The 2013 Allsvenskan kicked off March 31 what could be its most tightly fought season ever.
Defending champions Elfsborg, Malmö FF, IFK Göteborg, Helsingborg and AIK all have legitimate shots at winning the Lennart Johansson trophy this season. Surprise 2012 runner-up BK Häcken and Djurgården also have their eyes on the championship.
Elfsborg manager Jörgen Lennartsson makes no secret of the fact he wants to turn his club into the next Scandinavian Champions League mainstay. Lennartsson, who managed in Norway before moving to Boras, saw first-hand how the success Tipeligan side Rosenborg had in Europe turned that team into a perennial Norwegian champion. Lennartsson believes the key to winning in both is depth and he set out to bolster not only his starting squad but his bench.
People all say we can’t we win without Oscar Hiljemark (who left on a transfer to PSV Eindhoven),” Lennartsson said. “I think they’re wrong. We brought in three players and I believe we stronger this year than we were last year.”
The $2.8 million Elfsborg received for Hiljemark allowed the Boras side to pursue players usually too expensive for Swedish teams. Elfsborg grabbed up Norwegian international midfielder Henning Hauer and pried Swedish Under-21 international Tom Söderberg away from GAIS. The biggest move, however, came in January when Elfsborg surprised everyone in Sweden by snapping up Sierra Leone international Mohamed Bangura. The popular—and prolific—striker began his international career with AIK and moved to Glasgow Celtic in 2012. However, he was unable to crack the starting lineup and Celtic offered him on load to AIK, which balked at the salary terms. Elfsbrog, flush with money from the Hiljemark deal, snapped him up instead.
“It’s funny how the ‘experts’ react,” Lennartsson said. “On one hand, they say it is almost impossible to defend the gold medal and on the other hand they say we must defend the gold because of our team.”
Elfsborg went into its opener April 1 against AIK with numerous question marks as preseason injuries whittled Lennartsson’s squad to just 17 healthy players.
“Certainly we are concerned (about the injuries) but that is football and you must be able to adapt,” Lennartsson said.
One team ready to adapt is Elfsborg’s Opening Day opponent AIK. The Solna side may have missed out on Bangura but it overhauled its roster, bringing in nine new players. The most important signing could prove to be Alhassan Kamara. The Sierra Leone international striker moved to AIK from Orebro, where he led the team in scoring last season. AIK also signed Henok Goitom, a former Swedish U-21 international who spent five seasons playing in Spain. The Gnaget also strengthened their defense, adding Daniel Majstorovic after Glasgow Celtic released him
Malmö FF also underwent a transformation as four of its core players all left the team. Wilton Figuereido, Daniel Larsson and Ulrich Vinzents left on transfers while Daniel Anderson retired after an 18-year career. The Solna club rebuilt its forward line, buying Ghanaian striker Benjamin Fadi from Hearts of Lions in South Africa and former Swedish international Magnus Eriksson from Ghent in Belgium. AIK also won the race to sign talented Under-21 international midfielder Emil Forsberg from Sundsvall and picked up central defender Erik Johansson from GAIS,.
The team that might just sneak past the three main favorites is IFK Göteborg. The Blåvitt assembled an array of stars last year but suffered through a miserable season as all the team never developed any cohesiveness. One year later, head coach Mikael Stahre says he believes his “Real Göteborg” side is now in a position to battle for the top spot.
“We know what we can, what our potential is,” Stahre said. “We have high standards for ourselves. Now, it’s just about going out and playing well and winning as many games as possible.”
While five or six teams can realistically dream of winning the gold medal, others look to simply remains in the league. Teams such Åtvidaberg, Gefle, Mjäallby and newcomers Östers and Halmstad do not have the money that allows them compete with larger market teams on the transfer market. Instead, these teams rely on developing their own talent while bolstering their rosters with players on loan or less-expensive imports from Africa or South America.
Although the smaller-market teams likely can’t compete for the gold, they often have a major influence in which team eventually takes home the title.
“The league is very even in talent,” said Stefan Selakovic, who moved from Göteborg to Halmstad. “There are many good teams that can win the title.”
by Chipp Reid