A no-nonsense Swede with an eye for goal, Michael Svensson endeared himself to the Southampton supporters with his totally committed approach to defending. Here, the man affectionately nicknamed “Killer” relives his finest moments in Saints colours…
Best teammate in helping you settle?
It’s difficult to just highlight one person because I was made to feel very welcome by all the players, the staff and the people around the club. There were a lot of nice people who made sure I had a good start to my life in a new country. I remember sitting in the dressing room and Claus [Lundekvam] came in. The first thing he said was, ‘oh no, not another Swedish guy!’ I already knew of Anders [Svensson] through the national team, so I would have to say Claus and Anders were the two. But English players are a lot like Scandinavians, so it came quite naturally for me.
I’m useless at remembering stuff, but it gets easier as time goes on. I’m a manager now and we can win 1-0 and I will forget who scored! Remembering games is difficult for me, but not long ago I spoke to James Beattie and Brett [Ormerod] about the FA Cup semi-final and the whole FA Cup journey (in 2002/03). All the games at St Mary’s, the Spurs game when we beat them 4-0, the Anfield game when I scored the winning goal there… there are so many. I still watch the FA Cup final hoping we’re going to win it! It’s still such a disappointment we couldn’t get any more from that day.
I have to say the Anfield one. Unfortunately, in Sweden there are loads of Liverpool supporters wherever you go, but when they start talking about Liverpool I have to tell them I scored the winning goal at The Kop end, so shut up!
The whole team we had when we reached the cup final and finished eighth in the Premier League in the 2002/03 season… I won’t pick just one player because the whole team was so strong – not just the starting XI, the whole squad was very high quality. That showed off in the results. I also played with Gareth [Bale] and Theo [Walcott], and you have to look at where they went afterwards, which was nice to see. I haven’t met Gareth for many years but I remember he was such a humble person. He was such a natural – I don’t think he was thinking too much about the future, he was very much in the moment when he was playing football. Theo was quite similar as a person, they were very humble and easy-going lads.
For Saints I would have to say the 02/03 season for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. The year after, 03/04, I got injured, and then it was just a mess trying to come back playing again. Before the injury we had a really good squad and Strachan was still on board, but then we changed the manager and from there I think we lost a little bit of direction as a club. Before that, at Christmas 2003, we were quite high up in the league (fourth). I remember my son was born on 17th March 2004 and we played Liverpool three days before, at home, and beat them 2-0. We were so confident at that time.
I have to say Gordon, in terms of giving me confidence and having faith in me, because I remember coming into a new country and a new environment and struggling in the beginning. I didn’t start the first few games, and then I think Claus got injured and I had my opportunity to play. He (Strachan) let me have to time to settle, and from there I could push on. He made the best of all the players and the materials he had to work with. He was the funniest guy I’ve ever met, but at the same time he was so professional. He had the right distance of not being too close to the players – he was so clever. Obviously he was a player himself, and he knew exactly what the relationship with the players should be. There wasn’t that much man-management, but he knew when to give a player a certain amount of credit, or he was making sure to give you the hairdryer if you didn’t do your job. He had a good balance between the two.
There were a few. Doddsy (Jason Dodd), who I’m still in contact with, was always giving me stick for my clothes, and I was quick to return them. He was more Scandinavian than I was with his dress sense! Doddsy and Beatts (James Beattie) always made you laugh. Even on the pitch he (Beattie) could give you stick and wind you up, but they were my kind of people.
Best opposition player?
Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer. When you look at Alan Shearer and the number of goals he scored in relatively recent times, compared to the other top scorers through history, he’s up there with the best. He was such a strong player and a great finisher. Henry was just so quick – you can’t give him space, because he will outrun you and score. We played quite a high defence at Highbury and I remember Patrick Vieira passing the ball behind our backline. I didn’t even look where Henry was, I just turned and started sprinting back because I knew I had to gain some metres on him, but I was already 20 metres behind! He was a fantastic player.
Best opposition team?
I have to say the Arsenal team, because they went the whole season without losing a game in 03/04. But I should also mention the Man United side with the attacking players they had – Beckham on the right, Giggs on the left, Scholes and Keane in the middle, van NIstelrooy up front… they were top, top players.
Best away day?
For me, as a player, it didn’t matter whatever ground we were playing at. Obviously at home with the fans was more special, but away I think it’s a strength to remain focused – not walking around looking at Elland Road or Anfield, stadiums like that. Another thing was the away supporters. In Sweden you hardly notice them, but in England it’s different. Sometimes it’s like playing at home, with 3,000 fans travelling. We had massive support, which was very important for us.
I have to say the cup final. I’ve said it before, 45 minutes before kick-off when we ran out for the warm-up, all our fans were there. It was packed. There were only a few Arsenal supporters at that time. They were singing and cheering, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. It was the same after the game, even with how disappointed they were with the result. I realised when I came to the UK that the FA Cup was very important to the fans. I remember all the coaches heading up to the semi-final at Villa Park. That was something I was very proud to be part of.
Best thing about Southampton?
At the start of these questions you asked how it felt to come to Southampton. I felt very welcomed to the club and the city, and ended up meeting lots of nice people. I still have many friends who support Southampton. I’m very grateful to have that bond, even with people outside football as well. My son grew up and started school there, so there are a lot of strong memories for me. When you speak about it, you do miss the life you had there, and the people – both in and out of football. I’m going to go back soon, because I haven’t been back since 2017 when I met up with Kelvin [Davis] and Doddsy. But it was summer time, so there was no football! My friend Chris took me to a rock concert in the Common – it was fantastic, old bands from the ‘80s, like Belinda Carlisle and Spandau Ballet. I had a great day out, but next time I come over I hope to watch Saints play. My friend Greg is a Saints fan who wants me to come with him in the Northam Stand. It would be a fantastic memory to do that.