Life is a Cabaret – Östersunds FK

February 14, 2018

One thing that caught my eye when reading up on our opponents for the upcoming Europa League round of 32 tie, was that the club liked to employ unusual methods to get the best out of its players. So, let’s take a look at the club’s management and its leftfield ideas.

Since 2011 Östersunds FK have blasted their way to the top tier of Swedish football, having been promoted three times. In 2017 they won the Svenska Cupen which enabled them to participate in this season’s Europa League for the first time. Marching past Galatasary and PAOK in qualifying, Östersunds finished second in their group on the same points as Athletic Bilbao, leaving Hertha Berlin trailing in their wake. They are no mugs.

Graham Potter had a so-so career in English football playing for Stoke, Southampton and West Brom amongst others. With a strong desire to stretch himself academically, he studied for a degree in Social Sciences via the Open University and later followed that up with a Masters in Leadership and Emotional Intelligence from Leeds Metropolitan University.

As the man himself has said, “You need to know about football to coach, but you need to know about people, too. Sometimes that can be the difference. It’s about how you bring a team together. How you communicate as a team. How you understand each other. And, ultimately, how you unite the group for a common cause.”

Potter had worked as a football development manager for the University of Hull and Leeds Metropolitan University plus as assistant coach for the England Universities Squad, before being approached by Östersunds chairman, Daniel Kindberg, about a coaching job. After initial hesitation from Kindberg, Graham Potter was eventually employed as Östersunds head coach in December 2010.

Together they came up with the idea of a ‘Culture academy’ when former lieutenant colonel, Kindberg, realised he might have to take an unorthodox route to make the Swedish minnows successful.

As the Östersunds chairman has said about his playing staff, “Many of them were discarded by their clubs — leftovers that people perceived as not good enough, but when we put them together, in an environment like ours, they have become fantastic players in Europe.”

How to get the best out of individuals and the team as a whole has been the cornerstone of the club’s philosophy. An art exhibition, writing a book, dancing to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake plus various singing and theatre assignments have followed, all designed to bring the players together and make them ‘comfortable in uncomfortable situations’.  Scheduled rehearsals go on throughout the season, fostering a real sense of camaraderie and team spirit which extends to the football pitch.

Billy Reid, Potter’s Glaswegian No.2, used to manage Hamilton Accies but recently wrote and performed a rap about the Sami people, an indigenous minority of the Swedish Arctic known for reindeer herding.

To say it’s an unconventional approach is an understatement – take a look. This was the Östersunds players opening the 2016 Swedish Football Gala by dancing along to ‘There’s No Business Like Showbusiness’.

What do we think? Could a similar approach be successful at Arsenal?

Maybe Snow Wenger and the Seven Dwarfs, a rueful tale about the manager’s obsession with skillful, slight midfielders of limited stature?

Or The Wizard of Oz – starring Brave Sir Robin, Samir Nasri and Adebayor as the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow alongside Cesc Fabregas’ Dorothy?

Can you think of any productions Arsene and the boys could have featured in, in the past?

However strange the approach taken by the Östersunds FK management might seem, it has certainly reaped dividends and Arsenal can be sure of a warm welcome on Thursday evening.

chas