Time for part two in our series of lessons on the Swedish football lexicon: after explaining ‘hotelldöden’ a few days ago, today it is the turn of ‘vinnarskalle’ (winner’s head).
Lips firmly sealed
After the end of the Ukraine defeat on Monday, I requested to have a word with Olof Mellberg, but he would speak to nobody. I had to settle for the sight of him barging down the players’ tunnel, uttering expletives. Part of having a winner’s head is hating losing as much as you love victories. That mentality has helped the central defender earn 115 caps for Sweden and has taken him to some of the biggest clubs and leagues in the world.
I first met Olof Mellberg in 1998. He had just made the move from AIK Solna to Real Racing Club, and I happened to be in northern Spain at the time. I looked him up in Santander for a Swedish newspaper. Just 21, Mellberg had not yet broken into the team but when we talked over lunch there was not a hint of uncertainty.
He also reflected on his relatively late decision to pursue a career as a footballer. He had been one of the country’s best tennis players for his age group and could have gone down that route. The possibility of working in a sphere that did not offer the highs and lows of top-level sport obviously never crossed his mind.
Swedish football has seen many players more naturally gifted than Mellberg, but very few with the same single-minded determination. That’s what Aston Villa FC, Juventus and now Olympiacos FC have seen in him too, as well as Lars Lagerbäck and Erik Hamrén. His anger at the Ukraine loss is as raw as ever. Today I again requested a word via Sweden’s ever helpful media staff. “Olof? No, I really don’t think we can make that happen”.
There is, of course, a man in the Sweden squad with a vinnarskalle to rival Mellberg’s: Zlatan Ibrahimović. After the Ukraine match, while Olof charged into the dressing room with tunnel vision, Zlatan stopped to exchange words and an embrace with Andriy Shevchenko. It is proof that no two vinnarskalle are the same, but on Friday, against England, Sweden may need all the winning heads they can muster.
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