STOCKHOLM, June 5 (Reuters) - Sharp-suited coach Erik Hamren has helped Sweden bounce back from the disappointment of missing the 2010 World Cup to qualify automatically for Euro 2012 as the best runner-up among the nine teams who finished second in their qualifying groups.
Despite the absence of talismanic captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the final game at home to the Netherlands, Hamren masterminded Sweden’s 3-2 victory which meant Sweden avoided the playoffs.
For Hamren, it is the latest high in a career that started in the lower reaches of Swedish club football and will culminate in matches against hosts Ukraine, England and France in Kiev in Group D.
Despite a successful career as a club coach, the affable 51-year old was little known outside of Scandinavia when he was appointed as successor to Lars Lagerback in 2009.
Like Lagerback, he had no great career as a player to speak of; cut short by injury, he moved instead to the touchline to begin his steady rise to the top of the Swedish game.
Starting out at small rural clubs, Hamren progressed to coaching in Stockholm, where he won two cups at AIK before spending five years at Gothenburg club Orgryte.
With his reputation for playing attractive football and being very much a ‘player’s coach’, Hamren moved to Denmark and Aalborg in 2003. After achieving third place in 2007, he won coach of the year in 2008 as he led them to victory in the Superligaen.
His success in Denmark led to an offer to coach Norwegian giants Rosenborg, where his success continued with another league title.
It was while at Rosenborg that he was offered the chance to succeed Lars Lagerback as Sweden coach. He originally took up the post in parallel with his club job, but in May 2010 it was announced that he would depart from Rosenborg to concentrate on Sweden full-time.
The contrasts between the sharply-dressed Hamren and the tracksuited Lagerback could not be more pronounced. Whereas Lagerback’s relationship with the media was characterised by distrust and occasional hostility, Hamren is much more open.
Lagerback’s Sweden were a compact, conservative collective that were hard to beat, but offered little in attack. Hamren favours a more expansive approach, allowing players to express themselves on the ball, and he has often spoken of how a player’s aura or ‘shining’ is as important as technical ability.
In a country built on consensus, Hamren makes no secret of the fact that he treats players differently in order to get the best out of them.
Captain and Milan forward Ibrahimovic is the cornerstone of his team and he freely admits that the tactical plan is very much dependent on Ibra’s availability.
Unlike Lagerback, he is not wedded to a single system either, and in recent friendlies he has deployed Ibrahimovic as a playmaker rather than a target man, with excellent results.
Perhaps most tellingly, Hamren’s attack-minded Sweden beat an Iceland side coached by Lagerback 3-2 in a pre-Euro 2012 friendly, with the Swedes and Ibra in particular tearing Iceland apart in the opening 15 minutes to go 2-0 up.
He may be known for his loyalty to his players, but Hamren also possesses a ruthless streak, dispensing with the services of left-backs Behrang Safari and Oscar Wendt after some underwhelming performances in the recent qualifying campaign.
Perhaps Hamren’s greatest strength is in getting his teams to believe that they can beat anyone, and his group opponents should take the victory against Holland to secure qualification as a warning. (Editing by Mike Collett)