After a year of lost opportunities, over-hyped potential and total underachievement, IFK Göteborg is back where its fans expect the Blåvitt to be – at the top of the standings. The reason for IFK’s return to the top, said goalkeeper John Alvbåge, boiled down to once factor.
“Self-confidence,” he said. “The biggest difference between this year and last year is self-confidence. That’s everything in sports, especially for us Swedes. We have the same quality we had last years but didn’t have the head. This year we had a great start and we are really going for the championship.”
Göteborg, at the start of the 2012 Allsvenskan, brought in big name players such as Pontus Farnerud, Brazilian star Daniel Sobralense, budding star Philip Haglund and Alvbåge to add to a team that already had stars such as Tobias Hysen, Robin Söder, Mattias Bjärsmyr and Emil Salomonsson. The array of talent led the media – and many fans – to dub the team Real Göteborg, likening the side to Real Madrid and its galaxy of football stars.
All of the changes, however, did not make a winning team. Göteborg struggled all season and at times flirted with relegation.
“I think a lot of things happened last year that hurt us,” Alvbåge said. “The biggest thing was we lost our confidence. We would dominate matches for long periods then give up a bad goal and we would get down. This year is completely different.”
The IFK goalkeeper said his and his teammate’s renewed confidence came from both head coach Mikael Stahre and from an old-fashioned source.
“We never stop working,” he said. “Personally – I believe in myself. I started 13 years ago to play at the professional level and the reason why I am still in biggest league is because I keep working hard and I believe in myself. Last year was difficult but we got through it. For me, it shows hard work pays off.”
After nearly losing his starting job last season, Alvbåge is once again one of the top Swedish goalkeepers. He leads the Allsvenskan in saves, is second in save percentage, second in shutouts with 10 and his 1.07 goals against average is also second in the league. It is mark of the consistency Alvbåge has achieved over the course of his career.
“I’m not a goalkeeper who does spectacular things,” Alvbåge said. “I do the easy things right, which are often hard to do. Maybe it looks easy, but often it’s not. So, if make it look easy, that’s good.”
Despite his success, Alvbåge, along with Johan Wiland at FC Copenhagen, remains on the outside looking in when national team coach Erik Hamren selects players to represent Sweden in international competition. Alvbåge said despite the apparent snubs, he knows how the system works.
“I haven’t been called when he has been coach, so the only thing is to work hard,” he said. “Hamren wants younger players and I understand that. For me, the thing to have big motivation and to work hard. IFK is my national team.”
Göteborg and Malmö are currently locked in battle for the Lennart Johansson trophy. First-place Malmo leads second-place IFK by four points with three matches left to play. Although he admits Göteborg will need some help from other teams if IFK is to hoist the trophy for the first time since 2008.
“if we keep our heads and do our job, then it is possible,” Alvbåge said. “There really are no games left. The media likes to say this is a top team and that is a bottom team, but really, every match is tough and every opponent is difficult. All we can do is work hard and win our games.”
by Chipp Reid