Exclusive: Sweden’s Peter Gerhardsson talks coaching philosophy, Olympic gold medal chances

Peter Gerhardsson waves to the Swedish fans after Sweden's win against Norway June 10th.

When Peter Gerhardsson was announced as Sweden’s new head coach back in August 2017, he had very big shoes to fill. His predecessor was the legendary Pia Sundhage – a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and World Cup runner-up. Under her leadership, Sweden had a history of advancing far in big international tournaments.

When Gerhardsson took over, Sweden had just been knocked out of Euros. The squad fell in the quarter-finals 2-0, to eventual champions The Netherlands. Two short years later, in the summer of 2019, Gerhardsson and Team Sweden won a bronze medal at the World Cup in France. He celebrated with a squad that was already looking into the future with confidence. Sweden believed that they could be one of the Olympic gold medal candidates in Tokyo a year later.

Not an impossible task if you look at it from several angles – one of those being the fact that Sweden reached the Olympic final in 2016. A strong German side held off the yellow and blue, but Sweden gained a taste for the gold.

Olympic medal candidates

With only a few weeks until the Tokyo Olympics, Sweden is seen as one of the medal candidates. Her Football Hub sat down to with Gerhardsson to hear his thoughts on being one of the favourites. We also talked about leadership, how he sees himself as a coach, and how he works with the players to make Sweden one of the best national teams in the world.

“What determines if you win or lose a game is the players,” he said. “It’s them and their abilities, their qualities, and their decision-making during a game that will decide if we win or if we lose. You have to remember that.”

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“I feel lucky to manage a group of players who are capable of adapting tactically and being flexible. They can adapt to changes without letting the process be disturbed and there are several ‘captains’ within the team who are there to lead each other.”

Coaching philosophy

Sweden’s head coach is a man with a broad background. He has played football at the highest level in Sweden, scoring 70 goals during his senior career. He started off working as a physical education teacher in a football school at the high school level. After that, Gerhardsson went to work with national teams at the youth level. He then moved on to work as an assistant coach in senior football in both the men’s and women’s game.

Eventually, he became the head coach of BK Häcken in the Swedish men’s top flight Allsvenskan. His biggest takeaway from these years is an interesting one.

“There are no differences in how boys and girls, men and women learn things,” Gerhardsson says with determination in his voice.

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“What matters is to learn how each individual learns the best. A big part of my leadership as a coach is about getting to know the players, both as persons and as footballers to get to know how I can get the best out of them. I need that to coach them individually, but also to know how to use them best as a part of a team.”

“As a coach, you get a lot of information. There is analysis and numbers about performances and of course, that is important. But not every player in a team needs the same information as I do. Some of them might need the information to perform better, but some of them might even perform worse if I give them too much information. I have to be good at knowing how much information each of them has to have, in order to make them perform at their highest level.”

How attitude shapes the game

Gerhardsson has an interesting view on how he feels about football analysis, numbers, and information. He reveals that his graduating work at university was about attitudes to reach the opportunity to get a chance to score. He asked some of his friends for help as a part of the work during one of his own games. They were to keep statistics over shots, and he found himself determined to be part of the statistics.

“My team hadn’t had one single finish or shot towards goal when the first half was almost over. I wasn’t a quality shooter myself but I found myself thinking that I really wanted to be one of the dots in my friends’ notebooks, so I went for it in the 44th minute of the first half. I fired away and…scored. What I learned much from that was that attitude is important. You have to want to get to the opportunities, not necessarily by scoring yourself all the time, but you have to help the team to progress with the ball up the pitch in order to reach the final third where it all happens. Assists and goals in all glory, but second assists, they are also very important to me,” said Gerhardsson.

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Gerhardsson likes to dive deep into numbers and analysis. However, he also offers another view of whether you win or lose football games. The reasons are not always easy to see just after the final whistle has sounded. Yet, you are always expected, as a head coach or a player, to answer the question of what went wrong if you lose. 

“Football is about momentum in a game. In a game things happen fast and it’s easy for things to escalate in the wrong direction for one team and in the right direction for the other team. One has to look afterwards on what really happened and what it looked like. The details, the stats. We always do that in the national team whether the result and the performance have been bad. The performance does not always reflect the result. For me to have an opinion, I need that insight and it’s impossible for me to have that insight straight after a game.”

Sweden becoming a force on the world stage

Over the years Sweden has been rather famous for its solid and consistent defensive play. In the past few years, Sweden is also often mentioned among the best national teams in the world when it comes to set-pieces. Gerhardsson’s focus on opportunities to score from open play is improving Sweden’s attacking play. This attacking style has shown to be successful on the big stage. Sure proof of that was in the bronze medal game against England in the World Cup 2019. Sweden was up 2-0 after just twenty minutes of play. An impressive performance against the US back in April has also bolstered the team’s confidence. The team created many chances from open play, and it’s hard not to be excited for the squad. What can they accomplish in Tokyo in July?

The importance of club training

For Gerhardsson it’s also important to understand what the players’ club sides do on a daily basis. As the head coach of the national team, he uses this to help guide his training.

It’s the clubs that develops the players. The physical training and the technical part is up to the clubs to develop. The ones that are taking corner kicks, free kicks or penalties in the national team aren’t good at those things because of me or my coaching staff. Our gatherings are too short for stuff like that. What is important to me is that I have good communication with the clubs and the players’ head coaches, I talk with them regularly about the players because for the days I have the players I want to have a squad that is focusing on the things that we as a group can and need to improve.”

Why to watch for Sweden at the Olympics

Fridolina Rolfo is an important part of coach Peter Gerhardsson’s attack. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

How does Gerhardsson feel about being one of the favourites? Why does he think Sweden are one of the teams ‘up there’?

I have players that can play in several different positions. This means I can move them around to adapt to whatever opponent we are up against. I mean, look at players like Fridolina Rolfö for example; she can play on both wings in the attack or in a central position. Against Austria, in the Algarve Cup, she even played in a No. 10 role as an attacking playmaker. Then we have players like Amanda Ilestedt in the backline who can play all positions there if needed. You need these kinds of players to win games and that’s our strength. Perhaps that’s why we are seen as one of the favourites, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I believe in my players.”

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