AIK View: Selling the Gold

Thu, Jun 4, 2009

Allsvenskan, Sweden

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.

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7 Responses to “AIK View: Selling the Gold”

  1. Lars Sivertsen Says:

    We have this issue in Norway as well (the whole “teams having to sell their best players mid-season thing), as you’re well aware, so I see where you’re coming from here.

    Here in Norway pretty much everyone are having financial trouble right now, so the clubs that would potentially try to “force” players to stay can’t do so this season because they need the cash.. is this the case in Sweden as well?

  2. Egan Richardson Says:

    I don’t know – is the transfer dynamic shifting even between the Nordic clubs? it used to seem as though Swedes only left to go to a big league, but now there are significant numbers in Norway and Denmark, too. And of course, anyone can buy a player from a Finnish club if they offer to buy the chairman a round and send a new set of training cones.

  3. Markus Berzen Says:

    @Lars: For some reason Swedish teams have always been bad at compelling their players to stay. But with the finanical crisis, most teams need the cash and probably don’t even bother trying. This is particularly true in regards to the major Stockholm clubs who are all in dismal economic standing.

    @Egan: The wages are so much higher in Denmark and Norway than they are in Sweden. After a few years of bleeding good players to Denmark, a big qualitative shift has occurred, where the Danish league is now way ahead of the Swedish. So it’s getting to the point where it’s both more profitable AND more prestigious to play in Denmark. And of course, Denmark don’t have a ~50% tax rate, which helps them…

  4. Lars Sivertsen Says:

    On the wage-thing: There’s a reason why just about every Tippeliga club is financially buggered, so I think wage-levels are about to change over there. Also, people are tired of seeing Swedish journeymen (no offense, one of my favorite Tippeliga-players ever is Swedish, but youknow what I mean) prioritized over local youngsters, so I think you’ll see a lot fewer players from the Allsvenskan being poached by Norwegian clubs and quite a few heading back actually.

  5. puntteri Says:

    Egan, you are wrong about the price of Finnish players. A round or even two is definitely necessary for the chairman, but instead of cones they take nowadays promises that they will get a lot of money in the future, ” just when our boy here has played 20000 matches in Serie A we will give you a bonus you have never seen before, so is it ok that we pay you nothing now? Good man! Maybe we can also arrange a friendly next summer? Excellent!”

    No wonder the transfer fees are rarely published.

  6. kalle Says:

    What do you think about the potential signing of Antonio Flavio?

    I’m rather twisted in this potential signing. I mean, loads of swedes are just saying that this is some random brazilian player.. But this player plays regualry in the brazilian serie a, which just two other brazilians ever have done before that have played/play in Allsvenskan, Ricardinho (Malmö FF), Thiago Quirinho.. In that sence it might be a hugh investment, but also, as you see the last name of thoose two that have played in the serie a, it could be a hugh flop or disapoinment, ‘cus you never know what you’re going to get.

    What I would prefer if AIK is searching for a brazilian type of offensive player, is that they would look at just Allsvenskan. Paulinho in BK Häcken is a great player that could develope as many other brazilian players in allsvenskan (Afonso Alves, Ari, Cesar Santin…).. At least you know what you get when you’re signing him. Over all I wouldn’t be sad if AIK had a “Bayern München” strategy and bought the best players of the league instead of just watching outside Sweden. What’s you’re opinion of this? :)

  7. Markus Berzen Says:

    I would certainly feel safer if AIK were to target players like Paulinho, Wanderson, Ranegie or Jawo instead of heading down to South America. The problem is that a top-performer in Allsvenskan will probably cost at least 10m SEK and in many cases far more than that.

    In South America you can target their below-average players and still expect to get a player that can do very well in Allsvenskan. The price for these players may be as low as 5m SEK.

    With AIK’s economy the way it is right now, the club can’t afford the top performers from Allsvenskan. But even if we could afford them it’s still a gamble and you can’t be sure what you end up with. Just remember Khari Stephenson! He cost quite a few million and didn’t make anyone happy except perhaps his accountant.

    But I have faith in Stahre/Wesstrom’s scouting abilities and I think wherever they may find their new player, what they bring to AIK will be a player with a good psyche and solid footballing skills. But they better do it soon if they’re going to do it, because the transfer window is closing pretty soon…

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