Malmo seeks to defend Swedish league title
The Swedish football league kicks off this weekend with Malmo FF seeking to stay focussed on defending its title amid confusion over how long coach Roland Nilsson will stay at the club.
Danish champion FC Copenhagen said Friday that Nilsson would join the club on a three-year contract ''as soon as possible'' but no later than July 1.
Malmo, however, said it had not agreed to release the 47-year-old former Sweden and Coventry defender from his current contract, which expires at the end of the year. Malmo CEO Per Nilsson said the two clubs were in a ''good dialogue'' over the issue.
Malmo fans worry that changing coaches midseason could throw off its bid to qualify for the Champions League and to retain the Swedish title. The Swedish season runs spring-fall because of the long Scandinavian winter break.
Malmo's main challengers are Elfsborg, captained by veteran midfielder Anders Svensson, and 2010 runner-up Helsingborg, which also has kept its best players, including last year's top scorer Alexander Gerndt.
Two-time UEFA Cup winner IFK Goteborg is aiming for the top of the league after a disappointing ninth-place finish last year.
Newcomers this year are 12-time Swedish champion IFK Norrkoping, returning to the top flight after two seasons in a lower division; and Syrianska FC, a team founded by Syriac immigrants in Sodertalje, south of Stockholm.
The first round of the 16-team Allsvenskan league starts with Halmstad taking on Kalmar FF on Saturday and ends with a clash Monday between Stockholm rivals Djurgarden and 2009 champion AIK. The Stockholm derbies draw the biggest crowds of any Swedish league matches but are frequently marred by fan violence.
Malmo opens at home Sunday with what technically is an away match against Trelleborg. The match was moved to Malmo's Swedbank Stadium because Trelleborg's field was deemed unfit.
Poor pitches scarred by the cold northern winter is a recurring problem at the start of the Swedish season, which is why some teams, including Elfsborg, Gefle and Orebro, have opted to play on artificial turf.