Andreas Granqvist: Wigan flop who replaced Zlatan as Sweden's leader
World Cup 2018 World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network Andreas Granqvist: Wigan flop who replaced Zlatan as Sweden's leader
The 33-year-old was outstanding as Sweden reached the World Cup, a far cry from his days at the DW Stadium, where Paul Jewell used to shout at him
This article is part of the Guardianâs 2018 World Cup Expertsâ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who have qualified for Russia. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.
First one of the performances of his life, then the tears. And just when you thought he had done enough for one day, Andreas Granqvist kept a promise and shaved all his hair off.
It was quite a night, 13 November 2017, in Milan. Granqvist has come a long way since his career started at PÃ¥arps, including a difficult loan spell at Wigan â" where he remembers slipping during one game and Paul Jewell shouting in his face in front of all his team-mates after the game â" and spells in Italy and Russia.
At 33, he is arguably better than ever and as captain of Sweden, is respected by everyone. The teamâs last captain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was cocky, extrovert and extravagant. Gran qvist, in many ways, is his antithesis and it is fair to say that the new leader has helped the Swedish public fall in love with the national team again.
After that 0-0 draw against Italy at San Siro, which confirmed Swedenâs place at the World Cup, Granqvist could not hold back the tears. The pressure had been enormous but the Swedes held firm. Whatever Italy did, Granqvist and his central defensive partner Victor LindelÃ¶f, got in the way.
âThis was the last chance for a lot of us older guys in the squad to play in a World Cup, the biggest thing you can achieve as a footballer,â he said afterwards. âSo there were a lot of emotions out there. It is not only the fact that we have got to the World Cup but we have done it by beating one of the biggest football nations in the world.
âAnd I honestly thought theyâd forgotten about my promise that I would shave my head if we got to the World Cup, but clearly you canât say anything to these grou p of players, theyâll remember.â
A week later Granqvist won the Guldbollen as Swedenâs best footballer in 2017. It was the first time in 10 years that it had not gone to Ibrahimovic. Nicknamed âGranenâ (The Christmas Tree), he is an old-fashioned defender. He just wants to do one thing: defend â" whether by sliding tackle, block with any part of the body or towering header. His aim is always to keep a clean sheet.
His popularity has shot through the roof as a result. Last year, shops sold replicas of him as Christmas tree decorations so Swedes could put Granen i granen (the tree in the tree). He was even offered a part in one of his favourite TV shows, the Swedish crime drama Beck, about a disillusioned detective in Stockholm. e could not believe his luck.
It has been an unexpected turn of events for Granqvist, who was almost a joke for many years in the national team. He grew up in PÃ¥arp, a tiny community outside Helsingborg in the south of Sweden, and came through Helsingborgsâs youth ranks. He was seen as a great talent and made his top-flight debut as a teenager.
He joined Wigan on loan as a 21-year-old and even though they bought him in 2008 he never settled. He returned to Helsingborgs on loan before joining Groningen and Genoa. He nearly signed for QPR but instead chose Krasnodar in Russia, where he has become captain.
He made his debut for Sweden in 2006 as a 20-year-old but it was not until Erik HamrÃ©n became coach in 2009 that he was given a place in the starting XI. Even then he was shunted to right-back at Euro 2012. During qualifying for the 2014 World Cup he was dropped.World Cup 2018: complete guide to all 736 players Read more
At that point he decided to concentrate solely on what he was good at and a little less on what others told him to do. He has not looked back since. When Sweden reached Euro 2016 in France, Granqvist was a mainstay and after their limp exit in France, HamrÃ©n told his successor, Janne Andersson, that the defender should be the next captain.
HamrÃ©n was right and the 33-year-old responded by taking Sweden to Russia. After the World Cup he will return to help Helsingborgs, who have fallen on hard times and are are trying to get out of the second tier afterrelegation in 2016.
Krasnodarâs owner, Sergey Galitsky, was desperate for the Swede to stay and offered him Â£7m for two seasons but Granqvist had made up his mind. He will represent Sweden in the World Cup and then he will help one of his first clubs. When Granqvist makes up his mind, nothing can make him change â" as a few forwards have found out down the years.
Olof Lundh writes for fotbollskanalen.se.
Follow him on Twitter here.Topics
- World Cup 2018
- World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network
- World Cup
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