In current weeks, the headlines within the Swedish press have been all concerning the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying, 5 years after he introduced his worldwide retirement within the wake of the UEFA EURO.
Sebastian Larsson was one Zlatan’s crew-mates at France 2016, the place the Blagult did not make the knockout part after ending backside of Group E. Thirty-one on the time and already a global for eight years, it might not have been a shock had Larsson additionally known as time with Sweden.
Shortly after that event got here the appointment of recent head coach Janne Andersson, who made Larsson one of many cornerstones of his crew as he appeared to present them recent impetus. It proved a profitable gamble, with the Swedes reaching the Russia 2018 quarter-finals – their finest World Cup efficiency since USA 1994.
Blessed with pure management, composure and talent with the ball at his ft, Larsson is, at 35, nonetheless indispensable to the crew. Moreover, he wore the captain’s armband throughout the opening qualifiers for Qatar 2022, as Sweden kicked off their Group B marketing campaign with two wins.
In dialog with FIFA.com, the midfielder talks freely about his nation’s ambitions. He additionally reminisces concerning the 17 years he spent in England, the place he had spells with Arsenal, Birmingham City, Sunderland and Hull City, and shares his reminiscences of coaching with Thierry Henry and his pleasure at pulling on Sweden’s well-known yellow jersey greater than 120 occasions.
FIFA.com: You joined AIK in 2018 on the age of 33, having spent your whole senior profession in England. Did you wish to expertise the league championship in your homeland earlier than hanging up your boots?
Sebastian Larsson: It’s one thing I used to be enthusiastic about an increasing number of as I obtained older. I went to England after I was 16 and stayed there for 17 years. I grew to become more and more interested by how I’d really feel enjoying on the highest stage in Sweden. That feeling grew to become stronger and stronger as my profession went on, and when the chance arose, I felt it was the correct time. And I’ve been actually having fun with it since I obtained house.
In your first season again, you helped AIK win the championship. Was it essential to return whilst you nonetheless had one thing to contribute to AIK and never simply to benefit from the twilight of your profession?
Of course. When I first began enthusiastic about coming again, I actually did not wish to go away it too late or for it to be about taking it straightforward and winding down my profession. I wished to be adequate to assist the crew and guarantee that I may contribute to its success, whereas I nonetheless had my ambition and a starvation to win
You debuted with the Arsenal first crew in 2004. What did it really feel like to take a seat in a altering room with the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Gilberto Silva and Freddy Ljungberg at 19?
This was a unprecedented interval at Arsenal. Without exception, all these gamers have been of the best high quality – and I imply in each place. For me, as a teen attempting to launch my profession, having the chance to coach with these gamers was merely wonderful. Of course, I’m not going to lie, I used to be very nervous at first. I did not wish to mess up a move for Henry, I wished to put it on for him completely. The issues I realized from this group have been unbelievable. Their mentality, their high quality on the pitch, the best way they labored exhausting in coaching… they have been utterly centered. Today, at 35, after I look again at my younger self in that atmosphere, I feel it was completely excellent. Obviously, it was extraordinarily troublesome to get sport time in that crew or whole matches. But if we’re speaking about soccer training, I do not suppose I may have executed any higher, as a result of at the moment Arsenal have been among the best groups in Europe.
Now, a decade-and-a-half later, you’re the skilled participant with the spectacular profession. Do you see variations between the participant you have been again then and the younger professionals you share a dressing room with right now?
Loads is totally different. Football, like society, has modified, which is regular. You can’t count on to stay the identical all this time, whereas society evolves. Young gamers right now are extraordinarily critical about their career, particularly when it comes to off-subject actions. Now you consider what you eat from an early age, easy methods to take care of your self, what number of hours you sleep… In that regard, it’s an excellent step ahead. However, after I first managed to make a senior crew, it was a bit totally different. In a manner, we needed to earn that proper. I knew that I used to be nonetheless younger, that I had to assist the crew and sort of be of service to the older gamers. That’s the way you developed and have become a full-fledged crew participant. You can discover positives and negatives while you evaluate the 2 eras, however in the long run, soccer takes its lead from society.
Looking again, what recommendation would you give to the younger Sebastian Larsson set to make his Sweden debut in 2008?
I’d inform him to attempt to get pleasure from each second. I’ve been very fortunate to be within the nationwide crew for therefore lengthy and, after I look again, this primary look stays a particular second. But I’ve liked each minute I’ve been concerned – it is such an honour. So, I’d inform this younger man to understand the whole lot, particularly firstly, but in addition to attempt to study from gamers who have extra expertise, whether or not in matches or coaching, and take away some small issues. When you are younger, worldwide gamers who’ve been round for a very long time can actually assist. And that is what I’ve at all times tried to do.
Thirteen years later, you’re now sporting the captain’s armband and have greater than 120 caps. Are you conscious that you just’re now a part of nationwide crew historical past?
It’s an excellent honour, one thing I’m very happy with. I keep in mind after I received my one centesimal cap. It was a particular second, as a result of there are only some gamers to have reached that milestone. But I’ve at all times been the sort of participant who tries to not look again – no less than whereas I’m nonetheless energetic and in a position to look to the longer term. But when the tip does come, it’ll certainly be one thing I can reminisce on with immense pleasure.
At Russia 2018, Sweden have been eradicated by England within the quarter-finals. What emotions did that produce: pleasure at being among the many prime eight groups on the earth or disappointment at not going additional?
Somewhat little bit of each. It was already an excellent accomplishment. I do not suppose lots of people anticipated us to achieve the quarter-finals of a World Cup. It was a improbable expertise. But while you get that far, you continue to wish to go additional, so it was a giant disappointment to be knocked out. And probably the most disappointing factor is that we had the standard to go on, however we did not carry out to the extent required of a World Cup quarter-ultimate. England deserved to win that sport, however while you’re just one sport away from having an opportunity to play for a medal, it is painful to return up quick so near your aim. But general, we’re happy with what we completed.
Three years on, Sweden shall be showing at this summer season’s EURO however completed backside of their group within the UEFA Nations League 2020/21. Has the crew progressed or regressed in recent times?
I’d say we’ve grew to become a greater crew. Some tremendously gifted younger gamers have come into the squad and given us recent impetus. Competition for locations right now is as intense because it has been in a really very long time. You’ll discover our gamers proper throughout Europe’s prime leagues and performing properly, which may solely result in enhancements. Of course, we completed final in our Nations League group, however we have been competing towards the most effective groups: France, Portugal and Croatia. Playing towards groups of that calibre will not be one thing we’re used to, however these are the sort of video games that train you a large number. We have to attempt various things to search out options and discover ways to shut the hole and compete. However, we additionally have to study what to not do. We rapidly realised that, even when we’re dominating a sport, if we open issues up a little bit an excessive amount of, then these groups will instantly punish you. Teams like Sweden have to study this after they play towards the world’s prime sides, as they make you pay for each mistake.
Can you set these classes to make use of in Qatar 2022 qualifying and emulate what you achieved in 2018?
It’s an indispensable start line. You at all times have to have that mindset of studying from belongings you’ve executed and placing it to make use of, of desirous to do higher than earlier than if you wish to enhance. Otherwise you’ll by no means accomplish something. At finest, you’ll keep on the similar stage. We know the way troublesome it’s and what number of good groups are in rivalry, so we have to repeatedly carry out at our greatest. The good factor is that we’ve demonstrated over the past two years that, infrequently, we have what it takes to compete with the most effective groups. We could make it troublesome for them. That’s the first lesson we have to take with us for our squad to maintain progressing.
For you personally, would collaborating at Qatar 2022 be the perfect technique to carry the curtain down in your lengthy worldwide profession?
First there’s the European Championship, which is a significant event and the first goal for now. But to be trustworthy, I’ve by no means tried to look too far forward, and even much less so at my age. [International retirement] may not be too distant, however I have never determined something but, and I do not wish to give it some thought but.
You’re at an age the place you do not wish to look too far forward, however do you ever look again and take into consideration what you would possibly do otherwise in the event you may relive your profession?
Going again in time will be stunning, but in addition harmful. I’m certain you possibly can at all times discover one thing you might do otherwise. I made a decision to go away Sweden at a younger age, however I’m happy with the profession I’ve had thus far. I’ve performed in a league I dreamed of as a child, the Premier League, and performed there for a very long time. I’ve at all times managed to take care of my bodily situation, which is why I haven’t had any main accidents. I’ve been in a position to have an excellent profession, particularly with the nationwide crew, with whom I’ve performed many video games. The final World Cup was a hit and an essential second for me personally. So I want to be happy with the whole lot I’ve achieved, moderately than consider at what I may have executed.