The 2012 Allsvenskan could well go down in history as the “season of the free agent.”
Although free-agent signings are nothing new in football—at least since 1995—there are more free agents set to move among the 16 Allsvenskan teams than ever before. More than 100 players, including 15 from now-relegated Halmstad and Trelleborg, could switch teams in January, February and March. If they do, the moves could reshape the Allsvenskan.
Clubs with tighter economic resources find themselves able to compete for players without having to pay transfer fees. However the opposite is also true. Clubs with slender budgets might just lose some of their best players to free agency as they are unable to meet a player’s wage demands.
“It really is changing Scandinavian football,” said forward Johan Andersson of Norwegian side Stabaeck. “It has been going on for a couple of years in Norway and now it is happening in Sweden. I think a lot of players could start changing teams much more often.”
Andersson watched as Stabaeck star midfielder Morten Morisback Skjonsberg bolted from the team to join IFK Norrköping in something of a surprising move. Established Norwegian stars such as Skjonsberg, who has 29 caps for the Norwegian national team, normally don’t go to the Allsvenskan, where wages suffer a high tax rate. However, Norrköping came up with a package the defensive midfielder simply couldn’t pass up.
“I think a lot of things are starting to equal out,” said Andersson, who moved to Stabaeck as a free agent from Elfsborg in 2010. “Swedish teams are learning how to compete for players.”

Personal services contracts
One of those methods is to offer “personal services contracts.” A player might receive a low wage, relative to other leagues, but the club could offer a personal service contract under which a large portion of the proceeds would be tax free. It is a loophole in the Swedish tax system about which no one seems to want to talk.
Norrköping didn’t stop with Skjonsberg. After finishing just above the relegation zone with a team of veterans, new manager Janne Andersson decided to remake his squad. Peking went out and grabbed Norwegian Under-21 international Lars Christian Krogh Gerson, a free agent from Konsvinger in Norway and also signed defensive midfielder Andreas Johansson from German side Bochum as a free agent. Johansson last played for Djurgården in Sweden.
Djurgården, which had a dismal 2011 season, is also going the free agent route to rebuild a team that was dead last in scoring. DIF is also looking to one-up its Stockholm rivals, AIK and Hammarby, both of which move into state-of the-art new stadiums this year. Djurgården lost goalkeeper Pa Dembo Tourray to free agency and turned to free agents to replace him, signing Danish net minder Kasper Jensen as a free agent from Werder Bremen. To shore up its offense, DIF signed former Elfsborg striker James Keene and Kalmar forward Ricardo Santos as free agents. DIF also signed Brian Span, a midfielder from the University of Virginia, as a free agent.

Tough for reigning champions
While Djurgården and Norrköping benefitted from the free signings, free agency quite literally threatened to gut 2011 champions Helsingborg. The reigning titlists had 10 of its 26 players go out of contract this winter and only re-signed four of them. The biggest star to leave was Marcus Holgersson, who joined the New York Red Bulls of MLS. HIF then made its own dip into the free agent market, picking up midfielder Daniel Nordmark from Elfsborg. However, the champions also had to break open the bank somewhat to replace the talent drain free agency caused, buying Finnish international midfielder Loret Sadiku while winning a bidding war for 17-year-old “super talent” Emil Krasth, who left Osters and was set to join Malmö until Helsingborg upped its offer.
The traditional method of adding players—transfers—remains alive and well, and once again the Allsvenskan made headlines with some offseason moves of big-name players. IFK Göteborg lost captain Adam Johansson to free agency—he joined Seattle of the MLS—but picked up one of the top goalkeepers in the league when it bought John Alvbåge from Örebro. To replace him, Örebro went the free agent route, signing Serbian net minder Sedin Torlak, who played for Sarajevo last year—the team that knocked Örebro out of the UEFA Europa League.
The biggest move so far of this season was of Under-21 star Simon Thern, son of former star Jonas, from Helsingborg to Malmö. The move shocked Helsingborg’s board and fans alike and forced HIF to get into a bidding war for free agent Erik Sundin, who eventually returned to Helsingborg.
“It has been a very interesting winter so far,” said IFK Göteborg general manager Håkan Mild. “There have been a lot of moves that have improved a lot of teams. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
by Chipp Reid