The Allsvenskan is well underway in Sweden and as home of the reigning Under-21 European Champions, Zlatan Ibrahimovic country is awash with many upcoming talents. Here are five of the best young players you need to know about…
Age: 23 // Position: Midfielder// Club: Malmö FF
Anybody remember the Swedish midfield warrior Stefan Schwarz? Famous for being tigerish in the tackle, breaking up play and his neat and tidy distribution, Schwarz was the defensive linchpin from which teams such as Benfica and Fiorentina built a winning platform.
Well, meet the ‘new Schwarz’, Oscar Lewicki, alike in his playing style and position as well as his youth career and typical Swedish blond locks!
After starring in the UEFA European U21-Championship last summer where Sweden managed to upset the odds and beat a much fancied Portugal side to win the country’s first major international football title, Lewicki’s stock has certainly risen.
In the final itself, Lewicki was praised for managing to nullify the threat posed by opposing midfield enforcer William Carvalho, currently regarded as one of the best young players in Europe. Lewicki’s eye-catching performances throughout the competition led to him being named in the ‘Team of the Tournament’, alongside the as impressive Carvalho.
Malmö FF may do well to hold on to their prized asset post Euro 2016, especially with Lewicki’s elevation to the full national side and the lack of Champions League football on offer. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before Lewicki pursues a move to one of the major European Leagues, following in the footsteps of Schwarz, of course.
Age: 19 // Position: Right-back // Club: IFK Norrköping
It’s not often a right full-back will feature among ‘players to watch’. However, at the age of just 19, Norrköping academy graduate Wahlquist already has an Allsvenskan and a Super Cup medal to his name, has appeared for the full national side and continues to play first team football in a side chasing honours once again.
Despite his tender age Wahlquist looks the real deal. Comfortable on the ball and resolute in defence, it’s his marauding, purposeful runs from the right side which really injects energy into the team and epitomises the offensive and high-tempo style of football Norrköping are now renowned for.
Wahlquist will be relishing the chance to test himself against some of Europe’s finest later on this summer when Norrköping begin their quest to qualify for the 2016/2017 Champions League through the second qualifying round. Don’t bet against him shining at this level either!
Age: 20 // Position: Striker // Club: IFK Göteborg
Strong, industrious and most effective deployed as a secondary striker, Gustav Engvall is perhaps not one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch. This said he is certainly somebody a manager can rely on to put in a real shift and contribute goals at the same time.
Perhaps this is exactly what has caught the attention of Mark Hughes at Stoke City, who invited Engvall to train with the club in last month with a view to completing a £2 million deal in the summer.
If truth be told Engvall has hardly set the world alight with goals thus far – a career total of thirteen to date for Göteborg isn’t prolific. However, he did hit eight in thirteen games in his breakthrough season, a feat which won him the accolade of ‘Allsvenskan Newcomer of the Year’ in 2014. Engvall was also part of the winning Sweden team at the European U21 Championships in the Czech Republic last summer.
It’s highly likely Mark Hughes, an absolute brute of a striker in his pomp, sees a bit of himself in Engvall and has identified the forward as someone who fits his system at Stoke. What’s more who wouldn’t pay £2 million for a promising, 20-year-old full international?
So, barring any last minute hitches, expect Engvall to swap blue and white for red and white from August 2016.
Age: 20 // Position: Striker // Club: AIK Stockholm
The tall, athletic and muscular frame of Carlos Strandberg originally burst onto the Allsvenskan scene with BK Häcken for whom he scored nine goals in thirty games in his first full season. A promising start to his professional career led to the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Juventus sniffing around having identified Strandberg as a real prodigy and, without doubt, one for the future.
He would have swapped the yellow and black of BK Häcken for the yellow and black of Borussia Dortmund had it not been for a failed medical but the young striker did eventually depart Sweden a few months later to sign a five-year deal with CSKA Moscow.
Many have dubbed Strandberg the new Balotelli, an unfair tag considering how the career of ‘Super Mario’ has nosedived rather spectacularly.
To liken Strandberg with Didier Drogba in his prime is perhaps a better indication of his potential; clinical in front of goal, intelligent off the ball and blessed with natural technique, he certainly possesses all of the attributes needed to become one of Europe’s most feared strikers.
Strandberg has temporarily returned to Sweden with AIK Stockholm on a loan deal where, unsurprisingly, he is already among the goals for his new team. Expect a big contribution before he heads back to his parent club in Russia.
Age: 23 // Position: Striker // Club: IFK Norrköping
Teddy Sheringham with pace. This is probably the best way to describe Nyman – quite a high compliment indeed.
Despite wearing the number five shirt, Nyman is the typical number ten, playing just behind the main striker and serving as the crucial link between midfield and attack. His intelligent, incisive runs and direct running help to create opportunities aplenty, making Nyman, another Norrköping academy graduate, integral to the team’s vibrant style of play.
Together with strike partner Emir Kujovic, Nyman scored over half of Norrköping’s total of sixty goals en route to winning the league in 2015 and has wasted no time in continuing his fine form with five goals already this season.
So far, it appears he has failed to convince national manager Erik Hamrén to award him a seat on the plane to France for Euro 2016.
But with this being Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s swansong for Sweden and IFK Norrköping boss Janne Andersson being confirmed as Hamrén’s successor after the European Championships, Nyman will surely be given the chance to add to his four caps sooner rather than later.