By Chipp Reid
At a time when most people his age are thinking about rocking chairs and condos in Boca Raton, Trelleborg manager Tom Prahl is enjoying his new start with his old team.
The 61-year-old, two-time Swedish champion took over as Trelleborg manager last year and had an immediate effect. The small team from southern Sweden was a perennial contender for relegation but under Prahl, Trelleborg found stability. It is one of the reasons club director Lasse Larsson said he hired Prahl.
“Any time a coach the quality of Tom Prahl is available, you get him,” Larsson said. “It was a very pleasant surprise that we were able to hire him as our coach and we’re very happy to have him.”
Prahl, for his part, is happy to be back. He returned to Swedish football after a somewhat unhappy 18-month stint as manager of Norwegian side Stavanger.
“After I left Norway I thought about retiring,” he said. “I really did, but then I thought maybe it was too early to stop being a trainer and I wanted to stay in the game. It’s what I do. I have to earn a living, so I was glad when Trelleborg gave me the offer.”
While he has seen just about everything a football trainer can over his career, from lower-division matches in front of sparse crowds to European Champion League games in packed stadiums, Prahl said each day is new.
“I feel I can still develop as a coach. I can discover new methods of training and work with new people,” he said. “It’s a challenge to build a new team and I still enjoy it.”
Prahl began his coaching career at Trelleborg. In 1994, he helped lead the club to its best-ever result: third place in the Allsvenskan and a birth in the UEFA Cup. Trelleborg knocked out English Premiership side Blackburn Rovers before losing to Italian giants in the third round on a 95th-minute goal in Rome. It marked one of the last times a mostly amateur side advanced that far in a European tournament.
Larsson said Prahl’s ability to work with young talent was one of the main reasons the club wanted him back.
“We’re not a big team and we need a coach that is hungry to develop talent,” Larsson. “He did a great job with us back in the 1990s and we’re sure he is the trainer we need now.”
Trelleborg is so sure it gave Prahl a three-year extension the day after Trelleborg opened the 2010 Allsvenskan with a 0-0 draw against Halmstad. It was almost ironic the new contract came after that match as Prahl rose to prominence guiding Halmstad to the top of Swedish football. He won the Allsvenskan twice with HBK, in 1997 and 2000 and claimed medals in four consecutive seasons over that span.
“I think it was a little easier to be a trainer back then because the players weren’t fully professional,” Prahl said. “Today, they move all the time looking for the most money. It’s one of the bigger problems in Swedish football because even clubs in Denmark and Norway can pay more.”
Although the gold medals made headlines, Prahl said he takes more pride in the players he developed while at the helm in Halmstad. His teams included Fredrik Ljungberg, Mikael Nilsson, Mikael Svensson, Stefan Selakovic, Hakan Svensson and Petter Hansson.
“I was very lucky to have so many good, young players,” Prahl said. “It was something of a unique situation.”
At Trelleborg, Prahl once again has the opportunity to develop younger players as the small club simply doesn’t have the financial resources to go out and buy talent.
“No, we can’t do that. We don’t have the money,” Prahl said. “We have to develop players and watch players in the lower divisions. We’re the smallest club in the Allsvenskan and maybe we can’t compete for the gold medal but I think with the right mix of players we can maybe get a medal.”
The 2010 Trelleborg squad features a mix of players that have come up through the club’s developmental squads as well as players released from other teams. What makes Trelleborg completely different from other teams, however, is every player is a Swede.
“We don’t have any foreign players,” Prahl said. “We’re going in a different direction than other clubs. It’s a decision we have made to develop our local players.”
The influx of foreign players, especially Brazilians, has accelerated in recent years. Prahl said he thinks the overall impact on Swedish football of the Latin players is good.
“There is still room for young Swedish players,” he said, “but I think the overall quality of Swedish football has improved. When the national plays with just domestic players it does very well.”
One development Prahl doesn’t like is the free market mentality many players now have about football.
“There aren’t a lot of players who really have their heart in a club,” he said. “We used to have that and I think we have some of that here in Trelleborg, but it is very rare. Players have a big heart for their team but not for the club. Now, players are really just looking out for themselves and going to the clubs willing to pay the most. It’s not bad or good. It’s just the reality.”
Pragmatic to the end, the Trelleborg manager said he wasn’t setting his sights too high for Trelleborg. Apart from developing his younger players, Prahl said he would like to accomplish one more thing in his already storied career.
“I’d like to win a medal again with Trelleborg,” he said. “I think maybe we can do it. If we can play better on the road and play as well as we did at home as we did last year, who knows? It’s a dream, but I think we can do it.”