In February 2018, Graham Potter steered Ostersund to a sensational triumph over Arsenal at the Emirates – but while their old boss has gone from strength to strength, it’s all gone horribly wrong for the plucky Swedes.
Potter remarkably guided the minnows from the fourth division to the last 32 of the Europa League during seven years in Scandinavia, helped by the unusual methods of chairman Daniel Kindberg, who insisted on squad and staff doing a range of bizarre activities to foster team spirit – including a public performance of Swan Lake, and a play where defender Dennis Widgren pretended to be a cow.
With former English non-league players like Jamie Hopcutt and Curtis Edwards in their line-up, Ostersund followed victory in the Swedish Cup final by defeating Galatasaray, PAOK and Hertha Berlin in the Europa League, setting up their knockout tie with Arsene Wenger’s side. The Gunners won the first leg 3-0 in Sweden, but Potter’s men stunned them 2-1 in north London to bow out in style.
It earned Potter a move to Swansea that summer – but by then, Kindberg had been briefly arrested on suspicion of fraud. An ex-lieutenant army colonel who once revealed that he’d been mysteriously kidnapped in Stockholm, he was sentenced to three years in prison and banned from doing business for five years by December 2019, after being found guilty of funnelling taxpayers’ money into the club.
That verdict was overturned on appeal in late 2021, but Ostersund’s fortunes had already taken a turn for the worse. They’d replaced Potter with fellow Englishman Ian Burchnall and even signed Ravel Morrison in February 2019, but that didn’t stop them flirting with relegation at the end of the year; initially, they were denied a licence to remain in the top flight because of growing financial problems.
Ostersund successfully protested that decision, but Burchnall exited in the summer of 2020 – the club unveiled Amir Azrafshan as their new boss, only to be told that he didn’t have the appropriate coaching licence. It forced them to officially install Pero Kapcevic as manager, even though Azrafshan was calling the shots. There were yet more frowns from the Swedish FA when the unlicensed coach got the squad to adopt some transcendental meditation methods from an Indian guru. “The methods we teach on our coaching courses are scientifically based,” huffed a miffed spokesman.
This time, unconventional ideas didn’t work – by the end of 2021, Azrafshan and Kapcevic had both departed and Ostersund had dropped out of the top tier, finishing last with 14 points from 30 games.
Life in the second division hasn’t been much better: they currently stand in dead last with eight games left to play of the season.
Meanwhile, back in England, the club’s former Europa League star Hopcutt was released by Oldham after being unable to stop the Latics falling out of the Football League.
Things have been going rather better for Potter, who has led Brighton to their highest-ever league finish and is now Chelsea-bound.
He probably still pines for another performance of Swan Lake, though...
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