to begin your professional football career in Scotland with Ayr United. Why did you decide to kick off your pro career in Scotland?
Robbie Tice: Well, the opportunity just sort of came up to go for a trial and I was desperate to get a chance to move to Europe and play. It’s what I had always wanted to do. So when the club invited me to come over for a trial, I told them that I would love to come and flew over soon after. I was pretty young at the time, but I was excited to be there and luckily things went well and the club wanted me to stick around. And I think I had a pretty good first season there for sure.
RedNation Online: So being a young Canadian player playing in Scotland with the reputation that the country has for being a very rough and tough physical league where tackles that might result in yellow cards here aren’t even called a foul there, did that toughen you up pretty quickly in terms of making you physically stronger and making the jump to being a professional?
Robbie Tice: Oh yeah, for sure. It is so physical there like you said. It’s kind of known to be a really physical place to play and it definitely toughened me up. I had to adjust to it right away if I wanted to survive there and keep playing and performing well, because it’s definitely tough and completely different from the Canadian game. So it was a little bit hard at first being a Canadian teenager and going over there and not really knowing what to expect, but I think that within the first five minutes of being on the pitch I took a really tough hit and I just had to realize that is how football is there.
RedNation Online: Following a successful year in Scotland you then moved on to England for your second European season. How did that year go for you and what did the move to England mean for your career?
Robbie Tice: I think it was a bit of a transition year for me. When I was in Scotland I was player for the youth team and trained with the first team at Ayr United quite a bit, but I didn’t play any games. So basically I was looking to move to club where I could play for the men’s first team and kind of get some experience playing with men over here. And luckily I got that with Nantwich Town FC. It was a good club to go to and I had a really good year there. I really enjoyed it. There were a lot of players who have played at the highest levels and I really learned a lot from playing with them and training with them every day. So it was definitely a good decision for me to go there for the year.
RedNation Online: Following a year playing in England, you made the move to Norway and played with the reserve team for second division club Bodø/Glimt. How was your evolution as a player during that year?
Robbie Tice: It was a really good. I wanted to try something new and just decided to pack my bags and head to Norway. Joining Bodø/Glimt was really exciting for me. It was the biggest club that I had ever played for. They are very well known over here and have a good reputation for developing younger players. And I learned a lot when I was there as well. It was a really great program and it was good for me to be in the reserve team there and to train with some of the first team players at the club as well. It was a great year. Unfortunately, I had some paperwork problems when I came over, so it limited my playing time for the first 2-3 months that I was here, but then once the paperwork went through and I started to play some games, it went great and I came to know that Norway is the place for me right now and that I wanted to continue to playing here.
RedNation Online: Looking at the move to Europe overall, did you immediately find it to be a step up in terms of the level of the competition and the training regimen?
Robbie Tice: Yeah, for sure. The players that they have over here at the professional clubs – in many cases, they have had them at the club since they were young kids – the level is definitely higher. But before I left I spent quite a bit of time with the Whitecaps youth program and that definitely helped preparing for taking the step to go overseas. But it is definitely on a whole different level over here. It is definitely an adjustment to make, but I was also lucky enough to spend my summers over in England with Crewe Alexandra FC’s Academy, so it wasn’t as big an adjustment for me when I came over here full-time.
RedNation Online: What were some of the ways that Whitecaps Academy contributed to your development?
Robbie Tice: It was definitely huge for me. It was kind of the only academy system around at that time in B.C.; I guess it is still the only one in the province affiliated with a professional club. It definitely helped prepare me for Europe because they had all of the top coaches there and they brought in all of the top youth players from around B.C., so it was exciting for me to join the Academy and play for the youth teams. I was there for a couple of years and I was lucky enough to play in a couple of North American Championships and it was all a good experience which prepared me well for going overseas.
RedNation Online: Being a B.C. native do you still follow the exploits of the Whitecaps now that they have made the jump to MLS?
Robbie Tice: Yes, for sure. I’m still a Whitecaps fan and I try to keep up to date with how things are going with the club. I have followed their move to the MLS and it’s obviously really exciting for the club and for the city, so I definitely try to keep up to date and see what’s happening all the time.
RedNation Online: Often when Canadian players make the move to Europe, it’s often the case that a local coach or advisor has a connection in Europe or nudges his players to a particular country. Did you have someone who kind of pushed you in the direction of Scotland while you were starting out?
Robbie Tice: Not really. Of course, I have my family and friends and they all help to point me in the right direction. But for me personally, it’s really just been a case of me going where the opportunity is and trying to find the best opportunities available and then making the best of them. I think that with each season over here I have kind of stepped up a level and improved. And I just want to keep trying to do that every season and keep improving as a player.
RedNation Online: You are only 20 years old now. What are some of things you think you need to do to keep improving as a player?
Robbie Tice: I think there are a lot of things that I need to keep working on. I’d like to get physically stronger and need to keep working at that. I think I have definitely improved in that area over the last year or two, but I still want to keep getting stronger. I think a lot of improvement will come as I get older and more experienced. I just need to try to play as many games as possible at a high level and I think it will all come together for me.
RedNation Online: One of the most positive recent developments in Canadian Soccer has been the establishment of FC Edmonton. It’s my understanding that you had a trial with FC Edmonton recently. How was that experience and how close were you to signing on and coming back to Canada to play?
Robbie Tice: I think I was quite close to actually coming back and signing with them. I had a very good trial with them. I was only there for a week and I think they really liked me quite a bit. And I really enjoyed my time there. The coaching staff was fantastic and it’s a really good group of players. I think their results this year have been fantastic if you look at how they have done in the league. I think they have surprised some people. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out at the time, but I think there is definitely an interest in bringing me back in the future. And I think that is something I would definitely consider. It’s a good place to be and a good club and definitely a good opportunity for any young Canadian player. If I had the opportunity to go back there at some point, then I would definitely consider it.
RedNation Online: It’s my understanding that you hold three passports – Canadian, British and American. It seems that with those three passports you do have a lot of options as to where you could play in terms of work permits. Is coming back to Canada to play at home something you would really like to do at some point?
Robbie Tice: Yeah, for sure. I think the game is really growing in North America and now it’s growing even more in Canada. I think there are starting to be a lot more opportunities for young Canadian players like myself. If I had the chance, I would definitely like to come back and play. It would be a dream come true to come back home and play for the Whitecaps at some point. But as of right now, I’m just focused on playing at the highest level in Europe. And later on, hopefully there will be a time when I can come home and play.
RedNation Online: We don’t always get a lot of coverage of teams from Scandinavia over here, so for those people that have never seen you play, how would you describe yourself as a player in terms of your playing style? And are there any players that you like that you have modelled aspects of your game on?
Robbie Tice: I think I’m technically a really good player. I’m really good on the ball and good with both feet. I’m quite quick and I think I make a lot of good runs and basically I make things happen when I am on the field. I think one of my biggest strengths is my finishing – I’ll definitely score goals if I get the opportunity. I think I get into great spaces during games and I think if I had to compare myself to another player, it’s a tough question, but possibly a Michael Owen type player. I’m quick like him and score a lot of similar goals to what he scores.
RedNation Online: When you look at a map of Europe, there can be some dodgy leagues and countries the further east you go, in terms of the situations for foreign players. Do you think that Norway is kind of like the full package – with great facilities, top notch coaching and a lot of professionalism – as an overall great place for a 20 year old to be at this point in his career?
Robbie Tice: I think it is always tough when you are in a foreign environment, so to have everything here top notch with the facilities, coaching and teammates around you, I don’t have to deal with any issues like some other players may have to face when they go to some other countries in Europe. I think it is definitely just nice for me to be able to focus solely on playing and focus on my job basically. It makes life a lot easier. I’m just really excited to be here. Oslo is a really nice city and I think it is definitely a really good opportunity for me, so overall I’m just really excited to be part of the club. I want to make the most of the opportunity and I want to show what I can do and to have a great season.