The 2014 Swedish season starts this weekend with Henrik Larsson bidding to avoid relegation with newcomers Falkenbergs FF. "Impossible?" the former striker said. "I don't think so."
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At Wednesday's media event to herald the new Allsvenskan season, 42% of the journalists present voted 20-time champions Malmö FF as the team most likely to succeed in 2014. Similarly, 38% named debutants Falkenbergs FF as the side most likely to be relegated.
This weekend Falkenberg visit Malmö for the first day of the campaign, an enormous task for a team that came unstuck against second division IFK Värnamo in their final pre-season friendly. However, their famous coach is not despairing. "I still have a positive feeling," said former Celtic FC, FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC striker Henrik Larsson, who made his name and ended his career with Malmö's arch-rivals Helsingborgs IF. "I hope we've gone through the whole preparation process because on Sunday we need to be ready."
Larsson was a 2006 UEFA Champions League winner with Barcelona, a league champion in Scotland, Spain and England, and he signed off with 37 goals in 106 games for Sweden. Yet he may never have faced an assignment like this one. Founded in 1928, the side from Sweden's south-west coast have reached the top flight for the first time in their history, and have nothing like the resources or squads of their established Allsvenskan rivals. The odds are against them, but with everyone doubting his team, Larsson said: "The players have to believe in themselves."
The same goes for their coach. Larsson is in sole command in the big league for the first time, appointed in December following Falkenberg's promotion while his predecessor Hans Eklund took over at Kalmar FF. Now 42, Larsson's only previous coaching experience came in a three-season spell at second division Landskrona BoIS, which was regarded as a little disappointing. More recently, he was helping out behind the scenes at his first club Högaborgs BK.
Football experts in Sweden have achieved some kind of consensus concerning the challenge that awaits Larsson. "Henrik Larsson dreams of the impossible," read a headline in his home-town paper Helsingborgs Dagblad; "Henke's impossible mission," added Dagens Nyheter. Larsson, though, did not become one of the most successful players in Swedish history by taking the easy path. "Impossible?" he said. "I don't think so, but of course it will be tough. If we don't believe we can make it, then who will?"