The New Era of Swedish Football

June 12th, 2022; day three of 78 during a life-changing jaunt throughout Sweden. I found myself sitting alongside my friend Agnes at Glenn Sports Bar in the Gamlestan neighborhood of Göteborg. The Strömburgare was delicious. The Lökringar had the perfect balance of crisp. The Omnipollo Nebuchadnezzar, well, it’s one of the best beers you will ever try.


While the fare and company on that particular evening was what one could have hoped for, what transpired on the man flatscreens on Glenn’s walls was hardly anything to write home about; Sweden’s 3-2 loss against rivals Norway at Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadion.


Lucas Bergvall: The Highly Coveted Swedish Prospect Headed for Tottenham Hotspur


Blågult suffered their third defeat in succession which culminated in a five-match winless run (0-1-4) under then headmaster Janne Andersson that would see them fall to UEFA Nations League C. Perhaps the most staggering aspect of it all, especially that night, was that no one was surprised by the result. For most, if not all, it was pre-ordained before a single ball was struck in anger.


It was, at least on paper, a dramatic change that was just one year removed from a Swedish side that topped their group at UEFA Euro 2020 ahead of perennial powerhouse Spain before bowing out in the round of 16 in a 2-1 extra time loss against Ukraine at Hampden Park.


Since then, the Nordic nation continued a downward spiral which culminated with Andersson stepping down from his post after Sweden failed to quality for the European Championship for the first time since 1996. This came on the back of a dismal campaign which included a shock 3-0 loss against Azerbaijan as well as a pair of defeats at the hands of a resurgent Austria under former Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick.


So much more was expected from Andersson after the Halmstad-born manager led his countrymen to a quaterfinal appearance at the 2018 World Cup, which once again included a group-topping display, this time, ahead of Mexico, South Korea, and a Germany side making a beeline to international turmoil. 



Though Andersson led Sweden to it’s best tournament appearance since 1994, much like in the Euro’s that would soon follow, results often flattered to deceive. 


In the wake of Andersson’s abdication from his seat of power at Friends Arena came a changing of the guard in the vein of former Danish talisman Jon Dahl Tomasson. The joint-all-time leading goalscore for De Rød-Hvide, Tomasson is the first non-Swede to manage the national team since George Raynor. If Raynor’s success at the 1958 World Cup is anything to go by, many will hope for a similar impact from the Dane in the technical area. 


Tomasson has hardly pulled up trees so far during the early days of his tenure, however, with Sweden being battered in a 5-2 debut loss against Portugal before skirting by in a narrow 1-0 win over Albania during the recent international break in a performance that was hardly anything to write home about.


BK Häcken: The Unlikely Title of Sweden’s Forgotten Son


What perhaps continues to baffle on the surface, and has done so for quite some time, is the notion that while the national set up may not be glistening with a bevy of top class talent in all areas of the pitch in comparison to the continental powers that be, Sweden can still boast very credible options in their own right. This holds truest across in the forward line. 


Given that this is an area where Blågult have hardly struggled across its history, and perhaps one of the chief remits in the early doors of Tomasson’s regime should be to highlight the attacking talent that Sweden have largely been able to call upon across the vast majority of its footballing journey.


It goes without saying how vital Zlatan Ibrahimović was to the national team setup (where he went on to become Sweden’s all-time leading scorer) during a glistening career that took him from Malmö FF to the very pinnacle of continental achievement with AFC Ajax, Inter Milan, FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint Germain, and Manchester United. 


Before Zlatan, and all his “isms,” there was Henrik Larsson, Kennet Andersson, Martin Dahlin, Gunnar Gren, Sven Rydell, and the legendary Gunnar Nordahl; a name that is still remembered in the streets of Milan for goalscoring exploits that are all-but-guaranteed to never be surpassed. 



But for all the attacking talent listed above, and the cadre of other notable talents that have also donned yellow and blue (the likes of Tomas Brolin, Anders Svensson, Sebastian Larsson, and Kim Källström come to mind), the same level of quality has been few and far between in the center of the park as well as across the back line for quite some time. Therein lies the problem. Much like years past, the current player pool which Tomasson can draw resources from is not without talent up front. 


Of course, there is Newcastle United’s Alexander Isak, and Sporting’s Viktor Gyökeres; both of whom are having career seasons for their employers. Added to the pair is Tottenham Hotspur star Dejan Kulusevski, Nottingham Forest talent Anthony Elanga, and Union Saint-Gilloise’s Gustaf Nilsson, who has been vital during the ongoing fairytale that has been USG’s resurgence into a domestic power.


Further still, Tomasson has young attacking stars chomping at the bit to make their mark for Sweden in the coming years, wiith starlet Roony Bardghji (18), Sebastian Nanasi (21), and Momodou Sonko (19) making a name for themselves at FC København, Malmö, and KAA Gent respectively.



However, as highlighted by Associated Press writer Steve Douglas back in November of 2023, was Janne Andersson’s tenure being hampered by what was described as a “overly pragmatic and old-fashioned” tactical approach, with calls for a far younger and more modern thinker to take the reigns with both hands and stear Sweden away from rocky shoals. 


With Tomasson, the hope is that his success at Malmö and his credible stint at Blackburn Rovers will translate into the international arena. But in order to truly tap into the goals just waiting to be unleashed, the Dane may have to put faith in the young guard in the center of the park in order to mould the national team into a team that can express itself creatively and with a touch of flair. And it just so happens that the new regime has been gifted access to a pair of budding starlets in Hugo Larsson and Lucas Bergvall; two highly-touted youngsters who have already caught the eye of some of Europe’s elite clubs.


Larsson, who currently plies his trade for Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, arrived in Germany’s financial center last summer for a Swedish record transfer fee (received) and has already made a name for himself at Deutsche Bank Park. 


The Svarte-born Larsson has drawn comparisons to both Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne for his ability to sit deep as a number six but also boasting technical quality and ball-playing ability in equal measure. So, it may come as no surprise that Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham have all been linked with potential interest in a summer move for the Die Adler midfielder.


Williot Swedberg: Sweden’s Next Top Talent


As for Bergvall, the gifted midfielder is already set to join Spurs in a matter of months after rejecting a potential move to Barcelona in favor of a move to north London. Having been taunted as a similar profile to that of England and Real Madrid star Jude Bellingham, there are already massive expectations surrounding Bergvall, who has already been slapped with the wonderkid label after his rise through the ranks at IF Brommapojkarna and current club Djugården IF.


If Sweden has any chance of being reimagined under Tomasson, he may very well have to build around a young midfield duopoly and ride the tide, but it would hardly be deemed far fetched; just ask Spain when it comes to La Masia graduates Gavi and Pedri.


Given that both Larsson and Bergvall bring technical craft and ball-playing ability that could help usher in a move away from tactical regidity in the name of embracing modernity, this certainly could also help unlock Isak, Gyökeres, Kulusevski, Elanga, et al.


Player Analysis: Anthony Elanga


Only Isak (10) and aging star attacking midfielder Emil Forsberg (21) can boast double-digit goal tally’s in the squad, while Gyökeres’ six goals in 21 caps is a far cry from the otherworldly numbers he is putting up in Portugal’s capital under Rúben Amorim.


As we have seen across Swedish history, it is so often young(er) visionaries that have played a vital role in shaping her story. Be it Gustavus Adolphus and his military genius which helped transform Sweden into a military powerhouse in 17th century Europe, or the late Avicii, who is credited with forever changing the landscape by helping to usher electronic music into the forefront of the industry, maybe it’s time for Tomasson to put a little faith in some youthful exuberance. 


By: Andrew Thompson / @GeecheeKid

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images