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Alex Lynch has a look at the new generation of stars emerging for Sweden
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his intention to retire from international duty after the Euros this summer, most Swedish football fans must’ve been gutted. After all, Zlatan is the greatest Swedish player of all time and he was the face of the national team for a generation. And even he couldn’t prevent Sweden’s disappointing group stage exit. But months after the Euros— even though Zlatan’s gone— there is hope for Swedish fans. Why? Because there is a new generation of stars honing in on the torch that Zlatan held for so long.
The young talent that is going to have to fulfill the role of replacing Zlatan is vast, and some the these players have international experience. The group includes Emil Forsberg of Bundesliga hotshots RB Leipzig, alleged Manchester United target Victor Lindelöf, Eredivisie star Sam Larsson, and Dortmund new boy Alexander Isak. Sunderland prodigy Joel Asoro, John Guidetti, Linus Wahlqvist—who was featured in the 100 players to watch for 2017— and Ludwig Augustinsson are in the group as well.
The amount of success and the status of these player varies, but almost all of them are enjoying success at their club right now. The biggest name of the group is Forsberg, whose play has helped catapult RB Leipzig to second place in the Bundesliga at the time of writing. The Swede has played an important part with 5 goals and 8 assists, which leads the Bundesliga at the time of writing. His combination of passing and finding teammates in the midfield has led to all of his success, as he’s been the engine of Leipzig’s star studded midfield. Forsberg has clearly been one of the best players in Germany thus far, and without him it’s safe to say that Leipzig wouldn’t be where they are.
Besides his club exploits, he also has international experience. Forsberg was a part of the 2016 Euro squad, and he’s made 24 caps in total with 3 goals since his debut in 2014. In addition, he was voted Swedish Midfielder of the Year in 2014 and 2016. Forsberg isn’t as young as some of the other players coming through the ranks in Swedish football, but at 25, he’s just entering his prime. He could be the man who spearheads this group of Swedish stars.
Forsberg isn’t the only Swede in form though, as Victor Lindelof’s play has caught the eye of some of the world’s biggest clubs. The 22-year-old is a fixture in the SL Benfica first team, which has led to 17 Liga NOS games and 6 Champions League starts. Lindelof hasn’t let his playing time go to waste either. He’s only picked up one yellow card and Lindelof has a passing percentage of 89.5%, which shows that he’s a very smart and composed tackler and a great distributer. His ability to fairly tackle and pass the ball from the back, along with his frame and strength has led to his solid form and the worldwide interest in him.
Just like Forsberg, Lindelof has international experience to boast of. He’s made 11 caps for Sweden since his debut in 2016, scoring once. Lindelof was at the Euros as well, starting all 3 of Sweden’s games in the process. The 22-year-old helped Sweden win the 2015 U-21 Euros, and in doing so he made the Team of the Tournament. The youngster has an incredibly bright future, and his Sweden career will be fascinating to watch in the coming years.
The next player in the group is also in scintillating form for his club, and that player is Sam Larsson of Heerenveen. Even though he plays for a less celebrated club, that shouldn’t take away from what he’s doing at the moment. In the Eredivisie, Larsson has 7 goals and 8 assists in only 15 starts at the time of writing and he’s won man of the match 6 times this season. He’s done it against the best as well, as he picked up 2 assists against PSV Eindhoven, and he had a goal and assist against Twente. It’s little wonder that he’s been linked with Ajax, Atalanta and Sassuolo with the form he’s been in. Larsson’s great dribbling and passing ability from the wing, defensive contribution and his set piece abilities have led to his success this season in Holland.
Larsson is another young player, as the Swede is only 23-years-old. He’s just starting to make the breakthrough for the national team, as he made his debut and scored his first goal in November of 2016 against Hungary.
Another young Swede scoring goals is John Guidetti, who despite coming off the bench for most of Celta’s La Liga season has scored 2 goals. He’s also scored 3 goals in the Europa League, and Guidetti’s had success earlier in his career. He scored 20 goals in the Eredivisie for Feyenoord back in 2011-12, and he scored 8 goals for Celtic the following season. After 12 goals in all competitions last season, Guidetti has shown the ability to score goals in a big league. If he can get more minutes for Celta, there’s a good chance he finds his form this season.
With his country, Guidetti has made 15 Sweden caps, but 10 of them came in 2016. He won the U-21 Euros for Sweden back in 2015, and Guidetti scored his first goal for Sweden in June of 2016. If he can regain his league form for Celta, Guidetti has a chance to build on his promising international career. At just 24, the striker has a chance to become a reliable goalscorer for his country.
While the likes of Larsson and Guidetti are young at 23 and 24 respectively, this new generation of Swedish talent is also filled with much younger players. These players are teenagers Alexander Isak and Joel Asoro, who both have a lot of potential. Isak is the more well known, as the 17-year-old moved to Borussia Dortmund this January after snubbing Real Madrid. Isak scored 10 goals in 24 Swedish league games this season, and he scored his first Sweden goal in January 2017. He became Sweden’s youngest goalscorer in the process and launched a promising international career. Meanwhile, Asoro made his Sunderland debut in August, becoming their youngest Premier League player ever at 17. He then started in an EFL cup game later in the month and he’s already made his Sweden U-21 breakthrough at his tender age. With Bayern scouts reportedly watching him this year, Asoro has an incredibly bright future.
The final two players in this promising group are Ludwig Augustinsson and Linus Wahlqvist, who are both promising defenders. Augustinsson is only 22, and the left back plays for Copenhagen in Denmark. He was a crucial part in the Danish side’s 3rd place finish in their Champions League group and their run during the qualifiers. Augustinsson had 3 assists to his name in the 6 games during the Champions League, which shows how much quality he has. The 22-year-old also won the Danish league title, and the Euro U21 with Sweden in the last two years. In addition, the Swede has made 6 caps for his country and he made the Euro squad this past summer.
For Wahlqvist, he still plies his trade in his home country, but the 20-year-old has made his international breakthrough. The defender has made 5 Sweden caps after becoming a first team starter for his club, IFK Norrkoping. He’s been effective in the league this season, with 2 goals in 28 games. At only 20 years old, Wahlqvist has a lot of room to grow, but his career is off to a promising start.
With all of the young talent emerging in Swedish football, the future of the national team is in good hands. If all of these young stars continue to progress, the next generation of Swedish stars could at the very least match the work done by their predecessors.