Five Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Östersunds FK

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Östersunds FK
BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 07: Sotirios Papagiannopoulus, Ronald Mukibi, Aly Keita, Tom Pettersson, Alhaji Gero, Ken Sema, Gabriel Somi, Brwa Nouri, Fouad Bachirou, Curtis Edwards and Saman Ghoddos of Ostersunds FK during the UEFA Europa League group J match between Hertha BSC and Ostersunds FK at the Olympic Stadium on December 7, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Getty Images)

Östersunds FK are making headlines throughout the footballing world this season. Less than three years ago, they played in Sweden’s second division and are now preparing to host Arsenal in the Europa League’s round of 32.

Playing in the city of Östersund, known as the ‘Winter City’ to Swedes, the tiny club has had a long and, in many ways, surprising rise from the depths of Swedish football to now play on one of the continent’s biggest stages.

Who Are Östersunds FK?

They Are Younger Than Wenger’s Tenure at Arsenal

On October 1, 1996, newspapers across the UK were asking, “Arsene Who?”. Thirty days later, on Halloween, three local clubs in northern Sweden merged to form Östersunds FK.

Ope IF, IFK Östersund and Östersund/Torvalla FF joined forces with the express goal of one day playing in the Second Division. The next year the team also absorbed Frösö IF into its ranks, followed by Fältjägarnas IF in 2000.

Despite the lofty ambitions of a club in its infancy, success went wanting through the early years. In fact, Östersunds stayed in the third tier of Swedish football right up until 2010, when they suffered relegation.

Since then, however, the team has fought its way to the top and now play in the Allsvenskan; Sweden’s top-flight.

Much, if not all, of this success has been attributed to the Director of Football, Daniel Kindberg. The former military man has made sweeping changes to the club since nearly quitting after the 2010 relegation.

Most of the meaningful changes has come in an unexpected form, the off-field antics of Östersunds FK.

They Have A Unique Approach

There is an old Swedish word that is hardly known outside of its sparsely populated north country; “Eljest”. Roughly this word translates as someone who is unique and possibly a little bit strange.

It is also a word which may perfectly describe Östersunds FK.

The team has taken an eccentric approach to building team spirit; through the use of cultural experiences. The entire team, not just players but also coaches and trainers, are required to take part in an annual cultural experience, set up by their very own Culture Academy.

Together, Östersunds FK have written a book, produced an art exhibition, created interpretive art, held concerts and once even performed Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake.

In fact, the team even employs a Culture Coach, Karin Wahlen, for these performances and to help foreign players adapt to Sweden. Also on staff at Östersunds is a Social Coach, Bengt Olsson, and even a Pilates Instructor, Rachel Potter.

According to Daniel Kindberg, “The Culture Academy sets out to make everybody better. It’s a training method for two explicit things; one is courage, the other is decision-making.”

Despite, or perhaps due to, these almost unheard of antics, the team has taken the Allsvenskan by storm and looks to do the same with the entire continent. Just like the club as a whole, the manager has a unique story.

Their English Connection

Graham Potter is the English manager of Östersunds FK, a post he has held since December 2010. Just like his employer, Potter believes deeply in the project he has committed to.

“Daniel [Kindberg] has enabled us to create something quite unique, and ultimately that’s what it was about: creating an identity for the club.”

He also believes in his players, even if they didn’t get a fair chance at previous clubs. One may say he cares about not just the sport, but also the people who are playing.

“My view with whoever we recruit is that football is a team game played by human beings. If you pay that no regard, then it’s a rocky road, and problems can arise. I think character development, and nurturing the individual as a person, is vital for us.”

One player who has benefited from Potter’s trust is club captain Brwa Nouri, an Iraqi Kurd who moved to Sweden as a boy. Before joining Östersunds FK, he was released by his former club after off-field incidents began piling up.

Just a few years later, he is leading his team against the likes of Athletic Bilbao and Galatasaray.

The team has also held an informal partnership with Swansea City, who agreed to loan players to Östersunds in order for them to gain experience. Among those who have passed through both Wales and Sweden is Modou Barrow, who bagged an assist against Arsenal in October 2016.

They Have Found Success

Less than seven years after Graham Potter signed his first contract at Östersunds FK, he lead the team to their first major trophy, the Svenska Cupen {Swedish Cup}.

The glory of winning silverware is always sweet, but likely even more so coming so soon after gaining promotion into the top-flight. Their victory in the Cup also allowed them into European competition for the first time.

What came next stunned everyone involved, especially their opponents.

Östersunds FK drew Galatasaray in the second qualifying round of the Europa League. The first match, played in Sweden, ended 2-0 in favour of the home side.

The return leg in Istanbul ended in a 1-1 draw, which was enough for the group of relative up-starts to eliminate the established power 3-1 on aggregate.

Dutch team Fola Esch could not contain Potter’s men either, losing 3-1 in the next round of qualifying. The next scalp collected by Östersunds FK was that of PAOK, who were narrowly dispatched via away goals after the tie ended 3-3.

No one expected the team to advance out of their group, although likely a neutral would agree that they had already done themselves proud. However, that was not enough for the team from Sweden’s Winter City.

Östersunds finished second in their group, level on points with winners Bilbao, at the expense of both Hertha Berlin and Zorya Luhansk. It is safe to say they have already made at least some history with their Europa League run.

Their Style on the Pitch

Usually, when a smaller club faces a larger one, the minnows rely on physicality to win the day. This has not been the case with Östersunds FK.

Graham Potter is not satisfied to see his players just stay organized and play long-balls to create chances. He normally employs a 3-5-2 formation and encourages his men to use possession-based attacking football.

Their main play-maker is Brwa Nouri, the club captain, who plays in midfield. He is also the designated penalty taker, netting from the spot three times in Europe so far.

Saman Ghoddos is Östersunds’ main target man. The Iran international has scored five goals in the Europa League from 12 appearances, the most on the team. It was his brace against PAOK that won the tie for his team in the final qualifying round when the team were 3-1 down.

The team is also made of mostly younger players. Just three of Östersunds’ squad are over 30; keeper Ali Keita, captain Brwa Nouri and striker Salisu Abdullahi Gero.

There may not be another club in the world quite like Östersunds FK. Their unique style of team-building, their focus on cultural experiences and, of course, their play on the field are unlike anywhere else on the planet.

They are as unique as the Swedish word “Eljest” would suggest. They may also be quite the handful for a heavily-favoured Arsenal in their Europa League clash this February.

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