Tag Archive for Sweden

Home, God willing

The original shelter in Akalla By, where Laith and his friends were guests on the first night.

Laith has been told that I am taking him to a shelter, but I could be taking him anywhere.

It wouldn’t be the first time someone told him he was headed somewhere, only to find himself somewhere else entirely.

Like when the people smugglers told him that he would be getting on a plane to Sweden, where he would be whisked away and given a place to live, and his family would be brought to him.

With his excellent English – learned working with the Americans as a policeman during the occupation of Baghdad – he would easily get a job.

Or so the smugglers said.

The plane was mysteriously cancelled.

Instead, he wound up in a boat packed with people, making the journey from Turkey to Greece.

The motor died.

So did some of the people.

Most panicked.

The women with children panicked more.

Laith thought it was natural. They were the ones with the most to lose.

He and some of the other strong young men tried to swim ahead and pull the boat.

Some of them died too.

So too did a little bit of Laith.

Swimming for his life and the lives of others, and those of his nine-month old child and his wife hidden in her parents’ house in Iraq, sheer pig-headedness would keep him going.

He made it.

First to Greece, then to Copenhagen and Malmö and Stockholm.

At the first shelter in Stockholm there was a disagreement over space with some Syrians.

Laith and his friends were asked to leave. When you have nothing, you protect it fiercely, even if it costs you.

Laith left and came to Akalla with his friends, where he spent the night. I drove them there.

The next day, someone else drove him back to the Central Station.

All he wanted to do was go home to Iraq, but for now he would have to keep going – to Finland, probably – until he found somewhere safe for his wife and child.

The tension – especially when strengthened by the lack of a common language – when in the car with people like Laith is palpable.

They have a story to tell.

It is a story of a life left behind, with no idea when or where or if it will be picked up again.

For some, it works out OK. For others, not.

Many of them don’t want to tell that story.

Some have no choice.

Today, we closed the shelter. A few cars gathered to take the last dozen or so guests to different places.

Some headed to the Central Station, to follow Laith’s path towards Finland, the trip getting colder and darker the further north they came.

Others had given up.

Lonely for their families, told that they had little chance of being granted asylum, or just put off by the cold and the dark and exhausted by the grinding fucking drudgery of being on the run, they gave in.

Some agreed to return to a home they risked so much to leave.

This morning they would fly back there.

I drove them to the terminal.

“Al-matar?”

The airport?

“Yalla!”

Let’s go!

There were more bodies than bags or suitcases. One man asked if he could have a rucksack to take with him. His friends laughed at him.

“You don’t have anything to put in it!”

The tension wasn’t as palpable on the journey to the airport, but it was still there.

At least now they knew where they were going.

But where they are going is the very reason why they left.

As they took what little they had out of the van, they convinced themselves and each other that this is what they wanted all along.

“Al-bayt, al bayt.”

Home.

Home.

“Insh’allah”

God willing.

——————————————————————————————-

Today the last guests at the temporary shelter in Husby set up by local residents left, and the doors closed for the last time. 

Having had to move premises twice while catering for hundreds of refugees over three weeks, it is no longer possible for the shelter to carry on – the resources in terms of time and money are just not there.

The “refugee crisis”, as it has become known, will continue, and we will continue to help in any other way we can. 

This essay is dedicated to Leo Ahmed, Sonja Dousa and to everyone who gave anything during the last three weeks – all over Scandinavia, people sleep tonight on a pillow of your kindness. 

Ge oss bättre spelare, inte färre lag

Henok Goitom: lärde sig inte från koner

Jag har följt Allsvenskan ändå sen jag flyttade till Sverige 1999.

De senaste sex åren har det varit min uppgift att bevaka den, tillsammans med Danmarks Superligaen och Norges Tippeligaen, åt en av värdelens största nyhetsbyråer.

Och lösningen till Allsvenskans bristande kvalité är inte mindre lag – det är att utveckla bättre spelare.

Att ta bort två eller fyra eller sex lag gör inte den genomsnittliga allsvenska fotbollsspelaren bättre. Snarare begränsar det chansen för denne att blomstra eftersom det blir färre och färre platformer att glänsa på.

Gör vi det accepterar vi att vi inte kan producera fotbollsspelare längre. Det vore trist.

Att höja kvalitén på Allsvenskan och för den delen i landslaget handlar snarare om att göra om allt i svensk fotboll från grunden.

I några decennier har man konkurrerat på fysiken och attityden och en arbetsmoral som håller svensken borta från sprit och dumheter.

Det räcker inte längre.

För en modern toppspelare krävs allt detta plus en strålande teknik och beslutsfattningsförmåga.

Det får man inte från att springa mellan koner med en boll några kvällar i veckan, eller än sämre utan boll i långa, meningslösa fyspass för ungdomar.

Det finns inga koner på plan i Allsvenskan, eller Premier League, eller La Liga. När du ska tackla Cristiano Ronaldo eller gör mål på David De Gea finns det inte en kona i världen som kan hjälpa dig.

Vi måste tänka om från grunden om hur vi utbildar och utvecklar våra talanger och från vilka utgångsvärderingar.

Vi måste fråga hur man bäst lär sig att spela fotboll och att lösa de problem som uppstår på banan.

Det vi kommer att komma fram till är att de spelarna som båda drar publik och som ligger längst fram tekniskt – Zlatan, Henok Goitom, Imad Zatara, David Accam för att nämna några som har glänst i Allsvenskan – är de som spelade kopiöst mycket spontanfotboll som barn, och det nästan helt utan ingripande från vuxna.

Där är det gårdens regler som gäller och gallringen av ungdomar så älskade av de idiotiska  ”elitsatsningar” som finns i vissa klubbar sker på ett naturligt sätt – löser du inte problem på banan blir ditt lag slagen och du får vänta på din nästa chans.

Intelligens och teknik belönas när det kopplas till styrka, uthållighet och vilja.

Det blir färre och färre svenska spelarna i de stora klubbarna utomlands därför att vi producerar spelare som är lagom och inte mer.

De duger som utfyllnad i proffstrupper och gör inte så mycket väsen av sig.

De är pålitliga. Starka. Dugliga. Men knappast stjärnor och sällan de som får publiken att ställa sig upp och vråla.

En handfull sticker förstås ut men inget jämfört med vad det borde eller kunde vara.

Att banta Allsvenskan från 16 lag till 12 skulle bara dölja problemet istället för lösa det. Vi måste istället glömma allt vi tror oss veta om hur ungdomar lär sig spela fotboll. Sen måste vi våga låta de lär sig i sin egen takt.

När vi väl har gjort det kommer vi att ha en ny generation svenska spelare som den allsvenska publiken är beredda att betala för att se och som är attraktiva för utländska klubbar.

Och när vi ändå håller på kan vi sänka biljettpriserna så att ungdomar har råd att gå på fotboll.

Det finns inget lika motiverande som att stå på läktaren och se en kille från din ort avgöra en match. Då tänker man: ”Jag vill vara som honom.”

Vi måste helt enkelt riva upp varje marknadsföringsprognos och coachningsmanual som existerar och börja om där den bästa med fotbollen alltid börjar.

På läktaren. På gården. På gatan.

Bara då kommer svensk fotboll att må bra igen.

Manager’s self-belief the undoing of Sweden and Ireland

Erik Hamrén – masterminded a 4-4 draw against Germany, without really being able to explain how.

Redemption is by no means given for the two football men who over-estimated themselves most in 2012.

In the end, their Euros ended a  lot quicker than expected. Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland were holed in the opening minutes by Croatia and never recovered.

Erik Hamren’s Sweden didn’t even last that long. The naming of Markus Rosenberg for their opener against Ukraine meant that the game was lost before it even began.

Whereas Ireland sank without a trace after the Croatia defeat, the Swedes struggled on manfully against England and even managed a hollow victory against France when it no longer mattered.

What both sides had in common, and what will come to a climax when the two sides meet in key World Cup qualifiers in 2013, is their managers; and more specifically, their massive over-confidence in their own ability.

Trappatoni – the grand master of footballing frustration.

Trapattoni arrived at the Euros convinced that it was he, not his players, who got Ireland there.

He remains convinced that it was his desperately negative tactics, rather than the skills of his XI, that ensured qualification.

Or the fact that the Irish got lucky, drawing a brave but limited Estonia side after barely surviving a perilous qualifying campaign.

It is worse for Sweden, because at least Trapattoni’s limits were shown up by subsequent results.

But when it comes to Erik Hamrén, the smoke and mirrors provided by the genius of Zlatan Ibrahimovic serves to disguise the tactical naivety of the national team coach.

Two incidents stood out this year that showed up his tactical shortcomings.

The first was the selection of Rosenberg – only in the squad due to an injury to John Guidetti and a domestic violence conviction for Alexander Gerndt – to start agaist Ukraine, and what it said about the coach’s mentality.

Despite taking the lead in that game, Sweden struggled, particularly inn the first half. The selection of Rosenberg skewed the balance of the team, forcing Toivonen onto the left wing where he was equally ineffective.

Hamrén later revealed at the post-game press conference that the tactical plan was to attack with long balls for the first 15 minutes, but that the Swedes then couldn’t break the pattern.

To think that raining a few high balls was going to disturb one of the host nations in their opening game in their capital city is breathtakingly naive.

The fact that Hamrén then couldn’t get his players to stop doing so is almost comically inept.

And as for Rosenberg? He played 71 minutes and was barely seen before being replaced by the injured Johan Elmander.

He played 11 more minutes against England, and was equally invisible. Anyone who has seen him play for West Bromwich Albion will know that he is a journeyman – talented, but limited.

And nowhere near good enough to start the opening game at a major tournament.

But for Erik Hamrén, he was the joker in the Euro pack, the man whose inclusion from the start would turn Sweden’s fortunes against the hosts.

What Oleh Blokhin thought of him has so far gone unrecorded, but I’d say if you were to ask him who Sweden’s number 22 was on that night, he wouldn’t remember. And Markus Rosenberg himself probably doesn’t want to.

Of course, the most telling comparison between Trapattoni and Hamrén can be gleaned from the respective qualifiers against Germany this autumn.

Ireland were disembowled 6-1 in front of their own fans, and yet somehow, despite massive internal and external opposition, Trapattoni survived.

His shameful blaming of the players, his claiming of credit where none was due, was one of the more bare-faced examples of his conviction that it is he, and not they, that is the ultimate architect of all success – and none of the failure.

Hamrén’s side fared much better against the Germans, fighting back miraculously from 4-0 down to snatch a point, but that result only tells part of the story – once again he appeared to pick the wrong team, and once again he very nearly left it too late to correct his mistake.

Samuel Holmén on the wing wasn’t much of an inspired choice, but it was the selection of Pontus Wernbloom in central midfield that betrayed Hamrén’s plan to contain, rather than attack, one of the best sides in the world.

It failed, dismally, and Sweden were torn apart. Wernbloom is an excellent player who has matured immensely (and a joy in press conferences and mixed zones), but if you invite a team like Germany to play football in front of you, they will – and then they’ll play through you, as Ireland had found out to their cost a few days previously.

For once it wasn’t the magisterial Ibrahimovic who turned the game, even if he did play a big part; it was the introduction of Kim Källström that turned the game on its head.

Several weeks later I cornered Erik Hamrén and asked him about the turnaround.

He had previously made much of the fact that eventually he got the balance right, and that the players that finish the game are almost more important than the ones that started it.

I pressed him on what Sweden managed to do that Ireland didn’t or couldn’t, and he became somewhat irritated.

“As I said before, it was attitude and commitment,” he told me, and I stopped listening.

Despite his stated penchant for watching games over and over again, he was unable or unwilling to offer a tactical explanation of what Sweden finally started to do right.

To Hamrén, the tactical details are seemingly unimportant, or at least not worth sharing with journalists and fans.

What is important is the triumph, the cigar, the collective effort. Not recognising the errors made when setting out the team, or trying not to repeat them.

It’s seldom profitable to extrapolate in this way, but ponder this fact: when Källström was on the pitch, Sweden beat Germany 4-1.

When Wernbloom was there, they lost 3-0.

Having seen virtually every game played under Hamrén, I doubt strongly that the tactical aspect of the game is his strong suit. He is an honset, decent, emotional man who is truly trying to do his best.

But his strength is in blending players together, motivating them, creating an atmosphere in which they can thrive and feel confident.

It’s not great, but it’s good enough to get results against some good teams.

It’s unlikely, however, to be good enough to fool Trapattoni, the grand master of footballing frustration.

Should the Italian – who celebrates his birthday on St Patrick’s Day, a week before the two teams clash in Stockholm – have Richard Dunne available, he will be confident of getting at least a point.

Trappatoni’s true gift is in gettign lesser minds like Hamren to reveal themselves and their weaknesses, and then punishing them accordingly.

Player for player, Sweden are superior to Ireland in most departments, and Trappatoni will use that knowledge to lure them out.

He will stop them playing balls up to Ibrahimovic (who has never played well against Ireland). They will kick and irritate him, and they will target the younger players for similar treatment.

THe Irish will target the Swedish full-backs, knowing them to be the weak links defensively, and that balls into the box are a lottery when Andreas Granqvist is in there defending.

And then, when they least expect it, Trapattoni will instruct his troops to exploit the tactical naivety of the Swedes at a corner or a set piece, and stage the Stockholm smash ‘n grab that England couldn’t manage.

Because ultimately, the difference in the two coaches is that one of them is more than aware of the limitations of his side and plays accordingly.

The other isn’t, and doesn’t.

We need to talk about Arthur

Ready for proper drink-driving legislation?

I usually try to be as balanced as possible, but for once I’m going to stick my neck out and say something controversial.

Ireland’s new drink-driving legislation is one of the most dangerous laws ever to be passed, as it cements the fact that drinking and driving is OK.

Implicit in it is that we have a right to drink and drive, and that the effects of alcohol change depending on your experience and even your job.

Which is nonsense.

Now Minister Leo Varadkar won’t agree – no doubt convinced that he and his department have shown the wisdom of Solomon, he has denied that it’s combination of limits, fines and penalties is a soft touch.

You’ll hear a lot about how it “brings Ireland into line with the rest of Europe”, which is worth a closer look.

Let’s compare the Irish legislation to Sweden.

The Swedish level for a breath test – across the board – is 20mg of alcohol. In Ireland, that level only applies to professional, novice and learner drivers.

I cannot find any reasoning for that, most likely because there is none that stands up to scrutiny.

If you’re found with less than 50mg  in Ireland, you walk away scot free.

In Sweden, you literally walk away, as you lose your driving licence for around ten months and you get hit with a hefty fine.

Between 80mg and 100mg and it starts to sting in Ireland – a €400 fine and a six-month ban.

In Sweden, that will get you at least a month in prison, as well as an even bigger fine.

The idea that drink affects learners and professionals differently is both stupid and discriminatory.

What is the logic behind allowing someone have a limit of 49mg today, only to reduce that to 19mg tomorrow if they get a job as a bus driver? The differentiation is an attempt to be seen to be taking the matter seriously, whilst ignoring the science..

Then there is the idea that a person unable to produce a driving licence should see them treated as a “specified deriver” – the same as a learner or professional driver.

This beggars belief. Not only can they not prove that they are competent to drive, they try to do somehting they are not qualified to do whilst drunk.

There is no compulsion for Irish drivers to seek treatment for alcohol problems either.

In Sweden, drivers are in no doubt – being over the limit at all means you lose your licence and get fined.

Believe me, it makes a difference.

You can argue all you like about personal freedom, the death of the pub trade, the poor farmers stuck on their farms with only a visit to the pub for company and the rest, but there is only one scientifically safe blood-alcohol level when driving, and that is zero.

This legislation is another attempt to appease the Irish people and tell them otherwise.

Varadkar (who admittedly didn’t design the legislation) would be better to bite the bullet and do it properly- his government will undoubtedly be shafted for turning into Fianna Fáil and following their austerity program, so he has nothing to lose.

Why not introduce proper legislation and put the drink-driving myths to bed for good?

Return of the Vikings

Just one of hundreds of pictures I've taken when covering the Swedish national team.

It had to happen eventually.

Having royally stuffed Sweden several times in the phoney wars that are friendly internationals, eventually my number had to come up.

Tonight, it did.

Out of the plastic bowls, the recently-retired Ronaldo curled his chubby fingers around the ball containing Ireland.

A minute or two later, it was Sweden’s turn to be plucked out of the plastic.

That Germany came out as the group’s top seed made no difference to me by that point – finally, my homeland and the land I have made my home will meet in a competitive fixture.

Even though I’ve waited so long for it to happen, given that I live in Stockholm and much of what I do is sports journalism in Scandinavia, it brings mixed feelings for me.

I know a lot of people in Swedish football, from the administrators at the very top of the game to the players themselves, as well as the journalists who follow them everywhere they go.

I sit beside them at press conferences. I ask them questions. I translate their quotes.

Most of the time they are very helpful and hospitable (unless they’re called Marcus Leifby, Sportbladet’s puckish prankster number one, who has a habit of publishing private e-mails).

99% of them happily answer the phone at any hour of the day or night to answer questions or help out in any way they can. They are true supporters of Swedish football

But like them I love my national team too, and probably more so than any club side.

My interest in soccer comes not from reading Shoot! or watching “Match of the Day”, but from listening to  crackling radio commentaries and reports from Ireland’s qualifying heroics in the pre-Jack Charlton era, when we were always the bridesmaids, never the bride.

And on the few occasions we looked like walking up the aisle we’d be cruelly jilted on the way to the church- until Gary McKay scored against Bulgaria and we finally made it to a major championship.

As most of my work is for a major news agency, it has to be impartial; I’m not allowed to wave the national flag, which is not a condition my Swedish colleagues labour under. Whereas they are sometimes encouraged to cheerlead for their team, I have to bite my tongue.

Having said all that, I get almost as much joy from watching the “blågula landslaget”, especially when they put it up to bigger nations like Germany and Argentina. Lest we forget, this is a country with a long and proud history in the world’s most popular sport, and has contested a World Cup final on home soil.

I like Erik Hamrén and the sometimes surly Zlatan. I’m not convinced he’s as good as my Swedish colleagues think, but he’s not nearly as bad as the English-speaking press make out either.

Nor are the Irish the simple, industrial footballers that most Swedes seem to believe we are, either. Despite passing them to death in a couple of friendlies, they still believe that our only tactics ares physicality and the long ball.

Which means the two games between Ireland and Sweden are going to be very interesting indeed.

But even more than the football, they give us a great opportunity to get to know one another better, and not just when it comes to football.

The Irish can show the Swedes that we are not just a bunch of hard-drinking, long-ball-punting West Brits, and the Swedes can show the Irish the warmth and friendliness one would never suspect from their flat-pack furniture.

And in doing so we can enjoy the spectacle of what the greatest game in the world is all about- skill and passion and daring and excitement.

And making damn sure Germany don’t get to Brazil.