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Ssewankambo keeps cool after Swedish success

Given he was propelled from his home town to London's bright lights aged 14, it is little wonder Sweden's Chelsea FC midfielder Isak Ssewankambo takes everything in his stride.

Isak Ssewankambo helped Sweden to a maiden finals win
Isak Ssewankambo helped Sweden to a maiden finals win ©Sportsfile

Many 14-year-olds could be forgiven for being overawed if the English champions came offering an opportunity to fulfil their footballing dreams, but you would not find Isak Ssewankambo among their number.

While he was playing with local club Lärje-Angereds IF on the outskirts of Gothenburg, the potential of the wiry Sweden midfielder was picked up by a scout from Chelsea FC in 2010, the year the now-deposed European champions completed a domestic double.

"I was playing a game with Lärje-Angereds and they were watching. Our coach told us – me and two other players – that they wanted us on trial," Ssewankambo explained to UEFA.com in the same unfussy, understated manner in which he handled arriving in west London. "It was massive. I still tried to keep my head, though, and not think about it too much, but perform instead."

Suitably impressed, the Blues took Ssewankambo under their wing, while the youngster's nest was feathered by his mother, who joined him from Sweden, and a number of relatives who already called the British capital home. His continued education in a Swedish-speaking school ensured the transition between his old and new life was seamless.

Yet, had Ssewankambo not been able to enjoy such home comforts in London, his calm, mature demeanour suggests he would have settled and succeeded regardless. Even the decision that transformed him from a wannabe striker – aspiring to emulate his hero Zlatan Ibrahimović – into his current guise as an archetypal all-action midfielder stemmed from himself.

"I started as a striker. Everyone starts as a striker. But I thought I was better in midfield, you're involved in everything there. I like to be involved in a lot of things," the 17-year-old said. However, despite a competition-high six assists in qualifying for these Under-17 finals, it seems he still has not rid himself of his childhood ambition of being on the end of goalscoring opportunities. "We created a lot of chances, it was great to be involved and get results. I'm a midfielder, creating chances is big, but scoring is the best thing you can do."

Given his experience at Chelsea, it is a surprise to hear Sunday's Group A opener against Switzerland in Zilina provoked a few butterflies as Ssewankambo and his team-mates became their nation's first representatives at a UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals.

"We started off a bit shaky. You could see from the start that we were nervous and not really used to being in such a big competition," he said, explaining a rocky beginning down the road to a 1-0 victory which places Roland Larsson's men in an ideal position ahead of Wednesday's encounter with Austria and next Saturday's meeting with host nation Slovakia.

"They're two difficult games, we're going to have to compete harder. Hopefully we can show more how we can play, and express ourselves on the pitch."

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