European eyes are on the Allsvenskan, where more top football talent is abundant this season and comes at a relative bargain.
By Chipp Reid
It’s that time of year again—the time when big clubs throughout Europe go shopping for new players in leagues big and small—and this year many eyes are on Sweden.
Midfielders and forwards seem to be in biggest demand, with Göteborg striker Tobias Hysén, Helsingborg forwards Alexander Gerndt and Rasmus Jonsson, and Malmö attackers Guillermo Molins, Daniel Larsson and Agon Mehmeti among the most coveted players.
Losing players during the transfer season—especially the summer season or “window”—is nothing new for teams in Sweden. Each summer, clubs from England to Holland, Italy to Denmark, scout the Allsvenskan. This year, however, as budgets remain tight at even the biggest European clubs, bargain hunting is the name of the game and Sweden is high on the list of inexpensive-yet-spotlight-ready talent.
“It’s always been this way. Big clubs throughout Europe know they can find good players in Sweden,” said Örebro goalkeeper John Alvbåge, himself a rumored transfer target. “It’s how a lot of Swedish teams make their money—by selling off players. It’s tough, but that’s the way it is.”
For many Swedish clubs the transfer season is both a boon and a bust as it offers financial stability from the sale of top players, but losing those top players often ends any chances those teams have of either winning the league or finishing in a European play qualifying spot.
“There should be a way for Swedish teams to keep their best players,” Alvbåge said. “Teams in Norway and Denmark do it, and that is one reason why they are so successful in Europe. I think it’s time for Swedish teams to do the same thing.”
Malmö, the defending Allsvenskan champions, managed to keep its title-winning squad together during the winter transfer season. Team sports director Per Ågren said Malmö worked to keep its squad so it could go into the Champions League, the lucrative, high-profile European-wide tournament, with a better than average chance of advancing. So far, the plan has worked but by the end of July, Malmö could have a very different look.
Molins, the team’s midfield engine, agreed to terms with Belgian side Anderlecht in a 5-million kronor deal ($875,000). Mehmeti appears on the verge of signing with Palermo in Italy, although Malmö is furiously trying to convince him to stay and reportedly offered the Under-21 Sweden international a two-year extension.
Larsson, another Under-21 star, is the reported target of a move to either Liverpool or Blackburn. Former Malmö manager Roland Nilsson, now the head coach of FC Copenhagen, has made no secret of his wish to sign Brazilian defender Ricardo da Silva from his old team.
Transfers aren’t the only problem for Malmö. Jiloan Hamad, another U-21 Sweden international, is likely going to miss the rest of the season following an ankle injury while first-line goalkeeper Johan Dahlin also needed surgery to repair an injured shoulder. Malmö said Dahlin would be out at least until August, meaning he would miss the club’s Champions League qualifiers.
A transfer of sorts already proved a distraction for the champions as Nilsson agreed to take over as manager of Danish side FC Copenhagen, but the two clubs could not agree on a timetable for Nilsson to leave. After several months of fruitless talks, Malmö essentially sacked Nilsson and replaced him with former AIK mentor Rikard Norling—after Norling’s teacher, Stuart Baxter, turned down the job.
Helsingborg, title runners-up last year and the current league leaders, look set to lose its top scorers as Gerndt and Jonsson are both set to join teams overseas. Gerndt is clearly the biggest prize and he agreed on June 28 to join FC Copenhagen in a 20-million kronor ($3.25 million) move, along with attacking midfielder Marcus Nilsson. Jonsson looks set to join German side Schalke 04. Rumors have Turkish side Sivaspor ready to make a bid an Ardian Gashi, a Sweden Under-21 midfielder and a mainstay in the center for HIF.
IFK Göteborg could be in search of reinforcements as defender/midfielder Ragnar Sigurdsson agreed to join FC Copenhagen while leading scorer Tobias Hysén is set to move to Brugge in Belgium. The Belgian side is also pursuing IFK defender Adam Johansson.
Brugge also has its eyes on a pair of Örebro stars. The Belgians agreed to terms with defender Michael Almebäck and now reportedly wants to sign U.S. international midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.
The one team happy about the transfer season is AIK. The Solna club desperately needs money and the sale of several players could go a long way in balancing the books but could derail a season in which AIK has a legitimate shot at winning the title.
The two players everyone expects to move are the club’s pair of Sierra Leone internationals, Mohamed and Ibrahim Teteh Bangura. (The two players are not related). Ibrahim leads AIK in scoring with eight goals while Mohamed has six. Teams in Holland and France are reportedly the most interested, although so far, only CSKA Moscow has made a firm bid for Mohamed—a bid AIK turned down.
The African strikers aren’t the only players on the selling block. Liverpool and Sunderland look set to engage in a bidding war for midfielder Alexander Milosevic, with Liverpool the likely winner. Midfielder/defender Kenny Pavey is reportedly ready to move to Greece as AIK appears unable financially and unwilling to give the Englishman the three-year deal he is reportedly seeking.
BK Häcken, meanwhile, is testing new forwards as it looks to replace Mustafa El Kabir, who is now with Cagliari in Italy. Mjällby could also be in the market for a new striker as several teams in France, Holland and Belgium have their sights on league-leading scorer Mattias Ranegie.
“This happens every year, but I think this year in particular it is making a lot of news because of the number of very good, young players that we have right now in Sweden,” said Ågren of Malmö. “Because our clubs in Sweden aren’t as rich as bigger teams, we can’t hold onto all of our best players. It is an unfortunate situation, but one that we’re used to.”
As teams prepare to lose players, they search for talent to replace those players. For several years, they went looking to Brazil, or more recently, Argentina, for new blood. Both South American countries continue to be factories for new players, but many of the Latin players that had trials in Sweden failed to stick this past spring.
“The Brazilians (and other South Americans) are very good technically, but they are also really young and not very mature,” said Örebro goalkeeper Alvbåge. “I think maybe they aren’t ready emotionally to move, and in Sweden we still care about how the player lives off the field and how he adjusts to life here. It can be very hard on Brazilians, especially, with the weather.”
Örebro, Kalmar and Malmö have shifted their focus for new players to southern Europe. Kalmar signed a pair of Kosovo internationals in the spring, while Ågren said Malmö planned to use the diversity of the city as a means of recruiting new players.
“I think that is a strong point of our club,” Ågren said. “We are a very diverse city and it is reflected in our team. I believe having players either from different countries or different cultures who are also Swedish helps when we get new players because we can help them adjust to what life is like here. It’s good to have that within the club.”
Just how much effect the summer transfer might have on the 2011 Allsvenskan remains to be seen. One thing, however, is certain.
“Any time the transfer window opens,” Alvbåge said, ”things get interesting.”
Mohamed and Ibrahim Bangura—are they the financial saviors for AIK?