On Tuesday evening, Sweden reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1994. As they did so, one manâ€™s name was chanted by the thousands of Swedish fans who had made their way to Saint Petersburg Stadium.
â€œIt was a surreal feeling to stand at the side of the pitch, hearing the fans calling out my name,â€ Head Coach Janne Andersson said during the post-match press conference. But he was quick to point out that no one, not even himself, is a â€œstarâ€ in this team. â€œFootball is a team sport and this team, for me, exemplifies that. We all work so hard for each other on and off the pitch.â€
And yet the man whose name was shouted in Saint Petersburg is largely responsible for Sweden becoming such a hard-working unit. It has in many ways become a â€œnewâ€ Sweden since Andersson took over as head coach in 2016.
Veteran players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andreas Isaksson, Anders Svensson and Kim Kallstrom all retired from international football. Andersson was left building a new national team, and his requirements for the players were clear from the start – work hard, and always do your best. That was all he asked for: nothing more, nothing less.
That is also exactly what the players have given him, and they have gone on to beat the odds again and again, creating what many believe to be the strongest unity in a Swedish national team ever.
â€œJanne is very good at maintaining a dialogue with all the players. He shows his commitment to everyone in the squad, making them all feel that they are important, and that they are playing a part,â€ the teamâ€™s sports psychology advisor Daniel Ekvall told FIFA.
For starters, he is a man who loves his hot dogs so much that during his time as head coach of Halmstad BK in the Swedish first division (the Allsvenskan), he ranked the opposing teamsâ€™ stadiums in terms of who had the best hot dogs (the winner was Stockholm side Hammarby). He is also the all-time top goalscorer of a small club called Alets IK, where he scored 207 goals in 383 matches.
But it is on the touchline that he has really made his mark. In 2015 Andersson took IFK Norrkoping to a surprise league title in the Allsvenskan, with a squad that perhaps did not boast the most celebrated players, but that worked wonders as a team. Not dissimilar to Sweden at Russia 2018, in fact.
He is always calm when things are going his way, but is known to have a temper when he feels his team is being mistreated. â€œI donâ€™t get angry for the fun of it. I think that every time I have been angry, it has been justified,â€ he claims. â€But I have to admit that I donâ€™t always feel proud when I see pictures of myself looking like a monster!â€
On Tuesday, however, there was nothing but joy after his hard-working team reached a historic quarter-final. â€œI feel happiness and pride,â€ he gushed with relish. â€œWe worked hard defensively and followed a plan, but we can do even better. The feeling is good now, but we have to refocus and look ahead to Saturday (in the clash with England).â€
Friday 6th July
Uruguay Vs France 3pm
Brazil Vs Belgium 7pm
Saturday 7th July
Sweden Vs England 3pm
Russia Vs Croatia 7pm