Feature

South Sweden to north London: Eidevall's story

Jonas Eidevall

Some 65 kilometres inland on the southern tip of Sweden sits Hoor, a small town of around 15,000 inhabitants.

It's a quiet area, and the prevailing silence is broken only a handful of times a day when large commuter trains transport workers from Kristiansand, one of the region's big cities, to Copenhagen, in the neighbouring Denmark.

Hoor's central square hosts a number of Scandinavian restaurants and cafes, while there are also several hiking trails and lakes to provide tourists with more scenic views of the surrounding area.

But while visitors may flock to the outskirts, the main attraction for locals is situated to the west of the town, protected on all sides by dense forest: a football pitch known as the Svanvallen.

It's an idyllic setting for football lovers and one which has helped many youngsters hone their skills. But to date, only one local has made the step up from the Svanvallen to elite football - and now he's looking to make his mark as the head coach of Arsenal Women.

A Hoor native, Jonas Eidevall spent his childhood playing football with his friends at every possible opportunity. Every time he had a break at school? The ball would come out. When his classes finished for the day? He'd head to the pitches for training. And on the weekend? You guessed it. Eidevall was always playing football.

As a kid, he idolised Tomas Brolin, dreamed of replicating Roberto Baggio's creativity and, as a box-to-box central midfielder, envied Jean Pierre-Papin's ice-cool composure in front of goal.

"I was always central midfield," Eidevall recalls. "I was basically too slow to play in other positions but I could still run a lot, so I used to play at No 8 because I had to be moving at all times.

"It also meant I could use my brain a lot and think more when I was playing, to compensate a lot for my lack of speed and also at times my technique. That definitely became useful later down the line when I became a coach."

With just the one English game a week televised in Sweden back then, each match became an occasion for Eidevall and his family. But as soon as he watched his first game and saw the excitement on the faces of those gathered around the screen, he knew he was going to be hooked for life.

"Sometimes it's hard to know where that passion comes from, it's just natural," he smiles. "Sometimes you roll out a ball in front of a young kid and you just see the excitement in their eyes. You have no idea where it comes from but it's just there and it just stays for life.

"That's what amazes me so much with this round ball, that you just roll it out in front of someone and then they're hooked for life. You want to be able to master it, to play with others, make a life and a career from it. It's obviously a global phenomenon, not just in Sweden. That's what makes it really amazing."

Eidevall's obsession grew week after week, playing until it was dark, and watching until he fell asleep. Each game was a lesson and each team had their own captivating style, but it was the Premier League that he would look forward to watching the most - and he would pay special attention to one team in particular.

Anders Limpar

"Well, as a Swede, Anders Limpar was one of the players I was looking into," Eidevall begins. "Then I really liked the Arsenal logo, so I bought myself a shirt. I was obviously sat in front of the television whenever Arsenal played as well, to support them. It's really a team that has grown on me and one I've followed through the years."

The then-teenager would be kitted out in our red and white when he trained with his local club, Maglasate IF, and it wasn't long before he was called up to represent their senior team at just 14 years of age.

But a knee injury cruelly halted his progress and after trying to play through the pain, Eidevall's legs were damaged beyond repair. At the age of 17, the self-confessed football addict was told to never play football again.

"Fortunately, coaching gave me a second chance of staying in the game," he explains. "And fortunately I'm a much better coach than I was a player!

"The thing that worked in my favour is that I've always cared more about the team, rather than my own success. It's all about the collective, it's all about the things we can achieve together. As individuals, we're nothing compared to what we are as a team."

So Eidevall had the right mindset and attitude, but needed to develop his own, unique philosophy. Luckily, he didn't have to look too far for inspiration.

"Wenger's Arsenal was the eye-opener," he laughs. "I didn't believe or think that you could play football that way. In Sweden back then, all teams were playing 4-4-2, long balls and positional defence. It was just about making the opponents commit the mistake, which they never did because we were playing the balls so direct.

"You saw a team like Arsenal play on television and said, 'Wow, can you play that way and still win games?' For that to be the most effective way of winning games was amazing. That basically started me on a journey to see how I could play football that way and what I needed to know, how I could teach it and how I could get a team together to be brave enough, to have the confidence to play that way.

"Coaches like that always amaze me because they're able to get their teams to play beautiful football. Wenger was one example and then here in Sweden I saw a young Englishman coming over, Graham Potter, who's now in the Premier League. The things he did with a small-division team like Ostersunds was the same thing. Nobody in Sweden thought that was possible. Those things are really inspiring to me."

Eidevall

And now, Eidevall's football is inspiring others. The Swede made his first steps into management as a 23-year-old assistant coach at local men's club Lunds, before taking the reins as head coach three-and-a-half years later and guiding them to the 2009 second-division title.

He was rewarded with a move to women's side Rosengard, first as an assistant and then as the head coach who took them to back-to-back Damallsvenskan titles in 2013 and 2014.

A brief spell as Henrik Larsson's assistant at Helsingborgs would follow, before he returned to Rosengard and led the Malmo outfit to a Swedish Cup and their first league title in four years.

"I had an amazing time at Rosengard because we rebuilt the team," Eidevall remembers. "We competed for the championship every year and we were able to progress into the final eight in the Women's Champions League this year.

"I don't think many people still think that's possible for a small club that's located in Sweden, to be among the other top clubs in the world. I think that's an achievement that everyone around the club should be incredibly proud of."

Although he is still a young coach at 38 years old, Eidevall has used his experiences to refine his philosophy and the fact that he wants to play a high-paced possession game will no doubt be music to Arsenal fans' ears.

And having grown up as a Gunners fan, he is relishing the opportunity to take the next step in his coaching journey - and take us to the next level while playing football the Arsenal way.

"I've always been proud to support Arsenal because of the values it stands for and the way the teams play, the way the players and staff can back themselves," he says.

"I think that is important. It's super important that we win, and we should be very ambitious about that, but it's even more important that we live the values and defend the club badge on a day-to-day basis. I cannot wait to do that at Arsenal."

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