Just days after taking over as the coach of the Swedish national soccer team, Erik Hamrén ran smack into his first controversy.
by Chipp Reid
It didn’t take long for the newest coach of the Swedish national soccer team to run into controversy.
Erik Hamrén took over as manager Nov. 4 from Lars Lagerbäck, who resigned after Sweden failed to reach the finals of the 2010 World Cup. The 54-year-old Hamrén is also the head coach of Norwegian superpower Rosenborg and previously coached Örgryte and AIK in the Allsvenskan as well as Aalborg in Denmark.
The new manager had just two days in which to name a team for a friendly against Italy and that was when the controversy arose. Hamren intentionally left superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic off his roster. When asked why, the new manager was characteristically blunt.
"There is a name missing - that of Zlatan. He does not know if he wants to continue playing in the national side. You cannot force a horse to drink. I want motivated players in the national side,” Hamrén said at press conference Nov. 8 announcing his side. "I had hoped for a better start. I was surprised. I don't want to go into the reasons for this but it's something that (Zlatan) has been thinking about for a long time.”
It took two days, but the answer from the Ibrahimovic camp was just as pointed.
"A player with Zlatan's status should be able to have the right to reflect in peace without being put under pressure in this fashion," agent Mino Raiola said. "I would have acted differently. This risks aggravating the situation.”
Ibrahimovic, with 22 goals in 62 internationals, is Sweden’s highest-profile star on the world stage. He recently set a record for transfer fees when he moved from Inter Milan in Italy to Barcelona in Spain.
The 28-year-old Ibrahimovic won his fourth-straight Golden Ball Nov. 9 for his exploits with Inter Milan ahead of his move to Barca as well as in the yellow and blue of his country. However, Ibrahimovic has never enjoyed the type of success with the national team that he has in club football, one reason why the moody star is considering an early exit from the international stage.
Critics say Ibrahimovic often looks unmotivated when he plays for the national team. He had a very public – and some say childish – falling out with Lagerbäck prior to the 2004 European Championships in which he refused to play for the national team for nearly two months.
Proponents, however, say great talent comes at a price and Ibrahimovic is arguably the best footballer to emerge from Sweden since the great Nils Liedholm in 1948.
Either way, the media blasted Hamrén, worrying his comments could hasten the striker's eventual exit from the international arena.
The criticism had little effect on the new national team coach, who is to remain in charge of Rosenborg until next summer. Hamren earned a reputation for discovering and developing new talent as well as for finding players in unusual places. He nearly single-handedly began the influx of Brazilian players to Sweden when he signed Valter Tomas Jr and Alvaro Santos while coaching Örgryte and he continued this trait with Aalboard and Rosenborg.
Hamren picked former Örgryte Marcus Allbäck as one of his assistant coaches. Sweden plays Italy Nov. 18.