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Born: Tuesday 24 December 1929, Stockholm, Sweden
Died: Tuesday 8 July 1975, Stockholm, Sweden (aged 45)
Although he won only eleven international caps, Lennart Skoglund is recognised as one of the most naturally gifted players ever to come from Sweden and was an important member of the team that reached the World Cup final on home soil in 1958. Nicknamed 'Nacka', he was a born entertainer who was hugely popular with crowds wherever he played, especially in Milan where he spent many of the best years of his career playing for Internazionale.
Born Karl Lennart Skoglund on Christmas Eve 1929 in Stockholm, he was one of three brothers who would all go on to play professional football. Skoglund was an immensely talented sportsman from an early age, playing bandy, ice hockey and handball as well as football. Never particularly interested in school, he spent a lot of his time playing football with friends and would often use a tennis ball to hone his dribbling skills.
Skoglund's career began with the youth team of IK Stjärnan in 1943, but when the team closed down a little while later he needed to find a new club. He joined Hammarby IF, a club with which he formed a lifelong affinity. It may well have been on joining Hammarby that he acquired the nickname 'Nacka' (the name of a nearby city with which he had various connections), as there was another player called Lennart Skoglund already at the club.
His first season of senior football, 1946-47, was a disaster for Hammarby. Finishing bottom of eastern group of Division Two, league reorganisation saw them relegated two divisions and Skoglund found himself playing fourth tier football while earning a living working as an electrician. Over the next few seasons, he helped the club return first to Division Three establish themselves at the higher level, attracting the attention of bigger clubs on the way.
Hammarby however had financial problems and were forced to sell Skoglund to rivals AIK Solna in the autumn of 1949. Picked for a select team of youngsters to take on the national team ahead of the 1950 World Cup, he proved to be a revelation and earned himself a quick call up to the squad. Sweden were one of the surprise packages of that tournament, beating Paraguay and drawing with Italy to reach the final group stage.
Although Skoglund missed their only win of that final stage, over Spain, his performances in the earlier matches caught the eye of São Paulo who tried to sign him. AIK wanted more money for their star player however, and just weeks later sold him to Internazionale for a considerably higher fee. His move to Italy severely impacted Skoglund's international career, as football in the country was amateur and the national team did not select players who played professionally abroad.
At club level though he was an immediate success, scoring 12 goals in his first season with Inter as they narrowly missed out on the Serie A title in 1950-51, finishing just a point behind city rivals Milan. Having originally played at inside-left, he moved to the left wing where his dribbling ability and trickery with the ball at his feet left full-backs trailing in his wake and immediately endeared him to the public. Skoglund however regularly found himself in trouble off the field. His fondness for alcohol and the amount of time he spent in the bars of Milan led to regular warnings from Inter about his conduct.
He nevertheless remained a vital member of the team and two years later he earned the first league title of his career as Inter won the league with three matches to spare. Skoglund scored one of their goals in the 3-0 win over Palermo which clinched the championship, before repeating the trick twelve months later with the clinching goal in a 4-2 final day win over Triestina which retained the title. Skoglund also remained hugely popular in Sweden and regularly returned home during the summer, entertaining crowds at amusement parks with his remarkable range of skills.
As the 1950s progressed, his personal problems began to mount. Inter remained very concerned about his drinking and he also had to help his wife through a period of serious illness. A much-needed boost came in 1958, when with the country due to host the World Cup, the Swedish federation brought an end to their policy of not selecting professionals and Skoglund returned to the team for that tournament. He appeared in all six of Sweden's matches, more than half of his total international career.
The team stormed through their opening group, dropping points only in a goalless draw with Wales, before beating the Soviet Union in the last eight to set up a semi-final with holders West Germany. Before that match, Skoglund made a remarkable public criticism of coach George Raynor but kept his place in the team and went on to score a crucial equaliser to inspire a comeback 3-1 victory, his only international goal. Unfortunately for Sweden, he was largely marked out of the game in the final as Brazil ended their dreams of the title with a 5-2 win.
After one more season with Inter, in which his appearances became less frequent, Skoglund joined Sampdoria in 1959. He spent three years with the club, the highlight of which was a fourth place finish in Serie A in 1961. His lifestyle continued to cause problems. His marriage had fallen apart and he had even reached the stage of drinking during matches, and in 1962 he was sold to Palermo. His new club tried to control him by placing him under curfew, but in those circumstances he failed to settle and made just six league appearances before leaving Italy and returning home.
Skoglund rejoined Hammarby ahead of the 1964 season, scoring perhaps his most famous goal direct from a corner in his first match back. He spent another four seasons with Hammarby, during a period of mixed fortunes for the club as they were promoted to the top division in both 1964 and 1966 but suffered relegation in 1965 and 1967. He finished his career with a short spell at Kärrtorps NS, where his brother was the manager, before finally retiring in 1968 at the age of 38.
Football had been holding his life together and following the end of his playing career, Skoglund's life went rapidly downhill. His alcohol addiction grew worse than ever and he lived a lonely life in Stockholm, never seeing his children who had remained in Italy. He attempted to set up a magazine in partnership with one of his childhood friends, but shortly after beginning publication he was found dead in his apartment on 8 July 1975, aged just 45. He has remained a legendary figure within Swedish football, with a statue being placed outside his childhood home where fans gather every year on the anniversary of his birth.
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- Published on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 00:50