Lagerbäck: Tactics over fancy footwork

Lagerbäck: Tactics over fancy footwork
Sweden's national football coach Lars Lagerbäck, dubbed "the qualifier king" after leading the team to a record five straight major tournaments, is seen as a master tactician who prefers a strictly organized game over flashy play.

Once criticized in the Swedish media for his preference for a less-than-entertaining style of play, Lagerbäck, 59, has won the respect of even the toughest critics after taking Sweden to the European championships in 2000, 2004 and 2008 and the World Cup in 2002 and 2006.

Calm and collected during games, Lagerbäck is usually seen slowly pacing the sidelines in his track suit, arms crossed over his chest and his lips pursed.

His reputation in the media is that of being curt and taciturn.

While he insists the label is undeserved he makes no secret of the fact that he thinks the media takes up too much of his time and that he just wants to focus on the job.

A lower league player in Sweden with Alby FF and Gimonäs CK, Lagerbäck began his coaching career in 1977 with Kilafors.

He was recruited as the national youth coach in 1990 and doubled as a scout for opposing teams abroad. He thrived in the job, and was promoted to the national squad’s assistant coach under Tommy Söderberg in 1998.

He became co-coach alongside Söderberg two years later, when the pair led the team to the 2000 European championships with a stunning qualifying victory over England.

After the 2002 World Cup and the Euro 2004, Söderberg bowed out and Lagerbäck took over single billing, hiring former national side player Roland Andersson as his assistant coach.

“I certainly feel, going round the world, that Sweden are afforded a great deal more respect now than they were when I first became involved,” he said in a recent interview with the sports’ world governing body FIFA.

“Results are a big part of that, but I do feel that people now appreciate that we have a lot of very good footballers on our team.

“We certainly score a lot more goals now than when I first took the job, and that’s something I’m quite proud of.”

Sweden currently boasts stars like like Inter Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, injury-prone West Ham winger Fredrik Ljungberg and Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg, who is bound for Serie A giants Juventus.

But Lagerbäck allows little room for egos on the squad.

He expects “full participation, individual responsibility, respect and solidarity” from each player.

“We’re a team doing this job and all of those things are needed. A player who is pulling in another direction than the rest of the group won’t make the cut no matter how good they are,” he said last year.

Lagerbäck had initially said he would step down after Euro 2008, but earlier this year he signed a two-year extension to his contract taking him through to 2010.