Sweden has always been one of the best developers of young, talented soccer players in Europe, boasting well-structured leagues that have always favored promoting youth players.
There are clear advantages to promoting from within, the costs are substantially lower than paying for overpriced players, and when a young player really shines, teams from richer leagues such as the Premier League or Serie A often come calling.
As far back as the 1970s, Swedish players have been known to learn their trade in their home leagues, only to move abroad for often nominal fees. While this was a perfect situation for the buying teams, often, the selling team ended up losing a potential star for practically nothing.
Thankfully for the Swedish leagues, this is no longer the case. A player moving abroad can now be a substantial investment, often with sell-on clauses in their contract to further benefit their Swedish parent club.
The secret out, clubs can no longer expect to buy quality Swedish players at a bargain price, especially given the incredible quality of some of the best Swedish players.
Many of the best players from Sweden have gone on to have remarkable careers, often with the best clubs in Europe. Known for their strong work ethic, great ball skills, and many often having noticeably long careers.
Let’s check out the 5 best Swedish players of all time.
5. Freddie Ljungberg
- Position: Winger
- Appearances: 440
- Goals: 77
- Assists: 55
Not many players can boast of being both an international soccer player, and a world-renowned male model at the same time, but Freddie Ljungberg managed to pull it off. A 20-year career that started at Swedish club Halmstad, Ljungberg quickly attracted the attention of English giants Arsenal, moving to London in 1998.
A glittering career in North London ensued, with the Swedish youngster quickly showcasing his skills as a versatile attacking player.
With 216 appearances for Arsenal and 46 goals, Ljungberg became a fan favorite. While in England, Ljungberg won two Premier League titles, as well as three FA Cups, cementing himself in one of the best teams in the country.
While at Arsenal, Ljungberg signed for Calvin Klein as a male model, combining both careers simultaneously. While this didn’t go down too well with his employers in North London, the Swedish superstar seemed to make it work, despite complaining that he couldn’t go to nightclubs without being groped by women.
4. Tomas Brolin
- Position: Midfielder/Striker
- Appearances: 232
- Goals: 35
- Assists: 1
One of the best Swedish players of all time, even with a career cut short through injury, Tomas Brolin had an incredible scoring record for the Swedish national team, although was better known as a world-class playmaker in his club career.
Twice the Swedish Soccer Player of the Year, Brolin could run faster with the ball at his feet than some players could without it, making him a formidable playmaker.
Tactically superb, Brolin was often deployed in a midfield role, allowed to roam wherever he wanted due to his ability to create scoring chances for teammates.
While playing for Parma in the Serie A, Brolin helped the Italian club to win the first trophy in the club’s history, winning the Coppa Italia and finishing high enough in the league to qualify for Europe.
Despite helping Parma to win the European Cup Winners Cup in 1993, Brolin had started to see less game time in Italy due to the rules regarding the number of foreign players allowed. The recent signing of Faustino Asprilla from Colombia meant Brolin was no longer the first name on the team sheet.
After breaking his foot in a EURO 96 qualifier, Brolin suffered badly from a recurring injury, leading to Parma selling him to Leeds United in 1995.
From Leeds, Brolin’s career seemed to stall after a promising start, eventually leading him to go out on several loans, then a permanent move to Crystal Palace, and then a move home back to Sweden.
Between 1995-1998 Brolin only managed 47 appearances and retired from professional soccer aged just 28. One of the most gifted and prolific players of his generation, injuries finally took their toll on the Swedish star.
3. Henrik Larsson
- Position: Striker
- Appearances: 412
- Goals: 195
- Assists: 74
Swedish-born, molded into a quality striker in Holland, yet it is in Scotland where Henrik Larsson is worshipped as a soccer legend, with Celtic being the beneficiaries of the talented and prolific striker.
Larsson scored 174 goals in 221 appearances for the Scottish giants, and cost a mere £650,000, easily one of the best signings in Scottish Premier League history.
Henrik Larsson had a long and illustrious career, scoring 325 goals in 575 games over a 24-year career. Playing for massive clubs such as Celtic, Barcelona, and Manchester United, Larsson was renowned as an intelligent, hard-working player.
Joining Manchester United on an emergency loan in 2007, Larsson was hailed by United legend Sir Alex Ferguson as a key player, despite only playing seven games, stating it was the Swede’s professionalism and training standards that were such an impact that other players’ standards immediately raised.
After retiring in 2013, Larsson has gone on to have a successful managerial career and is currently managing Helsingborgs IF in his home country.
2. Gunnar Nordahl
- Position: Striker
- Appearances: 296
- Goals: 229
- Assists: 2
Prolific striker Gunnar Nordahl has a goalscoring record that simply can’t be beaten. He is still the record goalscorer for AC Milan, despite not having played for the Italian club since 1956, and Nordahl also scored a very respectable 43 goals in 33 appearances for his country. The Swedish striker is also the third-highest scorer in Serie A history, with 225 goals in only 291 games.
The Swedish national team, led by Nordahl as the tournament top scorer, also included his two brothers, Bertil and Knut. Incredibly, due to leaving Sweden, Nordahl was disqualified from playing in international matches as he wasn’t playing in Sweden, cutting short a prolific international career.
Even after retiring in 1960, Nordahl remained in soccer, managing for a further 20 years, and remains to this day one of the most successful Swedish exports ever seen.
Gunnar Nordahl was so ruthless in front of goal that he is still considered one of the greatest strikers in soccer history, regardless of era, and with statistics like these, it’s hard to argue.
1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Position: Striker
- Appearances: 815
- Goals: 492
- Assists: 203
Evergreen striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic makes it easy to find our number one pick for the best Swedish soccer player of all time, with an incredible 23-year career that shows very little sign of slowing down.
One of the most enigmatic and entertaining players of any generation, Ibrahimovic is a polarising figure, some hate him with a passion, but mostly he is adored by fans worldwide.
Ibrahimovic has an odd, yet highly entertaining habit of referring to himself in the third person, and is a journalist’s dream to interview. Outspoken, arrogant beyond belief, yet often endearing and at times humble, the Swedish legend has made a career out of scoring great goals and ruffling feathers in equal measure.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored almost 500 goals for some of the best clubs in soccer, and after moving from Malmo to Ajax in 2001 has worked his way across Holland, Italy, Spain, France, England, and the United States, racking up an impressive 815 club appearances.
Several high-profile disagreements with club owners, managers, and teammates have not dampened fan opinion of Ibrahimovic, and even after being sold to keep quad harmony, his self-belief has never wavered.
Never one to play down his own abilities, it is part of the Zlatan charm that he firmly believes himself to be one of the greatest players ever, and to be fair to him, he’s probably right. As the man himself once said “When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari”, understated humility at its best.