AIK's lost season hit a new low when head coach Michael Stahre bolted from the club while the defending champions continued to lose matches.
by Chipp Reid
After weeks of speculation and rancor, the defending Allsvenskan champion AIK parted ways with its head coach as Michael Stahre left the team to take over Greek First Division Panionos.
Stahre was on the hot seat at AIK from the opening day of the season as the 2009 Swedish champions staggered their way out of the game. AIK is currently in second-to-last place in the league and has the most anemic offense in the league, scoring just seven goals in 11 games to date. Stahre’s departure also comes at one of the roughest stretches of the season for the Gnaget as AIK must play five matches in two weeks as the Allsvenskan rushes to reach the halfway point before taking a month-long break for the 2010 World Cup.
According to the club, Stahre simply couldn’t say no when the Greek side came calling. Stahre informed AIK on April 26 that he was in talks with Panionos, and later the same day he signed a three-year deal to coach the team.
“The timing is not the one I liked, but to be the head coach of the AIK is the best job you can have in football in Sweden,” Stahre told the official AIK Web site.
He denied the poor start and pressure from the club directors to improve results had anything to do with the decision.
"This is completely my own decision. I have always felt AIK's support, but want to try my skills in an international club,” Stahre said. "There are few opportunities for a Swedish coach to work outside of Scandinavia.”
Still, the nightmare start to the season certainly made his decision easier. The league, newspapers and blogging sites were all alive with rumors of heated meetings between Stahre and the board of directors. Stahre also received heat for what seemed like an inability to attract new players to AIK to replace key elements from the 2009 championship, especially in the goal where the loss of Daniel Orlund left a gaping hole on defense and the departure of Ivan Obolo removed a huge element of the AIK offense.
Mats Gustavsson, chairman of AIK Fotboll AB, however, denied the reports of rancor or a split between coach and club.
“We have done what we could to keep Michael, but he has decided to take this chance,” Gustavsson said.
Stahre left AIK just before Round 9 in which the Gnaget played and lost 1-0 to Helsingborg. His replacement, Bjorn Wesström, now has the unenviable task of trying to rebuild the team’s shattered confidence while trying to pull it out of the basement. It could be a tall order.
Wesström was an assistant under the 34-year-old Stahre and was apparently the only name the club had on its list of replacements.
“We always wanted to look internally for a replacement and Bjorn was a natural choice,” said AIK spokeswoman Annela Yderberg. “He has been with AIK for 12 years and his qualities are well known.”
Wesström’s first match in charge came against league-leaders Helsingborg and once more, AIK played well in stretches but could not find the goal. It was the first of three-straight losses for Wesström, as AIK fell 4-0 to IFK Goteborg and lost the Stockholm derby 2-1 to Djurgarden.
AIK finally broke its losing streak and claimed just its second win of the season when it beat last place Trelleborg 1-0 May 9 at Rasunda Stadium. Brazilian striker Antonio Flavio, whom AIK expected to replace Obolo, scored his first goal of the season to lead AIK to the victory. For Wesström, the victory offered at least some margin of relief as the team heads into the World Cup break.
“We took what we needed out of our game plan,” Wesström said. “The point of football is to win. It is a damn lot more fun when you manage to do it.”
It wasn’t so fun May 12 when AIK travelled to Boras and received a 4-0 shellacking from Elfsborg. The loss crushed any of the good feelings left over from the Trelleborg and prompted team captain Nils-Erik Johansson to call for changes, although even the veteran defender admitted he wasn’t sure what to change.
“We need to do something, anything, and we need to do it as soon as possible,” Johansson said.
AIK closes out the first half at home May 17 against Atvidaberg. The month long break from matches, Johansson said, might just be the tonic AIK needs to salvage its season.
“Right now it feels pretty positive that it will,” he said. “It is an opportunity for us to play together with the league leaders without any pressure, but it is not only positive. It is not so fun to go into a break with this hanging over us.”