Peter Gerhardsson interview: Press play for possibility – Sweden’s boss, beyond the bronze rush

Sweden women’s national team manager Peter Gerhardsson at the London Calling display to celebrate 40 years of The Clash, at the Museum of London.

Far more than an insignificant extra, music starred time after time as Peter Gerhardsson plotted Sweden’s run to FIFA Women’s World Cup bronze in 2019. Indeed, the former forward’s own story cannot be told without it, and for someone who grew up just as enchanted by the chords as he was the Cruyff, returning home to an adoring crowd of circa 30,000 last summer was straight out of the rock and roll dreams playbook.

“In every place I’ve lived – Uppsala, Stockholm, Helsingborg and Gothenburg – the first thing I look for is a record store.”

Music plays its part in every footballer’s journey; some are just more keenly aware of it. With Peter Gerhardsson, this often-utilised background tool is very much seated at the top table in his life.

The Uppsala native has fulfilled so many roles in his time, but speaking purely for football, he has most notably played and managed at the top level in Sweden across different decades.  He led BK Häcken to (men’s) Svenska Cupen success during his tenure, before returning to a women’s game he certainly wasn’t unfamiliar with in 2017.

The ex-Hammarby IF forward drew plenty of acclaim in last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup for guiding Sweden past some big hitters to reach the semi-final. An extra-time swing of Jackie Groenen’s right boot from perhaps making it to the final themselves, Blågult nevertheless left France on an indisputable high, clinching bronze against England less than 72 hours later.

With his team making their mark at the tournament, a little slice of intrigue also fell the coach’s way for his method of incorporating music from the nation of the team the Swedes were about to play into his preparation for each upcoming game. Suffice to say, he has long been dialled into the wider power the respective music and football worlds share, and he makes the connection between discovering a band and seeing a player’s talents on the field for the first time.

“I like festivals, because you have five stages, you can go around and you can choose between them,” Peter explained. “It’s like when I saw Idles last year; the first time you see a band, it could be really fantastic.”

“It’s the same in football if you see a new player who has talent and you think ‘woah, what’s gonna happen to her or him?’ When I hear something new, I want to see them live.

“I want to see them before they go too big; sometimes when that happens, I can say ‘I saw them on that small stage before they were famous.’ Wilco and Drive-By Truckers are two of my absolute favourite bands.

“I was hoping to see Lloyd Cole and the Commotions; they were on a tour but it was cancelled in Stockholm a couple of months ago. An English band as well, called The Screaming Blue Messiahs, they were a three-man band and I saw them just once, but that’s one of the concerts where I was totally knocked out by that kind of music.

“Then of course when I see (Bruce) Springsteen, Neil Young and ones like that. I think nowadays, I like smaller places, smaller stages to watch bands, because that gets me nearer to the artist and to the music.”


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GRATTIS Peter – utsedd till årets ledare på Idrottsgalan! 👏👏 #viärsverige

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His assistant with the national team is trusted comrade Magnus Wikman, and the overall staff’s work is pivotal in fine-tuning the variables around the framework they believe wholeheartedly in. Peter’s ideas and approach have progressed through the years, absorbing the good he believes he has taken from various sources, but always with the ideals that his football outlook is built upon.

“My favourite is to work with our passing. Where we come from, we have a culture, a defensive DNA in our bodies.

“When I grew up, I was looking at English games on television, but I was more fond of the Dutch football, with Johan Cruyff and (Johan) Neeskens. For me, tactical passing is very interesting.

“The passing is technical, but I think in a short time, especially when you work with the national team and you have ten days, I think the tactical passing is one thing you can work on. It’s how you have your body angle, how you move your head, and playing more forward.

“I think that’s my favourite, the work with the tactical passing.”

As a footballing nation overall, he has long held the belief that Sweden have an underdog mentality that they need not cling to; the dependable, Scandinavian ‘warriors’ can also be the artists, taking it to the opposition. His (men’s) BK Häcken side, who came back from 2-0 down to pip Malmö FF to domestic cup glory in 2016, were full of attacking vigour.

When the Gothenburg outfit finished 2nd in the top-flight Allsvenskan in 2012, they were the league’s top scorers by 15 goals. With the structure accounted for, the final percentage– a sizeable one at that – is to trust his players to go and paint the rest as they interpret it.

Creativity has a principle role too in his music listening, as he describes how a simple press of the play button throws open the door to a never-fading world of possibility.

“Yeah, I can say that music is two things. One thing now is I like running or walking with music in my ear, and that makes me creative; I listen but I also think about football and ideas.

“I cannot sit at a table and think ‘now I’m gonna do this and think about football’. I think football is very much creative work, and that’s similar with music.

“The second thing is just to relax. I feel good and it’s one time that I don’t think about football when I’m at concerts, for example.

“I still like listening to music with the lyrics in front of me to read, because it’s also about the lyrics. For me as a Swede, sometimes it’s important to have the lyrics when I listen to bands in English, because I have to follow and there can be words that I don’t really understand if I just listen to it.

“I think it’s very interesting and sometimes you can get things from music to take into the football.”


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VM!!! 🇸🇪

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A Svenska Cupen runner-up as a Hammarby IF player, the cool temperament and warmth of character he gives off makes for an endearing equilibrium. A former sports teacher at GIH in Stockholm, part of Peter’s playing career was supplemented by work in a grocery store, while his time in the game has also coincided with studying full-time and working as a police officer.

As a teenager in the 70s, he had a stint as a bingo caller; a portion of his wages of course went on buying vinyl. The record store is a much more endangered species today than the one that prospered for decades, but it can still be found, and the allure of such a place is impossible to forget for anyone who frequented one growing up.

Peter recalls those fond walks through the entrance door, and even, when he became that crucial character and aficionado on the other side of the counter.

“In my early days, Musikörat (Musicear) was my record store. Then, when I was 18-19 years old, I worked in a record store in Uppsala, Mr Sound, and I still remember when I picked up ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ (Bruce Springsteen) from the packages and put it on.

“Nowadays, I try to go to Open Mind records in Uppsala once a week if I’m not travelling. Music magazines were not a big thing in my growing up, but nowadays, I have Uncut, Mojo, Classic Rock, Prog Rock on my mobile and get them every month.”

Peter’s father was his first coach, and also the chairman of Upsala IF, the club Peter would go on to manage as his coaching career began to kick into gear in the 90s. Music, he says, gives him the same feelings today as when he was 17, taking him back to the safe foundation of life with his parents and younger sister in the Svartbäcken area of northern Uppsala, and the feeling that anything was possible for the future.

“It was my mother who bought the first record for me and it was a single; a Swedish group called Hep Stars that Benny Andersson from ABBA played keyboard for in the 60s. I think the first English one I got was the Beatles; ‘Hey Jude’ or something like that.”

Peter’s music wall at home in Uppsala.

In a world where people are told so routinely how to live and what to believe, it is often the artists and creative spirits with the greatest value to add. They help return us to happiness at various junctures, and in Peter’s teams, he wants that same enjoyment and release for his players.

Alongside Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who led Sweden to second place at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Peter was part of Bengt Simonsson’s staff at the 1996 Olympics. He also had a spell in charge at Bälinge IF in 1997/98 before returning to the men’s game, while his wife is Linda Blom, who played 177 games at the highest level in Sweden and is now on the staff at IK Uppsala, just promoted to the top-flight Damallsvenskan for the first time. A women’s football novice when taking up his current role three years ago, he was not.

While many coaches have tried to immediately stamp their authority when taking over a team, something says that would not quite work with a Swedish squad that is filled with strong and experienced characters, a number of who are prominent voices for the women’s game. In any case, it is not Peter’s way.

He offers his take on maintaining discipline and respect, but also letting his players be liberated rather than constrained.

“I think the first thing, we often talk about players, but players are human beings, they have different ways to behave in different situations. The most important thing for me is the players perform on the training pitch and in the games.

“The time outside of that, it’s more ‘be yourself, take care of yourself to get the energy to be at your best in the training and in the games.’ Me and Magnus have an agreement with the players, if there’s something that you feel and you want to talk about, you talk with us, and we also seek players to talk about things; it’s more give and take, it’s not all my responsibility.

“I think having a player who feels good and feels trust in the group can perform in a better way. For me, it’s the individual, the person, who is important.

“I think also in the free time, you have a responsibility to yourself to feel good.”

His connection with assistant Magnus Wikman owes in no small part to the years spent together coaching 17-19-year-olds, with an equal mix of male and female players, which formed Peter’s assertion that you cannot have separate approaches based on gender. While his bond with fellow Uppsala resident Wikman is strong, music is one area where they differ, with Wikman veering more towards pop.

Peter may not quite follow predecessor Pia Sundhage in treating a press conference to a song, but as alluded to earlier, he actively uses music to let his creativity roam free when working. En route to a bronze medal success that brought around 30,000 to Gothenburg’s Götaplatsen public square when they arrived home last summer, he chose to listen to songs from the nation his team were about to play, as he worked on preparations for each World Cup encounter.

In the final group game against the United States (with both teams already through), he went for two of his aforementioned favourite bands, Wilco and Drive-By Truckers. It was Neil Young for Canada in the last 16, Rammstein for quarter-final opponents Germany, and Golden Earring for the Netherlands in the semis. What, though, when it came to England?

“I always go to End of the Road Festival in north Dorset, and now I’ve been to Green Man Festival, which is in Wales. There was a band I was looking at on YouTube, Idles.

“It was punk music but it was so much energy in the way that they play and behave, and I went to Green Man after the World Cup, and I saw Idles finishing the whole festival at 12 o’clock on a Sunday and it was fantastic. I listened to Idles before the England game and it gave me energy, and that was something I needed.

“I was also a little bit tired after the Netherlands game, so no ballads or anything like that, I needed tough rock and roll, and Idles was the perfect way to listen!”

The opening two group games resulted in victories over Chile (2-0 in Rennes) and Thailand (5-1 in Nice). Although Sweden were heavy favourites for both matches, no corners were cut when it came to Peter’s ‘track-tical’ preparations.

“Yes, Föllakzoid is a group from Chile; a little prog music. From Thailand, I chose Blackhead; rock in the fuzzy, hard way.”

In the third-place play-off, it could be said that Sweden left England looking like they might have stood to learn something, as Peter’s side followed up a 2-0 success they had enjoyed in a November 2018 friendly with a 2-1 win to clinch bronze. In music and football, though, Peter has taken plenty of inspiration from England through his life and career.

His time at Helsingborgs IF, which included working with legendary frontman Henrik Larsson, saw him operate as assistant to Stuart Baxter, the Wolverhampton-born ex-South Africa and Finland boss who boasts as impressive a footballing odyssey as any coach. Speaking of Midlands roots – in the case of Robert Plant and the late John Bonham at least – Peter knows just where he would take it if he could see any musician or group from all-time perform.

“I think it would be Led Zeppelin; I was too young so I didn’t get a chance to see them. I think that was rock and roll in the best way around that time.

“I think it was ’74, ’75, so if I have a time machine and I can get back to that time and listen to Led Zeppelin, it would be perfect!”

Peter at the famous 100 Club music venue on Lodnon’s Oxford Street.

One of the great beauties of a World Cup is the contrast it brings; style of play, the nations’ colours, and also what each team chooses to publicly project. The England camp, for example, took the ‘we’re here to win’ stance, with manager Phil Neville openly speaking of taking inspiration from holders the USA’s mentality.

Blågult number nine and one of the tournament’s stars, Kosovare Asllani, told how Sweden prefer not to look at other teams’ approach, though they always believe they can win. Peter offers his insight into what the messages were behind the blue and yellow scenes leading into and along their tournament path.

“When we played the first three games, we said that we’re gonna win the last game, because winning the last game, it’s more fun. When we were knocked out by Netherlands, we took that to go and win the last game, and that was against England.

“When we won the bronze medal, everybody was happy. I asked myself, ‘If we had won the gold medal, would I be happier? No, I don’t think so.’

“It was so fantastic to do. Even if physically we were very, very tired, you can choose how you go into a game.

“We said to ourselves we would try to play the way we have played in the whole World Cup, and therefore, we pressed hard, we pressed high. I think everybody saw that game, it was like the old runner, Filbert Bayi; he starts running and he goes 100 percent, then the other ones start coming up at the end.

“It was the same for us. We thought we would play more 4-3-3, like when we played England away in 2018, but it was the only time in the World Cup, the last 20 minutes against England, that we saw we could not run, we have to defend.

“But for us, it was about ‘win the last game’, because that’s more fantastic than losing it.”

A fantastic experience France certainly was, with pivotal snapshots like Stina Blackstenius’ deft touch towards the Canada goal as keeper and defender came crashing into her, Hedvig Lindahl’s penalty save in that same match, and even Nilla Fischer’s goal-line clearance in the dying moments against England. Sofia Jakobsson undoubtedly signed her name over key moments too, with a terrific strike in the bronze medal match, and the crucial equaliser as Sweden went on to banish a German ‘ghost’ they were beyond tired of hearing about.

The CD Tacon forward, Peter believes, would be a worthy choice if he was ever to collaborate on a song with one of his players – a Sweden team brimming with musically-adept individuals, no less.

“I know that she also plays an instrument, so it should be Sofia Jakobsson. I think she played guitar when we came back from the World Cup, in front of 30,000 people in Gothenburg.

“So yeah, I take Sofia Jakobsson; I think she would do it very well!”

An attacking talent who also possesses some musical shine. As well as Jakobsson, that description could also fit Olivia Schough, and so too somebody who was not part of the World Cup squad – Lotta Schelin. The now-retired ex-Lyon star and all-time top scorer for the national team is the player Peter says he was most saddened not to have had the chance to work with – “One of the best players Sweden has had, ever.”

While it would be nonsensical to have not refined or adapted his approach during his decades as a coach, the fundamentals have stayed the course, Peter says. Seizing the initiative remains non-negotiable.

“I want the players to take responsibility on the pitch. I want them to feel that they have me until the game starts, so you can ask, you can seek information and everything like that, but then it’s up to them to perform.

“I will also take responsibility for their decision, even if it’s wrong, because it’s more important that they feel they have a coach they can trust when it comes to their decision-making on the field.”

For around 20 years now, Peter has had a hearing aid for each ear, which came about after a concerned police colleague recommended that he had his hearing examined. Putting the music on in the car after they were fitted, he suddenly understood why his family complained when he had been playing his songs so loud before.

His approach has certainly chimed in time with the national team thus far, with Kosovare Asllani giving a ringing endorsement late last year: “We changed a lot in our game when we got our new head coach… He trusts us a lot and gives us a lot of responsibility, and that’s exactly what I need. It’s not just with me; it’s with all the players. We play to our strength and put the players where they want to play, not in a system where they don’t fit.”

Of course, though, not everything will resonate quite so strongly.

“Sometimes I show (the players) music videos before games,” Peter explains. “Last time, I was showing them a London group called Shopping, the song was ‘Initiative.’”

“I think they are good, and when I played it, it was about concentration and things like that, but they looked very confused when I showed them!”

Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic greatly altering everyday life as we know it, music is one lifelong love that remains in reach for Peter, even if concerts and festivals are sidelined. For another of those loves, the beautiful game, the usual constant stream of action is not so accessible.

The Tokyo Olympics that Sweden were building towards in 2020 may have been pushed back a year, but there remains much to look forward to for the team ranked number five in the world. Peter says the management staff are checking in regularly with the players to see how they are doing, while his youngest prospect, six-year-old son Casper, has a room in the house in which to hone his burgeoning skills. After this interview, Peter has waffles to make for Gerhardsson Jr. – we are speaking on Waffle Day in Scandinavia, after all.

While we wait a little longer for the national team’s next chapter, what they achieved last summer remains fresh in the thoughts. The joint-best performance at a World Cup since 2003 was duly recognised when they returned to Sweden. A rapturous welcome in front of approximately 30,000? Well, ‘that’s when rock and roll dreams come through.’

Fantasy is right where we conclude. It has been Peter the coach for many years now, but it was once his time out there in the action; the best days of your life, as many former players would tell you.

In the regular final question on here, Peter puts forward four former teammates he would love to play alongside again. Here’s who would complete his team’s line-up in a 5-a-side game.

“Ulf Eriksson (Hammarby IF teammate) – Ulf was a national-team player (for Sweden). Right-wing, fantastic passing.

“Per Holmberg (Hammarby IF teammate) – Per was a right full-back. Tactical and physical, 100 per cent attitude in everything.

“Dragan Stevovic (Vasalunds IF teammate) – Yugoslavian central midfielder. Left foot, technical and tactical.

“Anders Forsberg (Hammarby IF teammate) – very good goalkeeper…and good music taste!”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes

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