Lasse Vibe interview: The late bloomer’s right on time – IFK Göteborg’s ex-Brentford star setting tomorrow’s tone
Back with the club where he blazed a scoring trail, IFK Göteborg’s Lasse Vibe has never really been a subscriber to tunnel vision. Whether it’s crafting a song about his team, or some reconnaissance on a life after playing, the former Brentford goal-getter is not afraid to go roaming with his thinking.
The language ace. The multi-million-pound intern. The man who captained his country at the Olympics. Lasse Vibe could probably suit many descriptions, but if there is an archetypal footballer, he is probably not one to fit the mould.
The 32-year-old Danish international’s career has taken him to clubs in Sweden, England and China in the past six years, immersing him in the respective cultures of each. His poise was on show in a recent spell with Brentford that saw him make an undoubted impact in an unforgiving Championship, and there is evident balance when it comes to his thinking.
The forward holds a lifelong affection for football, taking considerable joy from the game, though without loving it to death. His respect and gratitude for it fits alongside being able to look critically and objectively at a footballing world that doesn’t always deal in grace and modesty.
Back for a second spell at a prestigious European club name in IFK Göteborg, the finance and accounting graduate has also been making connections in the investment field – just another side to someone who can lay down some riffs and melody as well as crunching the numbers, as he describes.
“Growing up, my mum and dad used to play music like Toto, Sting, Phil Collins/Genesis, Queen, that type of music. When my older brother was 16, he started to play the guitar, like just on his own, he just learned it by himself.
“With the guitar, it was more like acoustic artists, Oasis, that sort of stuff. So I was around 12 when he started playing the guitar, 12 or 13, and I think I picked it up when I was 17 or 18, and for a few years we played together.
“He taught me how to play, and to be fair, that’s probably the music that stuck with me until now. We were into John Mayer, for example.
“I went to a few concerts with him, so just that singer/songwriter, easy-to-go-with type of music.”
That creative thirst also helped him survive (and then some…) when tasked with one of football’s true pressure-cooker scenarios – the singing initiation for a new player.
“The first one I think I did was when I signed for SønderjyskE in the Danish league. So I signed in January and we travelled to Turkey, I believe it was, in February, in the pre-season, and I had to sing.
“The problem was I wanted to bring my guitar, but I also didn’t want to bring my guitar! We were in a massive five-star hotel and I asked if they had a guitar, and they obviously didn’t.
“I was smart enough to record myself playing a tune, like a riff. I wrote a song about the team; I’d already been in the team in January and half of February, so I knew I was gonna sing and I wrote a quick song.
“It was a simple chorus, like about the spirit in the team, it was in Danish, and I recorded myself playing it, I remember, on my iPhone. Normally the rules were you could sing without music, and if you wanted music you had to put it in your ear and you could sing out loud, so nobody else could hear the music.
“I actually listened to myself playing the guitar and I wasn’t singing on the recording, so I was singing live to myself playing, basically. It was really good and they enjoyed it, so after everybody else had finished – there was like five or six players singing – I had to do mine again and they were trying to sing along!
“I think I’d printed the lyrics as well and handed them out. Then I sang in Brentford as well, but that was way less co-ordinated; I’d signed from Sweden so I got up on a chair and sang a Swedish song.”
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Lasse had joined Brentford for just under £1.2m on a three-year deal in summer 2015, playing under Marinus Dijkhuizen in his short tenure, interim boss Lee Carsley, and to a much greater extent, Dean Smith. With time spent out wide and as a lone striker, as well as some sidelined by injury, he figured 97 times in his two-and-a-half years with the Bees, scoring 37 goals.
As his spell in West London was drawing to a close, he was nominated for the PFA Championship Player of the Month award for December 2017, and later signed off with the winner at Reading in his final game. A player with intelligent movement, as well as both finishing instinct and selflessness, Lasse would typically hit his scoring stride late in the season, with 14 goals coming from January onwards in 2016/17.
Along with hearing the Bees faithful roar on many occasions, he also remembers a former Arsenal youngster (and now a Chinese international) being responsible for some of the sounds in his Griffin Park years.
“At some point, it might have been Nico Yennaris. There was a couple of the French guys, like Neal Maupay and Yoann Barbet; they enjoyed putting on some French grime, rap thing, whatever!”
Returning in early-April this year to IFK, Lasse had struck 46 goals in 77 games during his first spell in Gothenburg. He finished top scorer in the Allsvenskan in 2014, with 23 goals (29 in all competitions) as they came 2nd.
While helping the Blåvitt back towards the summit of Swedish football – the 18-time champions came 11th and 10th in the last two seasons – Lasse is of course keen to try and hit the heights again personally, but also happy to let the younger contingent bring the noise.
“We’ve got a few players but usually it’d be Kristopher Da Graca – he was at Arsenal as a youth player – as a DJ. Now we’re moving into the type of music where I don’t even know what the bands are called, what language they sing in, I don’t even know how they make that type of music.
“I’m not gonna say I can relate to it but I can enjoy listening to it. One of our goalkeepers, Tom Amos, he’s quite good at finding old music, but still relevant, where everybody enjoys it.
“He’s quite young as well, so I don’t know, it’s a bit weird that he’s playing that sometimes! I really like when he’s the DJ; often it doesn’t last that long!”
Vejle-born but growing up in Aarhus, Lasse joined five-time Danish champions AGF as a teenager, ultimately making his debut in professional football there, though unable to make the breakthrough. He also spent significant parts of his youth with another local club, AIA-Tranbjerg, but more importantly, what about his earliest music memories?
Lasse recalls having a compilation series that just released its 86th edition – now there’s some sobering nostalgia!
“I remember I had a No Doubt CD; this was probably before I really realised what type of music I was into. I don’t know if you remember the Absolute Music; I think one of those ones as well.
“I’m gonna say number 6 or 8, something like that.”
For Danish acts, he would listen with his brother and play the songs of band Kashmir (who were actually called Nirvana before renaming themselves once some grunge lads in America started getting some attention…). Lasse has also recently been to see Lukas Graham perform, who made their international breakthrough in 2015 with ‘7 Years,’ but if he could see any band or artist from all-time play, who would be his pick?
“I’m just gonna go in a completely different direction and say the reunion of Bon Iver. That’s because the best concert I’ve ever went to was theirs, and I’ve enjoyed that laid-back, easy-to-listen-to music.
“Obviously, I’ve been listening to a lot of more modern pop, rock, grime, whatever type in the dressing room, and that’s probably not me, so that’s why I’d be looking a little bit more to find something more relaxing. I could even mention Jack Johnson or something like that.”
Along with his brother Rasmus playing professionally, Lasse’s mother also used to play football, before later opting to stick with handball. His dad was also a striker and played up to the third tier in Denmark before shifting his focus to studying at around 18.
A contender for the 2014 Danish Footballer of the Year award, Lasse had first earned an international call-up two years previous, while playing for aforementioned Superliga club SønderjyskE. His first cap had to wait until September 2014, in a friendly with Turkey, but he would have the honour of captaining Niels Frederiksen’s team for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The 2008/09 2nd Division West title winner (with FC Fyn) played the entirety of the Danes’ Olympic tournament, with a tussle against Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and company in there along the way before a quarter-final exit to Nigeria. National team dressing rooms are generally slightly different from those in club football, for various reasons, but Lasse remembers a time in particular when he witnessed the Danish team spirit soaring, with music very much responsible.
He describes a compilation of national team songs (a la ‘Three Lions’) from Denmark’s past tournaments being put together for them to listen to as they travelled to games. While the musical quality of such anthems is unlikely to score too highly in many people’s minds, Lasse admits it was actually perfectly evocative for the moment, as they got set to line up for their country.
Recording his own track would give him chance to create something without such a novelty factor, so which career teammate(s) would he select to join him?
“I played in China with a Brazilian guy named Marinho (forward who signed this year for Santos). He had that Brazilian rhythm; he could create music just with his hands and a can or something.
“So I would probably have him in or around the band, just in the background to create some rhythm. I would probably be on the guitar myself.
“Oh yeah, Tom Pettersson – I played with him in Gothenburg, now he plays for Östersund – he plays the guitar, he’s got a nice voice, a mixture between pop and rock. I would definitely do a song with him as well.”
Your knowledge of music and the memories you have of certain songs is like an unseen belonging that you carry with you no matter where you go, along with your own personal story. New places and ventures add new layers to it, and Lasse has of course experienced a variety of settings himself.
He paints the picture of the role he believes music takes in his life.
“I think music is a good thing in my life, but I think when I’m doing well, whether it’s off the pitch or on the pitch, I don’t really need music. Then I’ve got the feeling that my brain is working really well, I’m mentally stable, focused, and I don’t need music to keep me in the zone.
“So, I sort of turn to music when things are a little bit harder. I turned to music when I was studying; I’ve got a degree from a business school in Finance and Accounting.
“I remember when I first started there, I used to live with my parents and then I moved to my first apartment to live on my own, and I remember I didn’t like the quietness around me, so when I was reading I would be able to hear what my neighbours said through the wall and things like that. It wasn’t a tough period, I enjoyed living on my own, but I remember I needed music to kill the hours, because it was a lot of reading, and then also just to get me in a really focused mood.”
The accountancy side runs in the family, with Lasse’s father following that career path. We may have seen him blossom in more recent years as a high-level player, but it certainly wasn’t always like that for Lasse, who details why his academic endeavours have always been important.
“I didn’t have a lot of success in my early years; I was a late bloomer. I was never really into playing PlayStation and that ‘doing nothing all day and resting’ sort of thing, it was never really me, so I was bored, and that helped me a lot.
“As I got older, I got better and better with football, and I had kids as well – I had twins when I was 24/25 – so I had a few years where I was delaying my studying, and then I just had to finish it really. I did my master’s thesis when I was playing in Brentford and handed it in, in Copenhagen, and had to turn up a month later to defend it or whatever you would call it, and get a grade on it.
“Then I was done, so I was probably 29 at the time. The last couple of years, I’ve devoted my time to focusing on how I can get something now without being able to work and get the experience that people my age already have, who have the same degree.
“Really just networking, talking to and meeting a lot of different people within the investment/financial field. Since I’ve come to Gothenburg, I’ve recently done an internship within accounting; I’m really still doing it now, it’s up to me when I do it because the company love the football club and have let me in with open arms.
“I’ve set up some meetings for the next six months with people and it’s all to find out what I want to do in a couple of years when I retire really.”
As he explains when asked if there is any reason behind his extra-impressive (even for a Scandinavian) English proficiency, the culture Lasse grew up in leans much harder towards humility than self-promotion. He believes, though, that speaking what he hears is a particular skill he has, which has undoubtedly been advantageous.
Although he also speaks fluent German, Swedish and some Spanish, he was a fish a long way from any water at all when it came to moving to China with Changchun Yatai last February.
“I was like ‘I can adapt, I’ve done that all my career,’ and I was really shocked when I first landed. You can’t really recognise anything; any pattern, any smell, any food.
“You can’t really figure it out, it’s so difficult to describe. If you’re in a situation and you expect the outcome to be either A, B or C, it’s not even gonna be D, or P, or Q, it’s gonna be a number!
“I’ve never learned so much about another culture, but probably more about myself and the way that I want to live my life and appreciate living my life. I’ve got huge respect for China and Chinese culture, and I’ve got huge respect for every culture really, because that’s me as a human being.
“I’m so happy that I did it.”
It was a testing time on the pitch. With international stars in the league that season ranging from Belgium winger Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang) to ex-Liverpool and Barcelona man Javier Mascherano (Hebei China Fortune), Lasse’s teammates included former Watford striker Odion Ighalo. Changchun Yatai, though, were relegated, finishing 15th of the division’s 16 teams after a below-par final stretch of the season.
As he alluded to, the character development Lasse went through in China had been invaluable, and in a different way, England provided him with that, too. The Danish aspect of Brentford FC is considerable, with Bees owner Matthew Benham also majority shareholder of FC Midtjylland.
There are several Danes currently in the senior and B team, while Thomas Frank is now head coach, having been assistant during Lasse’s time there. Nevertheless, he still found the change a stark one when he arrived.
“I think the environment in a football club in England is much tougher than we’re used to in Scandinavia. I found it hard to come into the dressing room in the beginning and to get used to the culture really.
“I thought it was rough, but then again, I settled in quickly. It wasn’t that people were not nice, it was just a tougher environment; it was more competitive, it was more ‘speak your mind.’
“I don’t mean this in a negative way, but there were also some people just being the way they were because it would help them in their career, but not necessarily help others thrive. I was always used to this Scandinavian way where you’re depending on all your teammates and it’s a friendly environment where you can’t say anything negative about anyone else.
“I remember Ryan Woods, Woodsy in a meeting said, ‘I think there’s way too many nice people in this team; nobody ever tells me to start working harder. I need people to be tougher to me.’
“I was sitting there thinking ‘wow, is that really what you need? Because I wouldn’t want that.’
“So I learned that people are motivated by different things, and I also learned to take it on board when people are telling you stuff like that. I think there’s pros and cons in both, if we call it the English culture and the Scandinavian culture, but I look back on my time at Brentford with huge joy.
“Both on and off the pitch I felt like I had great success and I made memories and friendships for life. To have been able to play football in England is definitely one of the biggest achievements in my career and Brentford gave me that chance, and for that I will be forever thankful.”
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Thank you @BrentfordFC for letting me play where football was born. I couldn’t have enjoyed my time here without help from teammates coaches and back room staff ❤️I’m truly humbled by the fan support I’ve had and appreciate the messages I’ve received in my time at the club🐝🐝 THANK YOU 🙏🏻
The financial pull of the Chinese Super League is very well documented, though given Lasse was thriving in the Championship before his move, the Premier League would have seemed a natural progression to many. It was not an option, however.
“I had five/six months left of my contract with Brentford and they wanted to sell me, because we were in a situation where I was just turning 31 in February, and they were obviously thinking with the way that they built the club, which I’ve got huge respect for, even though I was doing well they weren’t offering me anything. They didn’t want to keep me; it’s not that they wanted to get rid of me, they just saw the opportunity.
“Even in the summer when I had a year left, they wanted to sell me, and I was actually really close to moving to China. If I had an option in the Premier League I probably would have gone for it, to be honest.
“I had a few half-options in the Championship, but the Chinese were willing to pay more than the Championship clubs. The Championship clubs that were talking to my agent at the time were saying ‘well, we’re not gonna pay a massive fee for him,’ they just wanted to weigh it out and let me go on a free in the summer.
“I was thinking ‘what if I get injured?’ and stuff, so I had that opportunity and I took it really.”
Among the highlights of his last IFK spell was equalising in the 2015 Svenska Cupen final as Jörgen Lennartsson’s team beat Örebro SK 2-1. Although the expectations have shifted to an extent, with IFK encountering financial trouble in the past few years, Lasse says the ‘big club’ feel is always apparent with the two-time UEFA Cup winners.
What has changed since he was last at Gamla Ullevi is a greater switch towards younger players, casting him in the role of older head – the oldest in Poya Asbaghi’s team, he points out. Along with recent goals he scored against Helsingborgs IF and BK Häcken, he has much to pass on from what he has learned in football.
Looking back, has it changed him?
“I think it has. My mum told me a few years back, when I was turning pro, ‘well do you know you told me when you were ten years old you never wanted to be a football player? You enjoyed football but you never wanted to play on TV, you just wanted a normal job like your dad.’
“I don’t know if that’s been an excuse to protect me because I wasn’t good enough, or if it really was my will, but I never really wanted it that much. I always loved football, enjoyed it, but I did it because I thought it was fun.
“I didn’t do it because I wanted fame or money or something like that. So I probably wasn’t willing to actually admit that I love the game as much as I do, because I was probably afraid that it was gonna hurt me.
“I think that’s what football taught me; if you stay humble, if you work hard, then that can take you really far. If you’re just able to get up every day and pick yourself up, because there’s a lot of things in football; people only see what happens on a Saturday, but there’s a lot of struggle, a lot of hard work.
“When I was young, people were pretty much taking the piss out of me every day, making me carry the balls, clean the boots, all that sort of stuff. If you can put your pride aside a little bit, and just work hard, even with quite limited technical or physical skills, you can reach a really high level.
“I think that’s a life lesson, not only football.”
Articulate and courteous, his on-field play has also helped bring no shortage of enjoyment to people. With Brentford trailing 3-1 at Burton Albion in March 2017, it looked like the day had fallen apart on the visitors, but Lasse would strike twice and superbly lay on two more goals as he, Sergi Canós, Jota and the rest ran riot in a second half the travelling support that day will treasure.
The delightful rolled touch inside on his right before sweeping home with his left against Sheffield Wednesday. The expert first touch and swivel to start his double against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. The surging run and 25-yarder into the roof of the net for IFK against GIF Sundsvall just prior to his England move. The list goes on.
The handstand celebration after his goal at Kalmar FF also deserves special mention – the rock star showmanship never dies! It’s time to let Lasse stir up some more chaos here, with the regular closing question of which four career teammates – just as worthy examples rather than a ‘best’ four – he would have on his team if a small-sided game came calling.
“Well if we’re talking 5-a-side then I’m gonna have to go with a bit more attacking skills than defensive. (Christian) Eriksen – very, very talented player.
“He’s an incredible, humble person as well, really down-to-earth, genuine nice guy. I’m not gonna pick him because he’s a nice guy but because he’s probably the best footballer I’ve played with.
“Again from the national team, I was lucky enough to get to play with Daniel Agger. I’ve never in my life encountered a person, a leader, of his character; he didn’t speak much, but whenever he said a word, or just took a breath, people would listen!
“The words that came out of his mouth were always really well balanced. I’ve got great respect for him; he’s a great leader and a great football player as well.
“I’ve played with some good keepers; when I first came to Brentford it was David Button – really good goalkeeper, I thought – then we had Daniel Bentley and he was amazing as well. But the things that I’ve seen from Kasper Schmeichel, it’s just unreal.
“I remember Bentley asking ‘what’s Kasper like? Why is he that good?’ When I have to describe him, I say when he saves the ball, it’s like he’s hitting the ball.
“He’s like a rock; the ball just flies out of there because he’s that strong. His technique is unbelievable.
“Schmeichel, Agger, Eriksen – it’s like I don’t really fit into that team! I’d be a bit embarrassed to put on that jersey!
“I’ve probably got to find another skilful player who’s gonna be good at 5-a-side; I’m thinking about Romaine Sawyers from Brentford (who just joined West Brom). He really surprised me, because he came from Walsall in League One, and I was like ‘how is this guy that good and playing in League One?’
“With the ball, his way of reading the game, his technique, he’s able to pick out passes, and the most surprising thing was he just got better and better. In his own way, he’s a leader as well, but he’s also a little bit quiet and laid-back.
“I don’t think you could find anybody who’s been in his team in his career who didn’t think he was a great guy. I think he could definitely take a step into the Premier League as well.”
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