James Keene interview – June 2011 (part one)
Considered to be one of the finest forwards in Sweden since arriving on loan at GAIS in 2006 and then signing for IF Elfsborg in 2007, James Keene has consistently been amongst the goals in the Allsvenskan. The thoughtful, gifted, Englishman has long been considered a star player in Borås but this season he has dropped to the bench with the assembly of a rich squad of talents at Elfsborg. Here James talks about the current Allsvenskan campaign and European football for Di Gule.
This season is going great for the team. At the moment we are top of the Allsvenskan, one point clear of Helsingborg who have a game in hand on us. On a personal level the season isn’t going so well. After a number of years of being a starter for the club I now find myself on the bench. It’s disappointing as I had a great pre-season; I worked hard and managed to get a few goals.
We signed two new forwards at the start of the year, both coming in for big money. We signed David Elm from Fulham and Lasse Nilsson from Vitesse, who at the moment is first choice in the team. Before the season started the coach told us that he was going to be playing 4-4-2 this year which is the perfect formation for me; it’s the formation where I perform at my best and that I enjoy playing in. As soon as the league started he reverted back to his normal formation of 4-5-1. I’m not sure why the change was made but now Elm has been on the bench with me and Nilsson is playing well as the first choice forward.
At Elfsborg we have some great options on an expensive bench. While most teams in the Allsvenskan have a squad of 14 or 15 quality players and numbers made-up with what are essentially back-up players, we have got great quality in a large squad. The club have spent well to assemble strength in depth and I’m fighting for a starting place with a number of good forwards. Most of the players who are not currently in our team would be considered first choice starters at many other clubs.
I’m not sure how long I’ll be happy with not playing. As I said, I had a good pre-season this year and when I have got on the pitch I have performed well. On Sunday I was brought off the bench for the last few minutes of the game and scored our fourth goal. I came to Sweden to play football and to make a name for myself and I started off so well, playing and scoring goals in the league and getting important goals in Europe like against Braga and Dinamo Bucharest, but at the moment I’m sitting on the bench. It’s disappointing for me but that’s football.
I expected a tighter league this year than in 2009 but I also thought that the three teams fighting for the Gold would be us, Malmö and Helsingborg. I feel like this is our year. Even though we haven’t really been playing well we have still been winning; a bit like Manchester United who kept picking up points even when they weren’t playing at their best. I would love to win the title, and it would be better to win it with Elfsborg after some fantastic times here.
Some of the smaller teams, such as Örebro, have been playing well this season but none of the bigger sides have really got going yet. IFK Gothenburg have not played well at all and Djurgården are playing awful this season. When you watch them the players don’t seem to know what they are meant to do; they seem to lack ideas. But then they just went to Gothenburg and beat IFK 4-0 which was a great result.
Anders Svensson is the best player in the Allsvenskan. He doesn’t give the ball away, which is what you would expect of a player who has 119 caps for his country. He’s great to play alongside. Another player I like is Mohamed Bangura at AIK; he has played well this season.
Our biggest rivals, our derby, are IFK, who we play this month. Even though GAIS are from Gothenburg the games against them are not as big as the IFK games, probably because we have such similar fans to GAIS. When we play at home against IFK we have bigger crowds with people wanting to come along to watch when they might not go to many other games during the season.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the game Helsingborg have in hand on us. Their game at Malmo was abandoned due to crowd trouble; the second match this season to be abandoned after the Syrianska AIK match. The authorities aren’t harsh enough on the clubs. They need to start giving out big fines so that the clubs turn round and start making their fans behave. A 120,000 crown fine is nothing to the clubs. If they deducted points from the clubs then the fans would start to behave. Trouble caused by fans happens every year, year after year, and often it’s AIK and Malmö fans that are involved. If the authorities gave huge fines and deducted points then it would possibly improve this situation quickly. You hear every year that it’s a big problem, but it doesn’t change and it isn’t acceptable.
We have the Europa League draw next week and with those games alongside the Swedish Cup fixtures we have a lot of matches coming up where we will need to use our squad. I’m hoping that I’ll get some pitch time soon with these games coming along fast. I think we play midweek and then on a Sunday for the next few weeks. If I can start getting some regular games then that would be great.
We could get a draw against one of the big team in the Europa League and if we do it would be good to play against Fulham or another English side, but I would be happier to get one of the smaller teams and look to progress to the group stages. In the past we have performed well in Europe and during the first year I arrived at Elfsborg in 2007 we played Valencia in the final qualifying round of the Champions League. That was an amazing experience playing in the Mastalla. Valencia had that great squad at the time with players like David Villa, David Silva, Cañizares and Joaquin.
When we were knocked out of the Champions League we went into the UEFA Cup and I scored twice as we knocked out Dinamo Bucharest to get into the group stages where we played away against Fiorentina and Villarreal with home games against AEK Athens and Mladá Boleslav. We didn’t get through but had some great games and it gave us vital experience. The following season we knocked out the Portuguese team Braga in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League before playing Lazio in the play-off round, beating them at home but losing on aggregate.
This year we’re seeded and having beaten the likes of Lazio in the past and knocking out teams such as Braga we’ve got that experience that is needed to play well in Europe; we have spent money to be amongst the best. In the past Swedish teams have been unlucky in the qualifiers and we were the last team to get to the group stages of a European competition. That’s where I want to get to in Europe this season.
James was in conversation with Andy Hudson – June 2011.