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The Year of the Rodent: Allsvenskan 2009

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The Year of the Rodent: Allsvenskan 2009
17:23 CET+01:00
As the SM Guld [Swedish championship gold medal] makes its way to Solna, Nic Townsend looks back at another eventful season in Sweden's premier football competition.

The Title Race

The season began with Elfsborg and IFK Göteborg as joint favourites but that was never going to mean much in a competition as even and unpredictable as the Allsvenskan. No less than six teams mounted credible challenges and in the starting weeks of the season it was Helsingborg and Malmö who looked the most primed.

However the Skåne clubs were inconsistent with Malmö being particularly erratic. Some weeks they were beaten by the likes of Elfsborg 5-0, other weeks scrapping 0-0 draws at home to Gelfe. Helsingborg initially looked more dependable but nosedived half way through the season registering only two wins in their final 13 games, including losses to struggling Örgryte and Djurgården.

After a slow start defending champions Kalmar went on a winning streak that saw them lose only one in12 games but it was not enough to catch up. Elfsborg looked solid and were undefeated for the first 13 games of the season, but a lack of scoring potency up front meant they often failed to convert dominance into goals and ended up amassing a whopping ten draws.

By October the race was reduced to two: IFK Göteborg and AIK. An old fashioned battle between two of Sweden's biggest clubs from the nation's two biggest cities. But the best part was that the two sides were scheduled to play each other in the last game of the season.

With a draw gifting the title to AIK, it was a game IFK needed to win, and with a sell-out home crowd behind them they scored first. But in the second half AIK's Antonio Flavio scored to give the ascendancy back to AIK, nicknamed Gnaget - the rodent. When Daniel Tjernström scored AIK's second in the 86th minute, the title was as good as won.

The Best Team

IFK scored an impressive 52 goals and by season's end had a goal difference so huge that it acted as an extra point. By contrast AIK scored a paltry 36, even less than 11th placed Gais. But as any coach will tell you, games are won and lost in defence, and AIK's was the best in the league. The dependable back four of Nils-Eric Johanasson, Marcus Jonsson, Per Karlsson and Jos Hooiveld conceded only 20 goals all season, while the deadly partnership of Ivan Obolo and Antonio Flavio up front produced the goals necessary to consistently win matches and consequently win the title.

Best Player

Tobias Hysén was the clear standout player of the season. The son of IFK legend Glenn Hysén maintained his family's dynasty by scoring 18 goals and continually producing dominant performances that nearly won the title for Göteborg.

Best Manager

A tough call between AIK's Mikael Stahre and Häcken's Peter Gerhardsson. In only his first season Stahre created a title winning team from a squad in disarray. Gerhardsson inherited a club from the northern suburbs of Gothenburg with a playing list made of up kids and discards from other clubs, and nearly took them to Europe.

The Underachievers

For Örgryte the season started disastrously with a 6-1 loss to Gais and barely got better. It took them another six games to earn their first point, and 14 games before their first win. By August they managed to grind out some wins and threatened to escape the drop zone but never reached higher than 14th and have gone straight back down to the Superettan after only one season.

They will be joined by the equally mediocre Hammarby who at times played like they just didn't care anymore. Djurgården, the most successful club in Sweden over the past decade, were equally dismal and conceded goals like a sieve. But a 2-0 win against a Kalmar side with nothing to play for in the final game of the season at least earned them a play-off spot.

The Overachievers

Having just been promoted from the Superettan, and continually losing their best players to bigger clubs, no one expected Häcken to do anything other than fight for survival. Yet the club spend most of the year in the top six and at one stage even looked an unlikely title contender. Beating archrivals IFK Göteborg 4-1 will go down in club folklore. Örebro, led by big Danish striker Kim Olsen, also defied all expectations to mount a serious challenge for a spot in Europe.

The Ball is Round and Other Things we Now Know about Swedish Football

The Allsvenskan is Still the Most Even Competition in Europe

Four years ago AIK were playing in the Superettan and Djurgården had just won their third title in four years. AIK can now look forward to Champions League qualifying while Djurgården will need to beat Assyriska in the coming weeks if they want to remain in the Allsvenskan. AIK's win also means that nine different teams have won the title in the past eleven seasons.

Young Swedes Don't Want to Play in Sweden

The Under 21s European Championships brought many of the Allsvenskan's talented youngsters to the attention of bigger European clubs and it didn't take long for the ransacking to begin. During the summer break IFK lost Pontus Wernbloom and Mattias Bjärsmyr to AZ Alkmaar and Panathinaikos respectively. Kalmar's Rasmus Elm also went to AZ Alkmaar and younger brother David to Fulham. Trelleborg's Rasmus Bengtsson went to Hertha Berlin, and Malmö's Labinot Harbuzi to Turkey's Gençlerbirliği.

Brazilians Are Bargains

The young Swedes might be leaving, but plenty of foreigners are moving in and no nationality is more popular than Brazilian. They're intrinsically skilful, got plenty of flair and most importantly they're cheap. Around twenty Brazilians currently play in Sweden and many have become key players in their respective clubs. Kalmar's trio of Daniel Mendes, Ricardo Santos and Sobralense were integral to their title challenge. Gais' Wanderson, who along with Tobias Hysén was the season's highest goal scorer, arguably saved the club from relegation. Malmö's Wilton Figueiredo and Ricardinho, Örgryte's Alvaro Santos and Häcken's Paulinho were also key players at their respective clubs. As the Swedish winter sets in many managers will be heading back to South America, and it won't be because of the sun.

Sweden are Small Fry in Europe

It is now over ten years since a Swedish club played in the group stages of the Champions League, and this year Swedish clubs suffered one of their worst European seasons yet. Not one Swedish club even looked close to making the group stages of either the Champions League or Europa League. Sweden's UEFA co-efficient will take a battering, and the days of IFK winning UEFA Cups or Malmö playing in European Cup finals have never looked further away.

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