When coming up against the Netherlands in their first group stage match at Euro 2022, Sweden were seeking revenge. Back in 2019, a tough 1-0 loss against Oranje marked the end of their campaign at the World Cup in France. However, the long awaited rematch in Sheffield ended in a 1-1 draw.
It was Swedish defender Magdalena Eriksson, who, under enthusiastic cheers from the blue and yellow fans, produced a slide tackle in the final stages of the game to prevent Jill Roord from scoring and the Dutch from potentially taking all three points.
Eriksson has been one of the most important players in Sweden‘s squad for a long time. Ahead of the Euros, she spoke to 90min about her role as a defender, her leadership style and the importance of happiness on her performance.
“Playing together with this team and my teammates here is just an amazing feeling and it‘s the same every time I put on the yellow jersey,” she said.
The support from the Swedish fans during the recent game will have bolstered this pride even more. More than 2,000 supporters joined the first fan march to Bramall Lane and made their voices heard from the stands. On the support of the travelling Swedish fans in England, the defender said: “It will give us a lot of extra energy over there and it will add to the whole experience.“
For Eriksson, who has played her domestic football for Chelsea since 2017, the Euros are a tournament on home soil.
“That‘s another thing I‘m looking forward to”, she admitted with a laugh. “It‘s coming back to my second home and playing where I feel very comfortable. I know how things work there. So of course, that‘s also something that is extra special to me.”
The defender has captained the Blues since the 2019/20 season, and also has a leadership role within the national team – but has noticed differences between being a leader on the pitch for club and country.
“I think it‘s more difficult [at] Chelsea because we have players from all around the world, different cultures, different views on leadership and how to be in a football environment“, she reflected. “That‘s something that‘s more challenging for me.
“Here in Sweden, we‘re very alike. We have the same view on things, the same thoughts, and that makes it easier to be a leader.”
When discussing leadership, Eriksson sees it as something she is constantly developing.
“I think it‘s something that I‘ve worked on,” she explained. “I always want to improve in all aspects of my life. So, my leadership has been something that I‘m consciously trying to improve and make better all the time.
“My view on leadership is, as a leader you should empower others and make others feel empowered to be themselves and be the best version of themselves.
“I think that‘s when a team perform the best, when everyone is comfortable and everyone can feel their value in the team. So that‘s the most important thing for me to not make it a hierarchal leadership where I‘m telling everyone what they should do. But people are coming to me and telling me things that they think.”
Despite their status as one of the pre-tournament favourites, Sweden had a rather slow start to the Euros. The draw against the Netherlands was followed by a hard fought 2-1 win over Switzerland.
The Swedish formation has also seen some changes, with Eriksson shifting to left back as part of a back four. The 28-year-old has spent much of her time at Chelsea as a central defender, and spent the 2021/22 season either as the centre back or left centre back in a back three.
“I think being a left back in a back three is more of a hybrid,” Eriksson explained. “You‘re both a centre back, you’re a left back at the same time, you‘re more in between. You have to read the game better.
“So, it‘s more challenging in that sense, but it‘s also very fun and inspiring because when you get it right, it‘s really good. It can be frustrating sometimes if you don‘t get it right. So, it‘s a balance.”
This balance seems to be rather fragile, with Sweden conceding in both of their group stage matches. Another challenge the squad is facing is the transition based style of play at the Euros.
“The women’s game is getting faster and faster,” said Eriksson. “So, we have to develop our way of defending and winning battles, and that’s how it is on the biggest stage; you have to win your battle and you can’t rely on anyone else.”
The focus during big tournaments can often be on strikers who provide the audience with stunning goals and battle for the Golden Boot. Other positions on the field, especially those with a defensive approach, tend to get overlooked. However, Eriksson doesn‘t think of this as problematic.
“No, that’s why I am a defender, I don’t want to be in the spotlight,” she laughed. “I think it’s quite nice that we all have different roles and we know that we are equally valued and we know that.
“We know that that’s the way it works in football and we, the defenders, are equally important in our attacking play as our attackers because we start the attack, for example.”
The continued rise of women’s football has been evident at the tournament. The group stage of the Euros is not finished, yet the tournament has already attracted a record-breaking audience.
“It‘s amazing times to be a women‘s football player at the moment,” said Eriksson.“I feel so grateful that I‘m playing in this moment in time and I‘m trying to really enjoy all of this at the same time, because it‘s so cool to see the transformation.
“I signed for Chelsea at the last Euro tournament in 2017. Just to think about where Chelsea has gone and where English football has gone and women‘s football in general in those five years. It‘s amazing and it‘s such a big growth and it‘s going so quick at all fronts. So, it‘s very inspiring.”
The Euros as a tournament have developed too, with lower ranked teams upsetting stronger teams more frequently and results becoming tighter.
“I think it’s a it’s a sign that women‘s football is going in the right direction,” Eriksson added. “There’s more players, there’s more stars, if you can say that, in more countries; it’s not concentrated to one country.”
Does the defender think the Euros are the most difficult international tournament?
“I’ve reflected on this a lot and I actually think that [they are] the toughest,” she admitted. “Because I think the lowest level and the highest level is the most equal. So it’s an extremely big test and it’s a tournament that we would love to do well in.”
Since she plays in England, Eriksson particularly has an eye on the strength of the Lionesses.
“I look a lot at the English players,” she explained. “I can see how many incredible youngsters they have coming up, so many talented players in their team. And they also have a good core of a good defence, a good goalkeeper and a good midfield. So, they have the whole package.”
Did she set any tournament goals for herself ahead of the tournament?
“I think individually for me, I‘ve been thinking a lot about it during the off-season, now that we had time to reflect and think. I know that I play my best football when I‘m feeling good, when I’m happy. And for me, that is the biggest thing for this tournament; it‘s to find ways to feel good, to enjoy it, to be happy, to be confident.
“And hopefully, at the end of the tournament I get to tell myself that I‘ve been truly my own self the whole tournament. That‘s my individual goal.“
Eriksson concluded by reflecting on the team’s approach to winning.
“Collectively, it‘s very important for us to process the way we win. In the Olympics, we were playing some really good football. We weren‘t just doing the classic Swedish way of defending and counter attacking. We actually played as well and I think that‘s what we want to take with us now to England.“