Players are shifting around during the time leading up to the first kick-offs later this spring. (Above: Denni Avdic battles Serkan Balci)
Avdic off to Germany
Elfsborg striker Denni Avdic signed with Werder Bremen in the German Bundesliga after the two clubs agreed on a 22 million kronor ($3.2 million) transfer fee. Avdic, 22, sscored a league-high 21 goals last season, although his production fell off in the fall.
The sale, which most officials with Elfsborg expected, touched off something of an internal argument as to who head coach Magnus Haglund might pencil into his spot. Team captain Anders Svensson, in an interview with Web site fotbolldirekt.se, said he thinks the club already has enough strikers.
“We have James Keene, Amadou Jawo och Fredrik Berglund,” he said. “Sure, 22 million is good money, but I don’t think we should just rush out and spend it on anyone. We have three really good players in Keene, Jawo and of course, Fredrik Berglund, plus we have three or four young players we can bring up.”
Elfsborg General Manager Stefan Andreasson, however, believes the club must add some more muscle up front as it prepares to venture once more in the UEFA Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup. In addition to Avdic, Teddy Lucic, Jari Ilola, Mathias Florén, Joakim Wulff and Martin Andersson all left the club over the winter, creating numerous holes Andreasson must fill.
The club is currently in talks with Tobias Grahn of Mjällby and Peter Larsson at FC Copenhagen and is also said to be interested in Åtvidaberg striker Roger Moller. Elfsborg has a war chest of nearly 60 million kronor ($9 million) with which to pursue players.
Ekstrand v. Zlatan
Helsingborg defender Joel Ekstrand may soon find himself marking Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the 21-year-old signed a deal to move to Udinese in the Italian Serie A. Zlatan is a star forward for AC Milan.
Ekstrand agreed to terms with Udinese Jan. 12 after the clubs agreed on a 15 million kronor ($2.2 million) transfer fee. An Under-21 international, Ekstrand was among the top defenders in the Allsvenskan last year.
“This is a dream come true for me,” he said. “To play in Italy, which is a huge football country and has won the World Cup, it’s really just a dream.”
Udinese is currently eighth in the Italian Serie A.
Barcelona connection helps Halmstad
Halmstad’s new head coach wasted little time in tapping his contacts in Spain to rope in a top player to bring to Sweden. Josep Clotet Ruiz vowed to bring an up-tempo, Spanish style game to Halmstad and what better way to get his group of Swedes, Finns and others into the flow by bringing in a Spaniard.
Halmstad signed Ivan Diaz, a 32-year-old former teammate of Spanish stars Xavi Alonso and David Puyol to a two-year deal. Diaz moves to Sweden from La Liga club Espanyol, where was a fixture on the team’s B-side.
Ruiz, on taking over as Halmstad manager, said he planned to teach his team how to play “high rhythm football,” the style most teams play in Spain. Under the system, players pressure the ball and try to force an opponent into mistakes. Ruiz said he believes Halmstad, with its mix of players, could easily learn the system.
Malmö continues to dodge transfer bullet
Despite rampant rumors to the contrary, Malmö FF management continues to say it believes it can keep the core of its championship team intake going into the start of the 2011 Allsvenskan. Under-21 internationals Jiloan Hamad, Guillermo Molins, Agon Mehmeti, Daniel Larsson and most recently, Johan Dahlin, have all been linked to various clubs in Europe. So far, however, none of the alleged offers have come through.
“We have contracts on all of our players, so if anyone does make an offer, it won’t be cheap,” said Malmö general manager Pelle Svensson. “We read the same reports that our players are all leaving, but we don’t have any offers.”
The five youngsters all played starring roles last year as Malmö claimed the 2010 Allsvenskan title. Svensson said the club has held numerous meetings during the offseason to discuss what it would do should its highly coveted group of young players all bolt en masse. Svensson said the club is determined to make a good show in the Champions League and all five players are important to those plans.
Sigurdsson turns down offer from Maccabi Haifa
IFK Göteborg defender Ragnar Sigurdsson spurned an offer to join Israeli side Maccabi Haifa for a reported 13 million kronor ($1.9 million) transfer fee. IFK agreed to the deal, but the Icelandic international turned down the chance to move, saying, “Israel is not the right place for me.”
Sigurdsson then signed a three-year extension with the club, making head coach Jonas Olsson and IFK’s fans happy. The big center back is exceedingly popular with the fans, although he didn’t close the door on leaving.
“I would love to play for a big club in Europe,” he said, “but I have no wish to play in Israel. It’s just not the right place for me.”
IFK general manager Hakan Mild said the offer from Haifa was the only one the club has received so far for Sigurdsson.
Ljungberg makes debut for Celtic
Glasgow Celtic fans had a familiar sight on Jan 9, a Swede wearing the vaunted No. 7 jersey, only, it wasn’t Henrik Larsson. It was Freddy Ljungberg.
The 33-year-old Ljungberg signed with Celtic after he left Major League Soccer club Chicago Fire. He played in his first match Jan. 9 against Berwick Rangers in a Scottish Cup match, donning the No. 7 jersey Larsson made famous during his five years with Celtic.
The move to Glasgow marks a return to European football for Ljungberg, who signed with the expansion Seattle Sounders of MLS in 2008. He spent nearly two years in Seattle before moving to Chicago last summer in a trade.
Although he showed signs of not having played since the late fall, Celtic teammate and fellow Swede Daniel Majstrovic said he could see the quality in the play of the former Arsenal star.
“We have Freddie now and we need to give him time," said the defender, “but we can already see the calmness he brings, the character and the quality he has on the pitch. He makes a difference to us, for sure.”