• Sweden edition
 
'I'd love to play for Sweden'

'I'd love to play for Sweden'

Published: 12 May 2008 12:01 GMT+02:00
Updated: 12 May 2008 12:01 GMT+02:00

David Bartram looks at Swedish football in transition: Elfsborg's English import reveals that he would jump at the opportunity to play for Sweden, while Glenn Hysén worries about the influx of foreign players.

Swedish football has long exported top players and managers to the rest of Europe, but there are signs that the trend is beginning to reverse.

This season Sweden’s top flight boasts more foreign players than ever before, all hoping to become stars in a new country just as the likes of Freddie Ljungberg and Zlatan Ibrahimović have across Europe.

Just one of the many foreign imports is James Keene, an English striker who was only 19 when he made the switch from Premier League Portsmouth to the Allsvenskan.

“It all happened really quickly,” Keene remembers, “I was playing at Portsmouth and had made a few appearances when the assistant manager Jim Smith asked me if I would be interested in moving to Sweden for a year to get some experience.”

Smith had received a call from Roland Nilsson, then manager of GAIS and a coach he had worked with at Coventry in 2002. The two had kept in touch and when Nilsson asked if Portsmouth had any players available for loan, Smith was happy to recommend Keene.

“Jim came to me and told me about the opportunity to get some first team experience. I didn’t find it to hard to adapt, and my now-wife moved with me too which made things easier. The biggest difference was the game. It is far less physical than back home in England. I remember getting booked in my first match.”

Keene finished his first year at GAIS as the club’s top scorer, catching the attention of some of Sweden’s bigger teams before completing a move to reigning champions IF Elfsborg. Despite emerging as one of the league’s best strikers, he still dreams of a return to the Premiership one day.

“It was hard to break through at Portsmouth. You look at them now and sometimes they only play one or two English players, but then that’s why they have done so well.

“Of course it’s everyone’s goal to play at the top level, and at the moment that is the Premier League, but I am happy where I am for the time being.

Despite this new wave of footballing immigrants, the Allsvenskan is still struggling. It places 28th in UEFA’s ranking of Europe’s top divisions, behind leagues in Cyprus, Slovakia and Israel. No Swedish team has reached the group stages of the Champions League since Helsingborg during the 2000/01 season.

The league is still considered by most as a stepping stone to the Premiership, or one of Europe’s other major leagues. Although both Ljungberg and Ibrahimović began their careers in Sweden, it was not long until they had signed lucrative contracts at Arsenal and Ajax respectively.

“A lot are looking to move to England or France,” Keene notes, “but the Swedish league is getting better all the time. More foreign players are arriving and more money is being invested. Perhaps it is going the way or the Premiership but then Sweden are at the European Championships and England aren’t.”

The influx of foreign players was helped last December with a ruling which saw the Swedish Football Federation (SFF) remove its cap on non-European players. Previously clubs were only permitted to field three players from non-European countries.

At the time Helsingborg director Bo Nilsson, a team renowned for its foreign contingent, heralded the decision as a “victory” for his club. Malmö and Liberia defender Jimmy Dixon claimed it would “give more opportunities to African footballers in Sweden.”

But some are concerned that it will stunt the development of young Swedish players. Former Sweden captain Glenn Hysén fears that Swedish clubs are signing too many mediocre foreign players.

“It is great if you can bring in a player from Brazil who is really good, like Alfonso Alves was, as it is someone the youngsters can look up to. The problem is we are bringing in players who are not good enough.

“The young Swedish players are not coming up as they don’t get a chance. It won’t be a problem right away but in the long run it will harm us. What happened in England could happen to Sweden. I think England did not qualify for the European Championships because the best players at each club are not English.”

Still, if Keene’s example is anything to go by, some of the Allsvenskan’s new talent is more interested in helping, rather than hindering, Sweden’s international prospects.

“It would be a great honour to play for any country. I have been here two years now and I think it takes five before you are eligible for the national side. I would love to play for Sweden, and if the opportunity came along I would definitely take it,” Keene says.

Perhaps Sweden’s football immigrants could prove a hit for both their clubs and the national team.

David Bartram (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat
Rickard Rundgren Björk of the coastguard services speaks to the media after the rescue operation on April 19th 2014. Photo: Maja Suslin /TT

Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat

Three Saturday morning sailors had a lucky escape after their small boat collided and sank after it crashed into a cruise ship whilst sailing in the Stockholm archipelago. READ () »

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK
Sofie Marie Jansson. Photo: Metropolitan Police

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK

British police have found the missing Swedish girl Sofie Jansson in London, exactly a week after she was last seen, with authorities saying she is doing well. READ () »

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Sweden's opposition party have stepped up its efforts to secure the pensioner vote by pledging to lower taxes for the elderly and make higher earners pay more. READ () »

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend
Showan Shattak pictured in Malmö before his attack. Photo: Facebook

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend

The 25-year-old man, whose stabbing by neo-Nazis sparked mass demonstrations across Sweden, has made a strong recovery in hospital and took to social media to thank supporters for campaigning against fascism. READ () »

Police seeking missing Swede in London

British police have issued a plea for tips in the search to find Swedish national Sofie Marie Jansson who hasn't been seen for almost a week. READ () »

University applications rocket to record high

University applications rocket to record high

Swedish universities continue to draw vast amounts of applicants with the number of prospective students seeking a third level education increasing for the seventh year in a row. READ () »

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot
Swedish artist Lars Vilks pictured in New York in 2012. Photo: Linus Sundahl-Djerf/TT

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot

American authorities have sentenced a 20-year-old accomplice of 'Jihad Jane' to five years in prison for an attempted terror plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, after getting involved with the murder plans when he was a teenager. READ () »

Sweden scraps 'new start zones' after EU input
Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag visits a school in Tensta, one of the neighbourhoods mentioned when he and his colleagues first floated the new start zone proposal. File: TT

Sweden scraps 'new start zones' after EU input

Sweden has abandoned a plan to ease taxes for small companies in blighted areas after the European Commission challenged its legality. READ () »

'Easter eggs an invitation to spread germs'
A typical Swedish Easter egg. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

'Easter eggs an invitation to spread germs'

A Swedish microbiologist has warned that traditional Swedish Easter eggs laden with candy are an open invitation to the spread of bacteria and viruses. "Is this really a good idea?" he asked. READ () »

Jammed truck snarls Stockholm rush hour
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Jammed truck snarls Stockholm rush hour

PICTURES: A truck got wedged inside a tunnel in central Stockholm on Thursday, with authorities concerned the accident may have damaged cables in the tunnel's ceiling. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Advertisement:
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
TT
Politics
Swedes to give six-hour workday a go
TT
Society
Aussie choir member wows Abba in Sweden
YouTube
Society
Stockholm magic a surprise YouTube hit
Fastighetsbyrån
Society
Gallery: The Local's Property of the Week
Private
Society
Swedes find 200-year-old gravestone in living room
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Deepti Vashisht
Features
Deepti Vashisht dissects the magic of Sweden's personal ID number
Shutterstock
Society
Ten signs you've been in Sweden too long
Society
Jimi Fritze heard every word when doctors discussed taking his organs
Society
A Swedish farmer explains why the new bestiality ban is 'pointless'
ESL
Sponsored Article
Learning Swedish the easy way
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

744
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com