‘Christian Norgaard is very good at football,’ tweeted Brentford during the 2-0 win over West Ham United in December.

Ivan Toney and Josh Dasilva may have stolen the headlines with their first-half goals, but it was Norgaard ’s screening of the Bees’ backline that caught my eye at London Stadium - and clearly the gaze of the Twitter admin.

Norgaard made two tackles, one interception, four clearances and one block as West Ham, despite having more possession and territory, were kept at arm’s length by their resolute and well-disciplined visitors.

It was a typically assured performance from Norgaard who, having missed much of the first half of the season due to an Achilles injury, was relishing his return to Premier League football.

“You come to really appreciate it when you’ve been out for a certain amount of time,” Norgaard begins, having pulled up a chair in a meeting room at the Robert Rowan Performance Centre.

“In life, and in football, it’s about the decisions you make.

“When I came back from the World Cup, I was still struggling with my Achilles.

“We had to make a choice: continue playing and see if the symptoms decreased or take me out of the team for a longer time and try and get ready for Bournemouth in mid-January.

“I would have missed three Premier League games, plus a cup game.

“I wasn’t having it. It was painful, but I wanted to push through the pain. Now I don’t feel it any more.

“I played through Wolfsburg and Chelsea, trying to set myself up for the Tottenham game.

“To see it play out as it did was such a joy for me. It was a good decision that we took - the right decision.

“I knew, of course, that Pontus [Jansson] was out injured, so it was important to have some of the more experienced players on the pitch.

“To lead the team out as captain has been magnificent. This last block of games has been one of the best times in my football life, especially coming off a very difficult period before that.”

While Bees’ fans sing that Norgaard is ‘the best on Earth’, he and Brentford have proved to be a match made in Heaven.

As a player and as a person, his importance to the team cannot be overstated.

Across Europe’s top-five leagues last season (Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1), only Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni and Atalanta’s Jose Luis Palomino made more tackles and interceptions combined than Norgaard (173 - 109 tackles and 64 interceptions). 

He made the most tackles in the Premier League last term, with Brentford winning possession from 60 of his 109 challenges.

His 64 interceptions during the 2021/22 campaign saw him rank fifth in that stat category – just ahead of West Ham’s Declan Rice (63).

“I feel at home in Brentford, and I feel at home in the league,” says Norgaard, who signed from Fiorentina in May 2019.

“I am developing, and I can perform, and that’s just what you want as a player.

“I’ve been at a level where I can compete. Of course, the numbers also back that up, but football is about more than just tackles and interceptions.

“I was playing in a team that impressed and performed very well.

“Looking over a full career of 20 years, if you’re lucky, I don’t think you have so many years of this. It’s about getting the most out of it while you’re in it and trying to extend that period.

“That feeling – being in a club and a team where you feel confident, valued and at home – is underappreciated. It’s not spoken about enough. It makes it easier to perform.

“People often say, ‘if you can play in the Premier League, you can play anywhere,’ but it’s not like that.

“You could easily go from a Premier League team to a Serie A team, a Spanish team, or even a German or French team, and it could be a different environment that wouldn’t allow you to perform as well. There are so many pieces that need to fit together.”

Brentford’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal in August 2021 – a game in which Norgaard netted the second goal – set the tone for a magical campaign.

But the Bees’ first top-flight season since 1946/47 wasn’t without its difficult moments.

Thomas Frank’s side began 2022 with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa but had to wait until 5 March for their next Premier League win.

Norgaard recalls a trip to the Etihad during that eight-game winless run.

“We were 2-0 down and still chasing the ball and standing low,” he says.

“I found that almost demotivating, to be running around and chasing the ball when we were 2-0 down, but that’s just how it is in this league and there’s not a lot you can do about it if you want to keep being here.

“As soon as you start to think that you’ll be the team that challenges [Manchester] City on the ball and go high every time you can, that’s when you get destroyed.

“There’s a lot of evidence that shows that the teams that try to practice the same football they did in the Championship in the Premier League go straight back down again.

“We’ve acclimatised really well to this league - we’ve found our feet and the way we want to play.

“Not always playing the same way makes us very strong; we can change depending on the team that we face.”

Anticipating attacks, and knowing when to stop them, is hugely important when going toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the world.

Norgaard committed the fifth most fouls in the Premier League last season (56). While this is an occupational hazard – five of the top six players on the list are central midfielders – being able to assess a situation at rapid speed is also a valuable skill.

“I think it comes with experience,” Norgaard continues.

“Knowing when to make a foul or leave the opponent is an art.

“When you are an aggressive player – if you are high on interceptions and tackles – you will often be quite high on the fouls list because there’s just a higher risk of making fouls when you are trying to win the ball.

“I don’t think making fouls is a bad thing necessarily - it’s an important part of the game. A foul can break down an opponent’s momentum.

“I’m not saying you should be reckless with your challenges, but going in hard and getting a yellow card can sometimes show your team-mates that they need to step up. It can create a feeling in the team that everyone needs to do better and do more.

“Looking from the outside at Newcastle [1-5] and Villa [0-4] away this season, we got ran over and we didn’t have that attitude enough.

“Southampton away last season, where I played, we lost 4-1 and I had the same feeling on the pitch. We were not close enough to the opponent.

“It’s something that we have to do and I’m happy to take that role when I have to.

“I hope that my team-mates feel that, with me being there, I can help them unleash their offensive powers. They don’t have to think as much about what’s behind them.”

Christian Norgaard, Brentford v Tottenham Hotspur

Enjoying this interview? Read other instalments in our Long Read series, including in-depth conversations with Ivan Toney, Pontus Jansson and Ben Mee

But Norgaard is far more than just a disrupter.

His ability to drop deep and receive the ball is instrumental to Brentford’s build-up play.

Impressively, he ranked 12th out of all Premier League midfielders last season in terms of successful passes completed (1,331). 

His lofted ball against Liverpool that led to Bryan Mbeumo shrugging off Ibrahima Konate and sliding beyond Allison is a great example of his vision and ability to break the lines.

“Our offensive players are always trying to get in a position where they can receive the ball,” says Norgaard.

“You can play with players who might hide a little bit – some aren’t willing to receive the ball as much - but whether it’s Keane [Lewis-Potter], [Yoane] Wissa, Ivan, Bryan, [Mikkel] Damsgaard – all these players want the ball.

“That’s really nice for me, David [Raya] and the defenders – we can always try and pick a forward pass.”

Norgaard, who has four goals and five assists in 46 top-flight appearances, reveals that his attacking output is something he’s been working on.

“I’ve improved and developed, because those were not the numbers that I produced during my first two seasons at Brentford in the Championship,” he says.

“Even though it’s not the first thing that’s asked of a no.6, it’s always a positive if you can produce numbers in assists and goals.

“The Liverpool game is close to an assist, and Ivan’s goal at West Ham is me finishing, a rebound and then a goal.

“Just being in and around these situations is something I’m very aware of. I speak with Thomas and Bernardo [Cueva, Brentford’s tactical statistician] about that.”

Described by his head coach as the ‘glue’ of the team, Norgaard ’s impact can’t be measured by numbers alone.

A natural leader, the 28-year-old has captained the side in Jansson’s absence.

On matchdays, he is often the bridge between Frank and his players, heading over to the touchline to receive instructions on shape and tactics.

“Using the time we have to talk with Thomas – it could be after a goal, or while a player is getting treatment – allows us to hear what he thinks and give our input from the pitch so he knows what we’re thinking,” says Norgaard.

“It’s a very easy group to lead; we’ve built a really good culture where everyone is willing to listen and improve.

“There’s not a lot of moaning and complaining. We’ve really progressed in that department and it makes it a whole lot easier for me, Ivan, Pontus, Mathias [Jensen], David – whoever has the armband.”

I ask Norgaard to describe his leadership style.

“Tough but fair,” he responds, after pausing for a few seconds to consider his choice of words.

“I don’t have raging outbursts where I go crazy on people; I don’t really believe in that.

“I try to be as vocal as I can. Maybe sometimes I could have higher demands, but it’s a balance between criticism and encouragement. That’s a fine balance on the pitch, because you could have the other affect where people take your words personally and they lose confidence.

“You don’t have time on the pitch to evaluate; whatever comes naturally, you just have to go with it. To go with your gut is very important when you are a leader. Listen to what your stomach says and say it.

Christian Norgaard, Brentford v Bournemouth

“The best times I’ve had as a leader is when I’ve said something, and I’ve not really thought about it.

“I’ve been in situations where I’ve thought about something, thought about it again, and then thought, ‘I should have said that.’ That’s where you don’t want to get to. In those situations, I was not the best possible leader.

“It’s better to act on the feeling that you have, rather than holding back. That’s very important.

“I’m much harder on my leadership than I am on my performance on the pitch from a technical perspective. It’s more important for me to be a good leader than a good player, but often they go hand in hand. The better leader I am, the more vocal I am, the better my performance.”

While Norgaard believes that he would enjoy coaching, he says that his wife and children will take precedence when he hangs up his boots.

“My family life has been on my terms for a long time,” he concludes.

“When my career comes towards an end, it’s important to let my wife have a say on what she wants to do.

“Coaching takes up more time than playing, so it’s something you have to keep in mind.

“I’d definitely take the badges while I’m active and it’s a career I could see myself doing, but there’s a family side I have to respect.

“I am observing. When your career comes towards the end, you have an idea of how you’d want your own management style to be and what your philosophy would be.

“Arsene Wenger said that, for the best coaches in the world, football is like a video game: they know exactly how they want their game to be played.

“I don’t know how I would want my game to be played, so it’s about trying to implement different things from different coaches and different clubs and taking the best things you’ve found, and trying to create your own way of managing and playing.

“I’ve found that fascinating, but it’s something for later on.”