* Swedish captain has been team’s star performer
* Granqvist played for two seasons in England
* His wife gave birth to second child on Friday (Adds Granqvist quotes on new baby)
By Philip O’Connor
SAMARA/SOCHI, Russia, July 6 (Reuters) - Andreas Granqvist did not set the world alight during his two seasons with the then Premier League side Wigan Athletic, but Sweden’s defensive linchpin is ready to show how far he has come when his side take on England in the World Cup quarter-finals.
The centre back has spent the last five years on a lucrative contract with Russian side Krasnodar, and having already signed a deal to move back to Sweden after the tournament, the World Cup will be his swansong at the top level.
“I feel fairly energetic for a 33-year-old,” he told reporters with a smile on Wednesday.
Despite his height and strength, few would have predicted that he would make it this far when he struggled to break into Wigan’s first team in his early twenties after joining them from Helsingborg. In all he made only 14 appearances in England.
Late in his second season there he returned to Sweden and Helsingborg on loan to rediscover his form and rebuild his confidence, playing well enough to secure a move to Dutch Eredivisie side Groningen.
Finding himself with a little more time and space than in the helter-skelter world of the Premier League, it was there that he established himself as a top-class defender and a serious goal threat.
The goals tailed off when he moved to Serie A side Genoa on a four-year contract in 2011 but Italian football proved to be a great finishing school for the defender, and his lucrative move to Krasnodar followed in 2013.
With the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic after Euro 2016, new Sweden coach Janne Andersson immediately appointed Granqvist captain, sending out a signal as to the kind of Sweden side he was building.
“He was a given, I barely needed to think about it at all. He’s communicative, takes a lot of responsibility and has a fighting spirit I like,” Andersson said when making the announcement.
Granqvist is well-liked in the Sweden squad and not afraid to show his emotions. On several occasions he has cried tears of joy on the field as Sweden progressed, first from a playoff against Italy and then as they topped their World Cup group.
There was joy for him on Friday as his wife Sophie gave birth to the couple’s second child, a day before the quarter-final against England.
“So happy and proud of my wife, both are healthy and well,” Granqvist wrote on Instagram.
“I didn’t sleep too much last night so I am glad it has happened now,” he told reporters on Friday.
“My wife did a wonderful job back home. Everything went well and both baby daughter and wife are doing really well.
“Getting a daughter is the most beautiful thing you can get and it is also the dream of every footballer to play in the quarter-final of the World Cup.
“I am just trying to enjoy it and be present in the now. We want to do the best we can tomorrow to get the best possible result.”
Known all over Sweden by his nickname of “Granen”, or “the fir tree”, Granqvist knows that the next game for Sweden could well be his last at the very highest level.
He has signed a deal to return to Helsingborg, now in the second tier of Swedish football, with his young family as soon as the tournament is over.
But first, he will seek to add one more glorious chapter to a career few would have thought possible when he left England almost unnoticed 10 years ago. (Reporting by Philip O’Connor; additional reporting by Jack Tarrant Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Christian Radnedge)