The Poles like to think of themselves as the Brazilians of European football. At times, they have been known to chant impatiently during games: Ã¢ÂÂWe are Polish and we want a goal.Ã¢ÂÂ
But Sweden, for a Scandinavian nation famed for social democracy, the charismatic miserablism of Ingmar BergmanÃ¢ÂÂs movies and pornography would seem to have as good a claim. If you find this risible, you just watch this goal against Uruguay from the 1974 World Cup. The player who flicks the ball up and smashes it into the net is Ralf EdstrÃÂ¶m, one of my favourite foreign strikers of the 1970s, a preference Ã¢ÂÂ I was an impressionable child Ã¢ÂÂ based almost entirely on that one goal.
Ralf EdstrÃÂ¶m, or is it Mick Channon?
They also played in yellow, like Brazil, but didnÃ¢ÂÂt win anywhere near as much, so it was easier for me Ã¢ÂÂ supporting a trio of teams (Nuneaton Borough, Leicester City and England) who were accustomed to the absence of silverware Ã¢ÂÂ to identify with them.If you scroll down, there is a great picture of Edstrom here looking a bit like Mike Channon, but less like a racehorse and more like a rock star.EdstrÃÂ¶m was no fluke. In the 1950s, Sweden produced the technically brilliant Gre-No-Li forward line (Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedlohlm) that won the 1948 Olympics. And then there was Kurt Hamrin, the Little Bird who dazzled on the wing in Serie A and, in the 1958 World Cup, ran through the Russian defence Ã¢ÂÂlike an inspired mole,Ã¢ÂÂ as Brian Glanville put it. But they were before my time, so I adopted EdstrÃÂ¶m. When he smashed that goal against Uruguay, EdstrÃÂ¶m was playing for PSV where, scoring 55 goals in 112 games between 1973 and 1977, he became a firm, fan favourite. He wasnÃ¢ÂÂt that prolific for Sweden, 15 goals in 40 games, but he scored twice against Uruguay in 1974 and his goal against West Germany briefly gave the Swedes hope of a place in the third place play-off.
He was a bit of an idol in Sweden where he officially endorsed a football game called Ralf EdstrÃÂ¶m Cup Football whose memory has been lovingly preserved on www.boardgamegeek.com.Conditioned by EdstrÃÂ¶m to expect flair from the Swedes, I rejoiced at USA '94 in the subtlety of Tomas Brolin, Jonas Thern and Stefan Schwarz. Indeed, I spent a year when Stefan Schwartz was at Arsenal, trying to decide what exactly was so cultured about his sweet left foot.
I never quite got to the bottom of it. He was one of those players who looks classy, even if theyÃ¢ÂÂre not really in the game, and I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt surprised when he moved on. Anders Limpar was a bit of a cult hero at Highbury for similar reasons: he exuded class but probably showed that to greatest effect with a 50-yard reverse pass as Everton won the FA Cup in 1995.BrolinÃ¢ÂÂs demise from golden boy to joke was more surprising. The first blow was the foot injury he suffered after the 1994 World Cup. The second may have come when, after helping Leeds destroy a Manchester United side that contained Beckham, Keane and Cantona, he was dropped by Howard Wilkinson against Derby because he wasnÃ¢ÂÂt suited to the Ã¢ÂÂheated atmosphereÃ¢ÂÂ of an FA Cup tie.
It had obviously never occurred to the parochial Wilkinson that World Cup semi-finals can get a bit heated. After that it was all Ã¢ÂÂBrolin, Brolin, Brolin,Ã¢ÂÂ more jokes about his weight than Elvis had to endure and a final appearance, as a goalkeeper, for a Swedish side in the summer of 1998.
Brolin nets against Bulgaria at USA '94
Still, Brolin has at least enjoyed his retirement. The marvellously nicknamed Lennart Ã¢ÂÂNackaÃ¢ÂÂ Skoglund, who won the Serie A title twice with Inter in the 1950s, and regarded himself as an entertainer, used to tour SwedenÃ¢ÂÂs amusement parks in the summer doing the old Ã¢ÂÂtwo crownÃ¢ÂÂ trick where he would drop a coin and kick it into his shirt pocket.
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs a statue outside his home in Katarina Bangata where every 24 December, on the anniversary of his birthday, people gather to celebrate Christmas and honour his memory. A playboy and an entertainer, he was almost as mythologised as George Best over here. He died in 1975 when he was just 46 but, as one fan noted, the real death had come earlier: Ã¢ÂÂNacka lived for applause, when the applause ended, Nacka died.Ã¢ÂÂAs Zlatan Ibrahimovic can testify, being the golden boy of Swedish football, with a technique to die for, isnÃ¢ÂÂt easy. The Swedes have had plenty of players of whom a commentator could say: Ã¢ÂÂIf he was playing for BrazilÃ¢ÂÂ¦.Ã¢ÂÂ But, in a thoroughly Swedish way, they havenÃ¢ÂÂt had as much fun as the Brazilians.
Which brings us back to Ingmar Bergman really.