Sebastian Rajalakso interview
The year is 2008, the month is March, and 19-year-old new signing Sebastian Rajalakso is about to start his first season in Allsvenskan for Djurgården. After scoring eight goals as a winger for Superettan club Enköping, he earned a contract with the most successful Swedish club since the turn of the millennium. This was going to become a modern phenomenon and sparked a debate ahead of the Euro 2008.
Rajalakso scored in his first five games with Djurgården, a new record, and Swedish football crowds were stunned. They had seen nothing like it, and with 2 months until the Euros of 2008 he was the talk of the town. Many fans wanted him in the squad and there was a strong comparison with Tomas Brolin, who had a similar breakthrough at the start of the 1990s.
The debate quietened down as Rajalakso stopped scoring and his performances started to waver. And then in the last game before the Euros he was sent off against Kalmar FF in what is now considered a classic display of outrage. Rajalakso arrived late into a tackle against Kalmar’s Rasmus Elm and was shown a straight red card. Followed by a cameraman, he entered the catacombs screaming profanities about the referee, slamming and kicking doors; Swedish football supporters realised that this player was as young as he was brilliant.
Today, four years on, and two European Championships later, Rajalakso is still at Djurgården. He is no longer a hyped youngster, but is settled as an Allsvenskan player and has become a leading figure at the Stockholm club. In a Blågul Fotboll exclusive, Sebastian Rajalakso talks to Kristopher Karlsson.
Looking back at that eventful year of 2008, what did you make of everything that happened?
“I really didn’t think about making the squad for Euro 2008. It was the newspapers creating the hype about it. But of course it was exciting entering the big stage in the way I did, completely new and being a part everyone’s talk. Had I scored a couple of goals more then maybe I would have made the squad, but in the end I think I was pretty far away.”
The buzz about making the Euros wasn’t the only topics at that time concerning Rajalakso. There were talks about a move from Sweden, to bigger European leagues. You must have had offers during that time?
“Yes, I guess I had. But I think I had the wrong agent at the time. There was a lot of things going on outside of football. But I was so focused on what was happening on the pitch. I was young and stupid. Sometimes you have to take the chance when you get it, but I didn’t know better. A lot of people thought they knew what was best for me: “do this, and do that”.”
So your agent at the time advised you to stay at Djurgården?
“I honestly don’t know what happened. It was a mess. But I’m sure there were clubs I could have gone to.”
Having made such an impact during his first season in Allsvenskan, Rajalakso was picked for the Swedish under 21s starring in a total of nine matches and scoring two goals. He was looking forward to playing the in the U21 European Championships on home soil in 2009. The tournament was a success: in the stands, on television, and for the Swedish team losing in the semi finals on penalties to England. The Swedish football supporters loved the team with starring players such as Rasmus Elm, Ola Toivonen and Pontus Wernbloom, and had big dreams for the future of Swedish football. Rajalakso wasn’t there to share the love.
“I didn’t make the squad in the end, but it was close. There were three players from Djurgården (Christer Youssef, Johan Oremo and Rajalakso) who had played matches ahead of the tournament. None of us made the final squad. We (Djurgården) had a catastrophic start to 2009 season. That was probably why we were all overlooked. It was tough. I had really hoped to be a part of that team. It was tough watching the games.”
Rajalakso and his Djurgården found themselves in eighth position in the league with almost half of the season played. Winning only three games, and drawing eight of their first 14 matches. Rajalakso was asked what he thought of that start.
“We have drawn too many matches this season. Maybe we haven’t played to the best of our abilities but some of those matches we really have deserved the three points; at least six of those eight. We concede rubbish goals due to our own mistakes, and that’s a pity. We could have found ourselves a lot higher in the table.”
What are your thoughts on your own season this far?
“So so. I started the season alright but then it took a turn for the worse. We went into a slump, the entire team did. Basically none of us played well up to the Euro break. But there’s a good feeling about the team right now. We have worked with some new roles. I have played a little bit more central in midfield, as a mix of a winger and a striker. I try to join in deep runs, which is my strength. It all feels much better.”
Recently, assistant coach Carlos Banda left Djurgården for the same role under American coach Gregg Berhalter at city rivals Hammarby, playing in Superettan. Banda left a group of surprised Djurgården supporters and players behind.
“It came as a shock [when Banda left]. I don’t think any of us was prepared for it. But I guess you have to understand his position. He has to think about himself. We will manage. Marting Sundgren (U17 coach) will step in and he has been at the club for two and a half years. I think it will work out well in the end.”
Speaking about Carlos Banda and Hammarby: as a Djurgården player, do you miss Hammarby in Allsvenskan?
“I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say I miss them. But my first two season in Djurgården it was a joy playing Hammarby. They do of course belong in Allsvenskan. They’ve had some rough times but they’re a big team and it’s fun playing them. I enjoy it much more than playing Åtvidaberg away.”
Today Rajalakso has a contract with Djurgården until 2014, which he signed last autumn, and is enjoying his life at Stockholm Stadion. The talks of moves to Europe for Rajalakso are not as intense as they once were but he doesn’t deny an eventual move in the future would be tempting. And being at a club like Djurgården, who have sold players like Kim Källström, Andreas Isaksson and Johan Elmander abroad, one can always dare to dream.
“I don’t think there is a single player in Sweden who doesn’t think about Europe. But you have to find balance to your game. And the most important thing is for the team to become more even. Not a lot of players have left Djurgården for Europe recently. It’s important to become a team in the upper half of the table again. If the team wins every game and the players play to their capabilities, you have a better shot at it. It becomes more difficult when you’re in the bottom half of the table and there are no interested clubs coming to the games. Maybe you don’t want a player who plays for a team towards the bottom of Allsvenskan. The most important thing is that we get the team working. Then I think we have got a better chance of being sold abroad.”
If you were given the luxury of choosing a league to play in one day, where would you see yourself?
“England would be great. I think I would enjoy my time there. I think I would appreciate The Championship too. It seems like a fun league. Playing 46 matches a season. That’s a perfect league for me.”
The player once compared to Tomas Brolin will hope to make the most of this year, his fifth season wearing the Djurgården jersey; he’s not gone, and not forgotten.