The State of Swedish Club Football
May 27, 2019
Most Championships: Malmo, 23
Last 5 Winners: AIK (18), Malmo (17, 16, 14), IFK (15)
UEFA Ranking: 22nd
Highest Ranked Club: Malmo, 77th
Swedish football seems to be on the up right now with Malmo, in particular, making moves in Europe. What is the current state of the Allsvenskan and is it improving?
We were quite pessimistic about the state of the Swedish championship in recent years, because like many championships outside of the top 5, the talents or the best players leave to go abroad very quickly, as soon as they have a good season (Isak in Dortmund at 17 years with a single pro season, Mattias Svanberg in Bologna, Arnor Sigurdsson at CSKA Moscow etc.). There is little continuity and the numbers evolve very often it is quite frustrating.
But the level has improved finally over the last two years I would say thanks to the return of former internationals associated with the country who want to finish their career at home (eg: Kim Källström, Andreas Isaksson, Johan Elmander,Sebastian Larsson and Andreas Granqvist) or the return of former young talents who did not break abroad (Jordan Larsson son of Henrik, Carlos Strandberg, Sead Haksabanovic, Christopher Nyman). They’re very good for the level of the Allsvenskan and this raises interest to attract a better players.
We have also seen the emergence of clubs like Östersund who have tried a lot of different things that have worked, especially with a lot of English players, and they went from the fourth tier to the elite in 7 years and made the last 16 of the Europa final League last season. They play a nice game especially when Graham Potter was their coach who allowed the club to improve massively.
The Swedish league hasn’t really been dominated by one club in recent years. Has this been a help or a hindrance to Swedish football?
We think it’s still important for a league to stay balanced with possible surprises like Norrköping in 2015, so I find it a help for Swedish football. That allows to have several teams at a similar level and not to rest on a single dominant team even if one could have believed it with Malmö who has won 5 of the last 9 titles and which still remains dominant despite the title of the AIK last year.
This is the best structured team and the most professional but this year we seem to have found the legendary team of Sweden, IFK Gothenburg with 18 titles just behind Malmö at 20, who have won two UEFA Cups. They were struggling in recent years but they have started this new season and it promises a good fight with a balanced championship.
What would be seen as a successful year in Europe for Swedish fans?
The Champions League group stages are becoming more and more unreachable unfortunately, especially in view of future reforms. We still had Malmö in 2015/2016 who finished last in their group.
So it remains a goal too high, so therefore qualification for the Europa League and the subsequent knockout round is viewed as a success with two teams – Östersund 2017-2018 and Malmö 2018-2019 – who have accomplished this feat in recent years.
Especially Östersund, all of Sweden was thrilled and surprised by this wonderful campaign which started with a second preliminary round against Galatasaray. It was a more than a successful year for Swedish fans, Östersund gained 4,225 of the 5,375 coefficient points for Sweden that season and helped them to 22nd in the UEFA rankings while without these points we would have been 30th.
Do most of the country get behind the Swedish sides playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent? How is the EL viewed in general by Swedish football fans?
There is still a lot of tribalism especially for teams in Stöckolm: AIK, Hammarby and Djurgarden. There is a great rivalry between these three which plays host to beautiful derbiess, and the fans make fun of the bad results that the other teams achieve in Europe, even if in the end it does affect the coefficient. It is more akin to territorial and historical rivalries, but otherwise generally as for Östersund which was a surprise, most of the country supported them to the end. It is for the benefit of the whole country to take points to avoid making a preliminary round and more.
How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Swedish EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Sweden?
In Sweden, the general opinion is that they are afraid that it will lose some of the charm of the European Cup. Even if it is rather favourable to them that there is a new European competition where they will finally have the chance to show themselves and compete agains teams os a fimilar level. We expect to be able to see the enthusiasm that will be there and if it will not be a competition a little like the Intertoto Cup in the past, neglected by many in particular in terms of TV rights.
But on the one hand, the fans of the clubs often off the podium but close to the top three, are delighted to have such a competition to finally measure against other countries outside of friendlies, to be able to better gauge themselves at the European level as well as give interesting trips to make.
Nevertheless, in Sweden, the schedule is very busy with sometimes 3 matches in one week with the championship going only from April to November in a calendar year. And already some clubs have consequences with the Europa League in terms of results in the league, so with an extra competition for some teams, it could cause problems in addition to the calendar.
What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?
All the opposite that they are currently doing, unfortunately, ie to make a competition reserved almost in the top 5 to increase TV rights – it only widens the gap between the championships and clubs that cannot compete financially.
I think it’s not at all the spirit of the European Cup when we see Ajax this year in half or in the past of the Swedish exploits like the final of the Champions League of Malmö 1978-1979 and the two UEFA Cup titles of IFK Göteborg 1982 and 1987.
It had already become difficult so it will be impossible to review performances like this and I find it a shame as these competitions are also a promotion of Europe and open-minded fans get to discover different countries and clubs that they would not usually visit. Fortunately, the Europa League remains more open and diverse at the country level.
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Author: Tom Mortimer
Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.