Coach Jörgen Lennartsson will leave Sweden's Under-21s at the end of the year but as they aim to seal a play-off place this week, he leaves behind a legacy to be proud of.
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With Sweden needing just a point against Israel on Friday to qualify for the play-offs of the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, UEFA.com talks to coach Jörgen Lennartsson about an impressive campaign so far. After six years with the U21s, Lennartsson leaves at the end of the year to take over Norwegian side Stabæk Fotball, but he leaves behind a legacy to be proud of.
UEFA.com: How pleased are you with how this qualifying campaign has gone?
Jörgen Lennartsson: Very pleased. After the U21 tournament last summer we had to build a new team and we only had one friendly before qualifying. But with this new team we have played eight games, including friendlies, and we have seven victories and one draw. The players have performed very well. We need one more point and we have two games left: Israel here in Gothenburg on 3 September, and Bulgaria away. We are in a good position, but the play-offs are another story.
UEFA.com: Which player has most impressed you in this side?
Lennartsson: Albin Ekdal is an excellent player. He belongs to Juventus, but played for Siena last season. He has played very, very well in Italy and also with the U21s.
UEFA.com: How much did you enjoy Sweden hosting the U21s last summer despite the disappointment of a semi-final loss on penalties to England?
Lennartsson: We have had a nice journey with the U21s. We wanted to do something very good for the future; not only for that tournament, but for the development of the players for the future. We tried to build a squad with good team spirit and a good mentality and a very offensive attacking style. The players' performance last summer was tremendous, we played very good football, scored half of the goals of the whole tournament and got very good support. It was a nice time.
Unfortunately we lost against England on penalties, but we were 3-0 down and came back to 3-3 before penalties so it was a memorable match. Now five or six of those players are coming into the first team. Most of them play abroad now and many of them will be the future for the national team for many years.
UEFA.com: You always seem to have a smile on your face. What do you most enjoy about your job as an U21 coach?
Lennartsson: I don't think of it as a job – it is a privilege, a passion. To get paid for that is very nice. I see it more as a lifestyle, more than a job, to work with the most talented players in Sweden. In Sweden, we have a very good cooperation between the national side and clubs' teams and coaches. The relationship between the clubs' coaches and the association's trainers is very good and the attitude and the spirit in the U21s is very good. We have fun together.
UEFA.com: How important is the U21 championship?
Lennartsson: It's a very important step for the players, for the associations, for the teams, for the coaches to take the next step towards the first team. Just look at the German players which played here last year and the experience they got from the tournament and how they took this experience into the first team and into the World Cup.
So many of their players from the last tournament went to the World Cup and played important roles in the semi-finals one year after playing here. The combination between Germany's senior and U21 teams was excellent. The U21 championship has grown and should grow even more in the future. It means a lot.
UEFA.com: You got a lot of praise for the way the team played. Was it something you masterminded for the U21s?
Lennartsson: No, me and Tommy Söderberg, my co-coach, tried to build a way of playing; not only the formation but also the attitude and how we want to play: interesting to watch. We have players with an attacking attitude and the balance between their possession game and more direct play. For Sweden the key factor is to entertain, but also play effectively. We try to build this in the younger national teams, but we also have a good connection with the first team.