When Lars-Åke Lagrell took over as president of the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) in 1991, football was still largely an amateur game in Sweden.
Yet success came quickly as Sweden reached the EURO '92 semi-finals on home soil before claiming third place at the FIFA World Cup two years later. However, as he steps down as SvFF president after 21 years, Lagrell tells UEFA.com that his best memory is much more recent: "Our match against the Netherlands [on 11 October] when we qualified for EURO 2012 – a fantastic night of football."
Nor does handing over the presidential reins to new president Karl-Erik Nilsson, after more than two decades, signal a farewell to the sport he has always loved. "I'll always be involved in football, as long as I live and as long as I have the energy. But I don't think one person should be the spokesman for the FA interminably."
His appointment to the highest position in Swedish football had come after a lifetime dedicated to the game. "I started off in football administration at a very small club at the age of 15," the now 72-year-old explained. "Little did I imagine myself being a football administrator for the rest of my life. But I haven't regretted a single second. And Swedish football has nothing to thank me for – I have to thank Swedish football. I've had some fantastic years with Swedish football."
Among the obvious highlights are that Swedish summer of 1992 and the bronze-medal finish at USA '94. Yet those are not the achievements that Lagrell cites when asked for his fondest moments. "Memories fade. So the most recent times are the ones that stand out. I'll say our match against the Netherlands when we qualified for Poland and Ukraine. It was a fantastic night of football, one of those you have to experience to understand how brilliant football is when it's at its best."
That 3-2 victory over Group E winners the Netherlands clinched Sweden's UEFA EURO 2012 place as best runners-up – and spoilt the 100% qualifying record of Bert van Maarwijk's side. A fine way to end Sweden's Råsundastadion era. The next time Sweden play a competitive game will be at the new National Stadium, currently under construction a kilometre away from Råsunda.
While Lagrell prefers others to judge his legacy, the updating of Sweden's football grounds has clearly been important to him. "Ten years ago we said we wanted a new national arena and new grounds for the Allsvenskan clubs. We're almost there," said Lagrell, who in recent years has seen new stadiums built in Allsvenskan-hosting cities such as Boras, Gothenburg, Malmo and Kalmar.
Several of these venues will stage UEFA Women's EURO 2013, the next major championship to be organised in Sweden. The development of women's football is another project close to his heart.
"The modern women's game began in the Scandinavian countries in the 1960s. Today at least 150 FIFA member countries have women's football. Both FIFA and UEFA have done great work in encouraging women's football. We are one of the countries where women's football is strongest in relation to men's. Around 30% of our players are female," said Lagrell.
"When I started, there wasn't a woman who could earn a single krona playing football. Now five or six play professionally abroad. The rest of our Swedish internationals are also more or less professional."
Continued success for the national sides is Lars-Åke Lagrell's wish for the future of Swedish football. He describes the national teams as "the engines that keep the game rolling", yet also points to the relatively small population and natural climatic conditions as ongoing challenges.
"We play seven to eight months a year compared with the 12 that our competitors can have. So if we want to keep the ambition of reaching every final tournament, then hard work is needed. There's nothing that says a country of our size should reach every finals. And we won't. But if we reach two out of three, that would be a great achievement by the future SvFF administration."
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