Few players in the Allsvenskan have the pedigree of Örebro goalkeeper John Alvbåge. National team member, World Cup veteran and year in and year out one of the top net minders in Swedish football, Alvbåge should be a household name.
He isn’t and his at-times near-anonymity doesn’t bother him as much as it motivates him.
“This is my 11th year at the highest professional level, so I know how newspapers work and media work,” Alvbåge said. “Every year there is a young, talented goalkeeper people want to talk about. For me it’s fun to be a goalkeeper who maybe isn’t so young but when people say, ‘John is a quality goalkeeper,’ it means that I have been holding steady at a high quality. It may be more interesting to talk about new kids but I take it as a positive that many people say I am always having good quality play that I play on a stable level almost every game.”
Alvbåge is arguably one of, if not the best goalkeeper in the Allsvenskan right now. The Swedish media usually mention him in any discussion of the No. 1 keeper along with Johan Dahlin of Malmö and Helsingborg goalkeeper Pär Hansson. Lately, all three have taken a back seat to Trelleborg teenager Victor Noring, who is apparently set to move to Italian giants Juventus during the summer. Alvbåge said he doesn’t worry too much about those discussions.
“I like to think I am one of the top goalkeepers in Sweden,” Alvbåge said. “The problem is people see me at 28 (years old) playing in the Allsvenskan and think, ‘Why is he doing that? If he’s as good as people say, maybe something has to be wrong.’”
Örebro manager Sixten Boström had a slightly different theory behind his net minder’s anonymity.
“I think it has more to do with the fact that John has been around for a while,” Boström said. “It’s sort of like everyone knows him that’s why they talk about these young goalkeepers, who’s coming up and who’s maybe going to come through this year. It’s sort of like it’s OK for a young keeper to still be in Sweden on their way somewhere else, to bigger fields. That’s why they don’t talk so much about John. He’s been abroad and come back.”
Alvbåge spent three seasons in Denmark as he appeared set to become the next big Swedish goalkeeper after Andreas Isaaksson. He was the No. 3 goalkeeper on the 2006 Swedish World Cup team and looked set to become a regular in then manager Lars Lagerbäck’s lineup. However, he never quite found the success at Viborg that he had in Sweden and he returned to Orebro in 2008 and found himself out of the running for the blue and yellow. New national team manager Erik Hamrén is re-making the Swedish side, preferring overseas-based or up-and-coming players.
“My goal is still to go back overseas,” Alvbåge said. “I was in Denmark for three years, but the Danish league isn’t the (English) Premier League or even the French league. If I want to get back to the top, back to the national team, then I think I have to go overseas. Right now I am far away in the thoughts of (Swedish national team manager) Erik Hamrén. That inspires me a little bit. I know I could play on the national team tomorrow, but I have to get noticed again.”
Alvbåge owes his success as much to his physical ability as his mental approach to the game. He is immediately identifiable on the field as he strides out wearing No. 82, the year of his birth. He is usually the most vocal player on the field, barking orders to his defense while trying to direct the offense. He tends to be blunt, even pugnacious when he speaks.
“It’s a little bit like that for me but what can I say? It’s how I am,” he said. “I know some players are afraid to speak their minds, but I think it’s good to be a little cocky. Of course, you have to have a strong personality because if things go wrong, it comes back on you.”
One topic about which Alvbåge has no problems speaking is the future of his club. The goalkeeper believes Örebro could and should follow the trail other smaller-market clubs such as Elfsborg and Kalmar have blazed in recent years as they climbed to the top of Swedish football.
“We do have the chance to make it,” he said. “We’re carrying a dream in Örebro to take a gold home to the city. The club has never done that in over 100 years. Our squad has the chance to be an historic team, but it takes time to change the club and make it as popular as Elfsborg or Kalmar. It took a gold medal. If they can do it, we can do it, too.”
Boström said if any other player put Örebro in the gold medal hunt, he would laugh it off as bravado but not when the statements come from Alvbåge.
“Why not?” he said. “We are going the right way I think, building it, getting it slowly.”
One reason for his team’s continual success, Boström said, is the stability and confidence that emanates from the goal.
“John is a guy you can build around, yes, absolutely,” Boström said. “To be successful you need to have the central line, from the goalkeeper to the central defense to the central midfield to the center of the forward line and right now we have that. It’s one reason why it’s been going so well.”
Football, though, is only once place where Alvbåge is building a future. He and his wife, Lisa, have two children and are expecting a third child in June. He said his family life is exactly as he would like it.
“We are set,” he said. “We are a young, healthy family, not even 30. After we have No. 3 we can start to raise our kids. It’s going to be great.”
Optimism could well be the goalkeeper’s greatest attribute. No matter how he does, Alvbåge goes into it with the attitude to do it well and have fun. He said it’s all part of what makes him one of the more unique characters in the Allsvenskan.
“Football has always been my goal, and here I am,” he said. “If I didn’t play football, I think I probably just have a normal job, one where I could work with kids, like a coach or school teacher or a fireman.”
No. 82 admitted he has two secret dreams. The first, he said, is to give Major League Soccer a try.
“I would love to go play in MLS,” he said. “I think that it would be really, really interesting to move to America, and I like the States very much.”
His other dream has nothing to do with football.
“My ultimate dream is to be a rock star,” he said. “Maybe I could live in Los Angeles, play the guitar and be a rock star.”
As for his attitude on life, it’s right out of a classic rock anthem of the 1980s.
“Don’t stop believing,” Alvbåge said. “Always try to reach your dreams. Even if you only get halfway, that might just be good enough because the awesome thing is just trying to reach them.”
Whether he ever gets the recognition he deserves isn’t something that worries the Örebro goalkeeper. He said he sees himself as almost a trailblazer for the next generation.
“I think the emphasis on young goalkeepers really started with me and Andreas Isaksson and John Wiland,” Alvbåge said. “We all got our debuts when we were 17, 18 years old. Now there is a new generation coming up. We need to show that we develop players just as well as they can in Norway or Denmark or Finland. If those countries can have a lot of players in leagues in England or France or Germany, there’s no reason why Sweden can’t do it.”