"Go out there and feel free," is the advice IF Elfsborg's stand-in coach Klas Ingesson has been giving his players, a battle with cancer having put football in perspective for the ex-Sweden midfielder.
Elfsborg approach matchday five with their chance of reaching the UEFA Europa League round of 32 already gone, but Ingesson – drafted in to replace Jörgen Lennartsson shortly before the Swedish club's second Group C game – is enjoying the ride. That said, the former IFK Göteborg, AS Bari and Bologna FC man never planned a coaching career.
"During my playing days, I bought a forest property," he told UEFA.com. "It was my little dream: to make enough money from football to buy my own forest and work there." Thus, after retiring in 2001, he moved back to Sweden, axe in hand, but it turned out his relationship with the game was far from over. "If you've been involved in football, it has a way of drawing you back," he reflected with a laugh.
Laughter is frequent in Ingesson's company, with the 45-year-old relishing the good times after four years of hardship. Diagnosed in 2009 with myeloma, a cancer that attacks plasma cells in the blood, Ingesson spent long spells bed-ridden, and only returned to football after a successful stem cell transplant stopped the disease in its tracks.
Football also facilitated the healing process. In 2011, Elfsborg sporting director Stefan Andreasson asked Ingesson to help out as youth team coach, something "energising" which gave the 57-times international strength to fight his illness. His elevation to senior coach on 30 September, however, was something of a shock. "I had never thought of managing a top side," he admitted. "I like being with the youngsters, I think that's my best position."
As it is, he will coach Elfsborg's seniors for the remainder of 2013 and therefore the rest of their UEFA Europa League campaign – with Group C leaders FC Salzburg visiting on 28 November. His charges may have only pride to play for but, as Ingesson knows better than most, that is reason enough.
"When I was diagnosed, my whole life turned upside down," recalled Ingesson, who also played for KV Mechelen, PSV Eindhoven, Sheffield Wednesday FC, Olympique de Marseille and US Lecce. "At first you get really scared, just waiting for the end to come, but after the initial shock you get this powerful will to survive. I feel I've been given a second chance. The little things that would annoy you in the past, they just don't exist any more. I wake up every morning with a big smile on my face."
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