I recently became a subscriber to a rather good Swedish publication called Offside. It has in depth articles on Swedish and world football, and I don’t think it really has an equivalent in English. I didn’t actually mean to be a subscriber, I filled in the form one night when drunk, but never paid the subs. Then last month my first copy came through the letter box and, feeling the creeping Nordic honesty that is slowly infecting my perfidious, Albionic outlook, I went to the bank and paid for a year’s supply.
It takes me a while to read in Swedish, so it’s good that there are only 7 issues a year. I just finished reading one article about Astrit Ajdarevic and I thought I’d share it with you, as it’s a good story and is at least tangentially related to Finland. I’ll come to that part later.
Ajdarevic is a Swedish 17 year old who helped Liverpool to win the FA Youth Cup last season. He is by all accounts quite a player – the front page header is ‘the next Zlatan’ – and has made an impression at the Liverpool Academy. He lives in the nice suburbs north of the city but would like to live a bit closer to town, as he is now ‘completely out in the bush’ (ie Formby). I can only assume he hasn’t spent much time in Bootle, Kensington, Anfield or Kirby outside the Academy fence. If he had, he’d be very happy with the horses he can see from his bedroom window.
His father is a Kosovo Albanian footballer called Agim, who came to Sweden on holiday in 1992 and stayed because a war broke out in Yugoslavia while he was away. He was playing for Subotica, a town that now has a substantial population of Serbian refugees and has always had a haughty, Catholic, Hungarian-speaking minority. He didn’t much fancy going back as he’d already felt discrimination while on trial at Partizan and Red Star because of his ethnic origin. If the country was at war, he reasoned this was pretty darn likely to get worse, and he wouldn’t mind staying in Sweden.
In Sweden he had trials with various clubs, and Örgryte wanted to sign him. Unfortunately his old team wanted an astronomical transfer fee and the deal fell through. He did odd jobs and played sunday league while waiting for his chance. After a while Falkenberg FF had beaten down the asking price and offered him a contract.
The family all moved to Falkenberg and Agim began banging in goals in the Swedish lower divisions. Having a father who played football for a living was obviously great for Astrit, who began training when he was four (playing with the six year olds and wiping the floor with them) and began his meteoric rise.
This is where his story gets interesting. You see, in Sweden they don’t believe in promoting people too quickly. At Falkenberg Astrit was the youngster, and when he began training with the senior team he had to pick up bibs and cones, carry water for the older guys and generally act the dogsbody. He was fine with this, he had to prove himself before he could be a player. But Astrit felt that he wasn’t getting a chance. He would come on in Superettan (Swedish second tier) games and dominate, but would still be on the bench for the next one.
This was frustrating for him, and eventually he and his father decided that they would have to do something about it. Liverpool had been showing interest and so they went to Kirby and chatted with Steve Heighway, eventually signing up and becoming a Scouse celebrity.
This caused consternation back home. The FFF chairman thought he wasn’t ready, and wasn’t afraid to say so. Swedish players don’t do that – not many have succeeded after moving abroad at that stage. Interestingly, Astrit cites Johan Elmander as an example. He had gone to Feyenoord at 16 and then come back ‘with his tail between his legs’, but was stronger for the experience and is now seeing the rewards. Basically, Astrit doesn’t see it as a risk – it’s an opportunity. Failure won’t destroy him as Swedish coaches sometimes fear, he believes he is strong enough to take it and the chance of playing for Liverpool is too good to miss.
He doesn’t like the Swedish system, and he regards his age group’s national team as better than the two immediately above them. He’s pissed off that he won’t be promoted because of this, and makes the point that ‘Rooney would never have got a chance at 17 in Sweden’.
Now there are two aspects to this conflict. One is the Nordic, co-operative model of football which in Finland is known as ‘kaikki pelaa’, everyone plays. It holds that you have to give equal treatment to everyone and playing time should be evenly distributed, along with coaching time. Don’t concentrate on the stars, make everyone feel part of the group.
This is a valuable and useful philosophy, but there are a growing number of coaches who claim that it doesn’t produce enough elite players. They believe that players in this system don’t have the same desire and competitive edge that those in other, more elite-oriented countries possess.
The other aspect is that Astrit is an immigrant. On of the more heart wrenching parts of the article is where Agim explains what the mayor of Falkenberg said to congratulate Astrit on his success in the Youth Cup – she called him a ‘son of Falkenberg’. Agim wells up at that. He explains that he himself will always feel a Kosovo Albanian, but he is so proud that his children are accepted as Swedish and regards that as his biggest achievement.
That’s as maybe, but Astrit and Agim have a very unSwedish way of looking at things. When Astrit’s teacher’s express concern about him going to Liverpool at 16, Agim tells his son ‘don’t worry. You have football as your profession now, and you can leave home at 16 just like I did.’
Obviously, immigrants are more amenable to this kind of upheaval. They have already moved once (albeit when he was 2 years old in Astrit’s case) so pursuing opportunities comes more naturally to them. So how will Finnish football look if the country accepts more immigrants? I am, obviously, more amenable to immigration. I am an immigrant myself. It adds to the country and immigrants do the jobs other people don’t want to. And some of the good prospects in Finnish football are immigrants, probably a higher percentage than exists in the general population.
Astrid Thors was talking last week about increasing ‘work-based’ immigration, which I think is completely wrong headed. People (like the Ajderevices) move for many reasons, and you cannot perform an economic cost benefit analysis on every individual that arrives. For instance, I came here because of my girlfriend. I stayed because I got a job, but this job could just as easily have been done in the UK or the USA. The company that employs me needed a native English speaker, otherwise they couldn’t have done the work. If the work had gone abroad, Finns would have lost their jobs and the government would have lost tax revenue, but if you have foreigners here they add value in unexpected ways, and sometimes cost in unexpected ways. Finland is a little too hung up on this question, in my opinion. If they relax we might have more Hetemajes and Kuqis, which is the only really important thing to consider here.