Following in the footsteps of Zlatan

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Following in the footsteps of Zlatan

An article on Swedish players in Holland and Germany. By freelance sports writer Ben Sibley.

The Dutch Eredivisie, along with the German Bundesliga, witnesses an influx of Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian footballers year after year. The trend is long established, the most well-known example being Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s move from Malmö to Ajax Amsterdam in the spring of 2001.

The sheer amount of players who have followed in Zlatan’s footsteps highlight the vast difference between coincidence and trend; there is no doubt Scandinavian players and their agents recognise the Dutch Eredivisie as the perfect stepping stone for their careers.

Further along the career path of such players, the German Bundesliga comes into play; perhaps the most notable recent example being Marcus Berg’s move from FC Groningen to SV Hamburg last month.

Similar to the Eredivisie offering a step up in class from the Nordic leagues, the Bundesliga offers a step up from Holland; far from being a hollow claim, Fifa rank the German premier division as the fifth best in Europe, with Holland languishing down in ninth. Those who make an impression in the Eredivisie following a move from Scandinavia alert Bundesliga clubs who have utilised this relationship between the two leagues to great effect.

Of course there are those who make the move to Europe with a Dutch club and swiftly return to Sweden, Finland or Norway after failing to make the grade. Additionally, there are those who move directly to the Bundesliga, along with others who take the plunge straight into the Premiership, La Liga or Serie A. However, there is no doubting the trend we are focusing on this week.

After directly following Ibrahimovic from Malmö to Ajax Amsterdam, Markus Rosenberg has established himself as a consistent goalscorer in the German Bundesliga with Werder Bremen. Following a productive spell on loan at Halmstad in 2004, Rosenberg returned to Malmö, ending up top scorer in that year’s Royal League.

After being alerted to his performances in the competition, Ajax paid €5.3m to take him to Amsterdam at the beginning of the 2005-06 season. He immediately began to repay Danny Blind’s faith in him by scoring on his debut against (ironically) Brondby in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers.

However, as the season progressed, Blind’s preference for a 4-3-3 system saw Rosenberg pushed out of position to the left side of attack. After failing to make an impact in the new formation and the arrival of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Heerenveen, he began the following season as second choice striker. However, Werder Bremen had seen enough of him to warrant making him their first purchase of the 2007 January transfer window.

Those who had witnessed Rosenberg’s performances in the Eredivisie had no doubt of his ability to step up to the higher level of German football. Two years on, Rosenberg has bagged 29 goals in 73 first-team appearances; a figure that would no doubt be significantly higher had Bremen sustained their impressive form from of recent years in the 2008-09 season. 

Thus far, Rosenberg can be considered a success story of the Sweden-Holland-Germany route taken by many others.

As mentioned, Marcus Berg is the latest player to follow the path of his contemporaries; after moving from FC Groningen to Hamburg last month, much is expected of the striker who lit up the European U21 Championships on his way to winning the Player of the Tournament accolade earlier this summer.

Following an impressive strike rate of 21 goals in 53 games for IFK Göteborg, FC Groningen took Berg to Holland for the 2007-08 season.

Berg settled immediately  and finished the season with 15 goals in 25 league games, drawing interest from both PSV and Ajax. However, Berg stayed loyal to the team who gave him a chance at European football and propelled them to a sixth place finish the following season. With 17 goals in 31 games added to his debut season haul, the speculation began.

As many as 20 clubs across Europe coveted Berg, with the greatest interest from Premier League and Budesliga clubs. After underlining his talent at the U21 Championships, Hamburg won the race for his signature. Although one cannot be sure whether or not English interest in Berg had any legitimacy, it should be considered as no coincidence he has followed Rosenberg to the Bundesliga.

We now wait to see if he can make the second step up, as many have done before him.

Occasionally, an extremely promising player will make the decision to bypass this well-trodden route through Western Europe. One such player attracting great interest this summer is Berg’s ex-teammate, Andreas Granqvist. After impressing European scouts visiting Helsingborg’s Olympiastadion, he and his agent decided upon a move to Wigan Athletic in June 2007.

Taking on the Premier League straight out of Swedish football, Granqvist lasted only nine months in England before rejoining Helsingborg for two months of the 2008 season. Then Wigan manager Steve Bruce made a false point of suggesting an experience away from English football would do Andreas’ career the world of good.

“He has a big future here, but a bit of experience of playing somewhere else can only benefit him”. A statement hollowed out by his willingness to let Granqvist rejoin the team he left less than a year before.

Having seen the same potential in the Swedish defender as Bruce had, FC Groningen paid £600,000 in July 2008 to bolster their defence ahead of a season full of promise following Marcus Berg’s explosive arrival a year earlier.

The 2008-09 season proved to be the season in which Granqvist announced his delayed arrival in Europe. Adapting immediately to the attacking nature of the Eredivisie, he stood out among the otherwise poor defending witnessed every week by Dutch football players, fans, and pundits alike. As if to cement his burgeoning reputation, Granqvist took it upon himself to score one of the goals of the season seen anywhere in Europe.

This summer has seen the return of the speculation that surrounded him before he took the English bypass. His preferred destination? The German Bundesliga. After hearing of interest from Hamburg, Schalke and Wolfsburg to name but three, Granqvist admitted, “If I get the opportunity to play in a bigger league, like in Germany, I would obviously like that.”

Having taken a wrong turn to Wigan, Granqvist is now firmly, and impressively, back on the established route.

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