Every country has cities that live and breathe football. In Sweden Helsingborg is such a place as Marcus Lantz, captain of Allsvenskan leaders Helsingborgs IF, knows well.
"People in Helsingborg will always talk football, no matter where the team are in the league," Lantz told UEFA.com. "The difference this year is that it's mostly positive."
The 34-year-old central midfielder has won the Swedish Cup as well as the Allsvenskan with Helsingborg, but those titles came in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Since then fans in the southern port city have been starved of success.
Lantz himself cannot be held responsible for the lack of silverware. He moved to Torino Calcio late in 1999, before spending five years at FC Hansa Rostock and another two at Brøndby IF. He rejoined Helsingborg in 2007 where his experience blends well into the team chemistry.
The club have a well-publicised plan to build from a base of ambitious youngsters and veterans returning from abroad. "
If you've been playing on the continent and felt the demands and expectations there then you approach the Allsvenskan with a calmer attitude," Lantz said. "There's pressure in Sweden but nothing compared to the Bundesliga."
Other seasoned pros who have come home to Helsingborg are left-back Erik Edman, bringing wisdom from Italy, France and England, and midfielder Christoffer Andersson who has played in Norway and Germany. The most illustrious of Helsingborg's prodigal sons reappeared in the summer of 2006, but not even Henrik Larsson could help the side to a trophy before retiring at the end of last term. Lantz thinks he knows why.
"While Henrik was playing, the younger lads and the players who had come here from the lower leagues found it such a huge thing – like, 'I'm in the same team as Henrik Larsson'. They would pass him the ball and then stand by admiring. Now the whole team puts in 100% effort and nobody stands around admiring."
If the aim before the 2010 season started was to better last year's seventh place, coach Conny Karlsson's mix of youth and experience appears to have taken the top flight by storm.
Helsingborg have lost just twice in 18 Allsvenskan matches and the only team within touching distance are Malmö FF, Helsingborg's traditional rivals who are also from Scania in southern Sweden. "Personally I feel it's great that we're fighting it out with Malmö rather than teams like AIK or Djurgården," said Lantz, who is from the Scania region. "It's great for Scanian football. Although some of our fans would always prefer to see Malmö relegated."
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