Euro 2016 was a very disappointing tournament for a Sweden side that some had hoped could cause a surprise. With a new format where some third placed teams made it through to the Round of 16, some felt Sweden could edge though their group and then match up against a bigger side. However they crashed out in the group stages and this exit signaled the end for three national team stalwarts. One time Arsenal superstar Kim Källström decided it was the end of the road for him after 131 appearances for the Blågult as did Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson after 133 appearances. Losing these players was tough for Sweden but the third star’s departure has left a hole that many worried would not be filled.
Zlatan Ibrahimović is Sweden’s all time top scorer and for so long held the weight of a nation on his shoulders. In Sweden, the concept of jämlikhet-or equality- has always been very important to people. Sweden is a society which values sharing and community, and encourages conformity while shunning rigid hierarchical structures. The national team usually embodied this idea with a strong team and collective culture. However, the most successful Sweden teams have had one or two players step up and break out from these cultural confines to become the star for whom the team works.
The earliest example of this was perhaps Gunnar Nordahl, who starred for IFK Norrkoping before moving to AC Milan where he scored 210 goals in just 257 games, scoring 43 goals in 33 games for the national team. Other players like Fredrik Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson have also served this ‘bigger than the team role’ but no one had done it like Nordahl until Zlatan came along. Zlatan was bigger than the team and every time another player got the ball they looked for Zlatan. Sweden were never the same when he was not playing.
In short then, Sweden needed a star to take the number ten shirt and try to fill the gap left by Zlatan. The man given that number was Emil Forsberg, currently of RB Leipzig. New manager Jarne Andersson hoped Forsberg could become Sweden’s new star and be that special player who could drag a solid team into a winning force.
Forsberg began his career at his local club GIF Sundsvall, making his debut in 2009 at the age of 17. Sundsvall have been a bit of a yo-yo club, moving between the Superettan, Sweden’s second tier, and the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s top tier. After being a bit part player in the 2009 season, which included at short loan at fourth tier side Medskogsbron, Forsberg established himself in the 2010 season. He played all 30 games as his side finished third and entered a promotion/relegation playoff which they lost 3-0 on aggregate to Allsvenskan side Gefle. Forsberg wasn’t downhearted for long and had a stellar 2011 season as bigger sides in Sweden began to take notice. He scored 11 goals in 27 games, as Sundsvall were promoted to Allsvenskan after finishing second.
This gave the young attacking midfielder a chance to shine at Sweden’s highest level and he grabbed the opportunity, scoring 6 goals in his 21 games and impressing the league’s bigger sides. Disappointingly though for Sundsvall they finished in the relegation play-off spot and were beaten 6-4 on aggregate by Halmstads BK. With his hometown club back in Superettan it was unlikely Forsberg was going to stay and when an offer came in from one of Sweden’s biggest clubs, Malmö, Forsberg moved on so he could test himself at a higher level.
He did superbly at Malmö, gaining experience of playing in Europe, and was an important part of the side that won titles in 2013 and 2014. 2014 was a particularly good season for the Swedish star, who scored 14 goals in 29 games and won the award for Allsvenskan midfielder of the year as well as being nominated for Swedish midfielder of the year. He was clearly becoming too good for Allsvenskan, and offers began coming in from Europe.
Despite bigger clubs chasing his signature, Forsberg decided that the most prudent step was to join a team where he would get to play. Impressed by the RB Leipzig project, Forsberg joined the then 2Bundesliga side and spent most of the 2014-15 season settling in and becoming an important part of the team. In the 2015-16 season Forsberg showed that he had grown and learnt. He was a superb presence in a side that secured promotion to the Bundesliga, scoring 8 goals in 32 games and winning the award for best player in the league.
This season was RB’s first in the Bundesliga as well as being Forsberg’s first time in a top five European league and both the team and Forsberg were expecting to take some time to adapt and learn. However RB raced up the table and locked horns with giants Bayern Munich and incredibly sat just behind the Bavarians as the league broke for winter. Forsberg’s season mirrored his sides- he was a revelation and provided a Bundesliga record 19 assists alongside scoring 8 goals. Despite falling away in the title challenge, Leipzig finished runners up and will play Champions League football next season. A great deal of that is down to Forsberg’s fantastic creativity and ability to assist others, which saw him named in the Bundesliga team of the season.
Alongside his incredible rise in club football, Forsberg has been becoming more and more important for Sweden and is now the player others seem to look for when they get the ball. In a recent, and very important qualifier against France, Forsberg was outstanding – running the game, making excellent passes and putting pressure on the France defence. He is clearly Sweden’s best player at the moment and will be critical if they are to make it to Russia.
The future looks very bright for the boy from Sundsvall and at only 25 years old he is only likely to improve and grow. There have been links to Premier League clubs with Arsenal and Liverpool interested, according to Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. Whether he stays or goes, he will get the chance to prove himself in the Champions League next season. Having risen to every challenge he has faced so far, don’t be surprised if he impresses the whole of Europe next season.
From: Jozef Brodala/@JozefBrodala