With no action taking place on the pitch in June, activity is instead found in the transfer market. It’s a mid-year silly season that is particularly sweaty for us AIK supporters. The biggest target for rumors and speculation just happens to be AIK’s most valuable player and the hero of the spring season, Ivan Obolo.
If Obolo goes, then so does our chance at a title according to most observers. It’s a very frustrating situation for the fans, where the question becomes whether to prepare for the seemingly inevitable and just live with it, or if one should dare to hope that somehow we’ll be able to keep one of the best players we’ve ever had.
Selling players in the middle of an ongoing season is part of the rhythm of Swedish soccer. The long Swedish winters mean that Allsvenskan is played in the summer. This means a schedule that is out of sequence with the rest of Europe, where most leagues run through the winter months. The most active transfer period in European soccer takes place in July and August – in the middle of the Swedish soccer season.
The idea of “selling the gold” has become an adage in Swedish soccer. Teams that begin their season with a successful spring always stand the risk of losing their most skilled and promising players mid-season. Having lost a couple of their star players, a team that performed well in the spring can collapse as fall rolls around.
The most obvious example of this has to be AIK’s sale of Wilton Figueiredo in the late summer of 2007. Wilton, Ivan Obolo and Lucas Valdemarin became an unstoppable offensive force that put AIK on a six game winning-streak at the end of that summer. I remember the 3-1 victory against Malmö FF in August as one of the best games I’ve ever seen AIK play. AIK had started the season poorly, but by the end of the summer they were suddenly a very serious challenger for the title.
But as the transfer window was closing in August, the discussions regarding a sale of Wilton Figueiredo were as lively as today’s discussions about Ivan Obolo. Even before the sale took place, fans were warning that a sale of Wilton would mean losing the chance at winning the league.
AIK needed the money, Wilton wanted to move onwards and upwards, and so the sale signs were flashed. Wilton ended up being sold to the club Al-Rayyan, in Qatar of all places. Wilton certainly didn’t go there because of the high status of the Qatarian league, nor was it because of the beaches. Although I hear in Qatar the beaches literally go on for miles; inland too. Basically it’s all beach. What Wilton was looking for was obviously a big oily paycheck in order to secure his family’s financial future.
AIK maintained an undefeated streak after Wilton left the team, lining up four straight draws. While this might sound decent enough, the one-pointers meant that AIK lost their chance of Allsvenskan gold. AIK didn’t win a single game after Wilton’s departure and ended up in fifth place. Their offensive game more or less collapsed during the fall and AIK were unable to find a working style of play after Wilton left.
Two long years later, and today AIK is involved in another race for the gold. The competitive, economic and emotional downward trends of late 2007 and 2008 largely appear to be behind us. With Ivan Obolo leading the way on the pitch, AIK has amassed 22 points in 12 games and will enter the fall season among the top teams in Allsvenskan.
But as the natural cycles continue, our current star player is now considered a hot commodity. People often say that Ivan Obolo is too good for Allsvenskan. In truth it is rather mind-boggling that a player of his caliber has stayed in AIK for as long as he has. He is the paragon of consistency and with his immaculate technique he is truly a world class target player.
It’s depressing to think that a sale of Ivan Obolo could have similar effects to the Wilton sale. What’s even more alarming is that Obolo is actually more important to AIK’s style of play today than Wilton was two years ago. Jos Hooiveld was quoted as saying that Ivan Obolo stood for 40% of AIK’s play in one game. A pretty fair approximation on some days.
So it is with a large measure of anxiety and apprehension we find ourselves in a silly season that really should be redubbed scary season. But I still think hope remains. There are after all enough good signs to warrant a little bit of wishful thinking.
People generally like to point to Ivan’s unsuccessful runs in Italy and Spain, his age and his lack of speed, as reasons for a lowered interest from foreign clubs. I’m not sure I buy these arguments as I am sure that any scout worth a damn would recognize Obolo’s quality despite whatever weaknesses he possesses.
Far more important, however, is that Ivan has continually stated that he would like to stay in AIK. This is huge and creates a very different situation from the Wilton scenario, which involved a player that wanted a quick move to wherever the money was better. The one problem that remains is AIK’s economy. AIK could certainly use a big player sale to cover the economic losses of the past couple of years and a new contract with Ivan Obolo will be very expensive.
Thanks to some of the silly season rumors, there is reason to believe that there is a solution. AIK will reportedly sell some other players, which could help shore up the economy while at the same time making it feasible to keep Ivan Obolo. There are credible rumors that Markus Jonsson will be sold to either Denmark or Norway and slightly less credible rumors placing Nils-Eric Johansson in a Danish club. This alternative solution certainly has its own negatives, but if it means keeping Ivan Obolo, the benefits would definitely outweigh the costs.
If AIK could keep Ivan Obolo, it would remove the immense risk that such a sale represents to AIK’s competitiveness, which in turn could have adverse economic effects. Although most AIK supporters expect a sale of Obolo and realize that this is the harsh reality of Swedish soccer, there would be plenty of disappointment and disenchantment among supporters if Obolo left us mid-season. With falling attendance numbers, the last thing AIK needs right now is less excitement among supporters.
If on the other hand Ivan Obolo stays in AIK it means we’ll still have a competitive team with every chance at joining the title race. This isn’t an impossible scenario as long as Ivan Obolo wants to stay in AIK.
When head coach Micke Stahre says that he hopes that Ivan Obolo will still be on the team in July, I see that as a good reason to keep my own hopes up. Until I see the black headlines on aikfotboll.se announcing the sale, I will continue to hope that AIK will keep Ivan Obolo. I will continue to hope that we won’t have to cry for our Argentinean this summer.
This article first appeared at Markus’s excellent US AIK blog.