AIK and Göteborg are the odds-on favorites for the 2010 Allsvenskan championship, but they are just two of five teams with legitimate shots at the title. The 2010 Allsvenskan kicks off March 13 and this season, don’t expect much in the way of surprises.
by Chipp Reid
Aftonbladet, Expressen, Svenska Dagbladet and Göteborgsposten all expect 2010 to be a repeat of 2009 with AIK Solna and IFK Göteborg battling for the title. The Stockholm papers, with a little bit of pride, point to AIK repeating while the western papers think IFK has what it takes to grab the crown.
Right now, both teams have more than enough talent to make the Allsvenskan a two-horse race from the opening day. AIK lost starting goalkeeper Daniel Örlund to Norwegian super team Rosenborg but no one expects the Gnaget to suffer. Göteborg didn’t lose a starter.
How long each team remains intact could well decide who wins the Lennart Johansson Trophy. IFK striker Tobias Hysén, in something of a shock, re-signed with the club over the winter. French, Spanish and Italian teams were all interested in picking up the 27-year-old Swedish international who scored 18 goals last season.
AIK also got a surprise when mercurial Liberian defensive midfielder Dulee Johnson returned to the fold. Rumors had Johnson heading to England or France but the lure of Champions League was enough for him to return.
The top teams also caught a break as the winter transfer window usually doesn’t hurt them too bad. European clubs can make player moves twice—August and December. Since the Swedes are already on break in December, the transfer season that tends to pull teams apart comes in August as many European leagues are gearing up to begin while the Allsvenskan is in full swing.
AIK and Göteborg are ripe targets for European clubs in the later window. Media “experts” all seem to agree that AIK midfielders Markus Jonsson and Johnson along with Argentine striker Ivan Obolo are likely to leave the club in the summer transfer season. These same experts expect Göteborg to lose Hysen, midfielders Daniel Alexandersson and Gustav Svensson, defender Ragnar Sigurdsson and goalkeeper Kim Christensen. Should events prove the so-called experts correct, the 2010 champions could well be the team that picks up the most talent.
AIK took one step toward that goal when it signed Uruguyan Sebastien Eguren on loan from Spanish club Villareal. Göteborg, meanwhile, along with Hammarby and Elfsborg, is making a major play to sign former Swedish international Tobias Linderoth, on the outs with Turkish club Galatasaray, and Rasmus Lindgren, a young midfield talent currently with Ajax Amsterdam in Holland.
Elfsborg could well be the wildcard in the championship mix. The Boras side has blown away its preseason opponents, with striker James Keene in midseason form. The Englishman has 10 goals in just four matches. Elfsborg also could have the signing of the year in 19-year-old Liberian midfielder Amadaiya Rennie. African media call Rennie the “Liberian Zlatan” after Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Elfsborg may need him as rumors tie midfielders Emir Bajrami to Sporting Lisbon and Stefan Ishizaki to Basel in Switzerland.
Right now, however, Rennie could give Elfsborg the best midfielder trio in the Allsvenskan and with Keene on target up front, the Boras side could be tough to beat.
Perennial underachiever, Malmö, rounds out the top four contenders. Head coach Roland Nilsson finally has his band of international castoffs and megastar wannabes playing like a team and when they do, they’re tough to beat.
Nilsson apparently solved the problems Malmö had in the midfield by shifting former Superettan scoring champ Wilton Figueiredo from striker to the attacking midfield role. The switch gives the Brazilian more room to create while keeping him right in the offensive mix.
Malmö also brought in a Spanish assistant coach to help Nilsson and that could well make the difference for MFF. Josep Clotet Ruiz was the B-team coach at La Liga club Espanyol and knows how to deal with a mix of international players. Malmö has players from Africa, South America, Norway, Denmark and Finland as well as Sweden.
The only real question Malmö has is in goal. Jonas Sandqvist left the club during the winter for Amartois in France. Johan Dahlin and Ulrich Vincents are ready to battle for the job but both have had injury problems in the preseason.
The team no one seems to give any credit is Kalmar. The 2008 champions are going into their first season without any of the magical Elm brothers—David, Rasmus and Patrik—who were integral in bringing Kalmar its first-ever Swedish championship. Kalmar got a glimpse of life without the Elms in the second half of last season and if any trainer can find a way to cope, its Nanne Bergstand.
Kalmar rose to prominence by bringing in Brazilian players and, unlike other clubs, grouping them together rather than sprinkling them throughout the lineup. This season, Bergstrand has four Brazilian strikers and one Brazilian midfielder from which to choose, including Daniel Mendes, who led the club in scoring last season, and Ricardo, whom many Brazilian reporters hail as the next Juninho.
Kalmar could also benefit from coming in below the Allsvenskan radar. Since few journalists and “experts” believe the little club can compete for the title, Kalmar can play without the pressure of being a favorite.
IFK Göteborg is banking on Tobias Hysén to lead it to the 2010 Allsvenskan title. Bildbyran photo