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Born: Wednesday 19 October 1921, Hörnefors, Sweden
Died: Friday 15 September 1995, Alghero, Italy (aged 73)
Position: Centre Forward
Possibly the greatest striker to ever to come out of Sweden, Gunnar Nordahl formed part of a prolific Swedish trio at AC Milan in the late 1940s. He hold numerous goalscoring records in Italian football including a club record total for Milan and more 'Capocannoniere' awards as Serie A's leading goalscorer than any other player. Although his international career was interrupted by turning professional, Nordahl also won an Olympic gold medal in 1948.
Gunnar Nordahl was born in the small coastal town of Hörnefors on 19 October 1921. One of ten children, including four brothers who also went on to be footballers, the family were poor and he never kicked a real football until one day at school when he was eight years old. If that might have held back his development, Nordahl's physique gave him an advantage over other boys his age as he was always taller and stronger than the other players.
His career began with local third-tier side Hörnefors IF in 1937, a team which all five Nordahl brothers would go on to represent. His powerful, accurate shooting led to him scoring 68 goals in just 41 games for Hörnefors, before earning a transfer to the top division in 1940 when he signed for Degerfors IF. In his first season at the top level Nordahl scored 15 goals as Degerfors narrowly missed out on the Allsvenskan title, finishing two points behind champions Helsingborgs.
After another successful season in 1941-42, Nordahl received his first international call-up for a match against Denmark in Copenhagen on 28 June 1942, where he scored one of Sweden's goals in a 3-0 win. In all he spent four years with Degerfors, finishing as the league's leading scorer in 1943, but the team were struggling to get above mid-table and bigger clubs began to chase his signature, including both Malmö and IFK Norrköping. With Swedish football still amateur, Norrköping offered him a job as a firefighter in the city as well as a playing contract and he duly signed for them rather than Malmö. Nordahl's time with Norrköping could hardly have been more successful. In his first season he was ever present in the league, scoring 27 goals in 22 games, as Norrköping stormed to the league title and for good measure added the Swedish Cup as well, beating Malmö 4-1 in the final.
Norrköping went on to win four consecutive titles, with Nordahl finishing as the league's leading scorer in three of those seasons. His haul of seven in one game remains a record in the Allsvenskan. In 1947 he was named Sweden's player of the year, an award which remarkably his brothers Bertil and Knut would win in the two seasons following his success. The summer of 1948 brought Nordahl's first big chance to impress on the international stage at the Olympic Games in London, where he scored twice in Sweden's first round win over Austria.
In the quarter-finals, Sweden crushed Korea 12-0 with Nordahl scoring four, before a win over rivals Denmark took the team in to the final against Yugoslavia. With the scores level at 1-1 at half-time, Nordahl scored early in the second period to give his team the lead. They eventually went on to win 3-1 and claim the gold medals, with Nordahl the tournament's joint top scorer with seven goals. Weeks later he scored all five as Sweden beat Norway 5-3 in a Nordic Championship match and leading overseas clubs began to take notice of him.
Nordahl had the chance to move to Italy and turn professional, but would mean he had to give up his international career, as Sweden only selected amateur players at that time. However, after 93 goals in 95 games for Norrköping he decided to make the move to Italy, turning down Juventus to join AC Milan in January 1949. Despite the early end to his international career, Nordahl still scored an incredible 43 goals in 33 appearances for his country, ranking second highest in Sweden's all-time goalscoring list.
Nordahl scored 16 goals in 15 games in the remainder of the 1948-49 season and that summer was joined at Milan by fellow Swedes Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm, with whom he would form a fearsome partnership nicknamed 'Gre-No-Li'. Gren remembered him as a player whose remarkable ability to find goalscoring positions made him one of the most dangerous forwards the game has seen. With 'Gre-No-Li' terrorising Serie A defences, Nordahl scored 35 league goals in 1949-50 to win the 'Capocannoniere' as Serie A's top scorer, a total which remains a record in the Serie A era (post-1929). Milan only finished second that year, but edged out Juventus by a point to win the title in 1951, Nordahl having fallen just short of repeating the previous year's total as he finished with 34 goals.
Remaining with Milan until 1956, Nordahl was the team's leading goalscorer in all seven full seasons he played for them. Between 1952-53 and 1954-55, he won a hat-trick of Capocannoniere awards to give him a total of five, which remains a record to this day. After narrowly missing out on the title for the first two of those seasons, 1955 also brought the second Serie A title of Nordahl's career as Milan finished four points clear of Udinese at the top of the table. His final season took in Milan's first participation in the European Cup, where he scored four times in a run to the semi-finals where they lost 5-4 on aggregate to Real Madrid.
Nordahl left Milan in 1956, signing for AS Roma. His 210 league goals for Milan remain a club record and were also a Serie A record for goals at a single club until surpassed by Francesco Totti of Roma in 2012. Nordahl spent two seasons as a player in Rome, including a short spell as player-coach, before retiring in 1958 at the age of 36. His total of 225 goals in Serie A is beaten only by Silvio Piola's 274 on the all-time list, but Piola played nearly 250 more games in the league than Nordahl.
After he left Roma, Nordahl returned home to Sweden where he embarked on a coaching career. Coming back out of retirement, he joined Karlstads BIK as player-coach in 1959 with the hope of leading the club into the top flight, but was unable to achieve that aim. Nordahl's wish was to return to Italy to coach, but that was not to be and he spent the rest of his career in his home country. He returned to former club Degerfors, leading them to second place in the Allsvenskan in 1963 as another former team Norrköping denied him a league title.
In 1967 he became coach of Norrköping, agonisingly missing out on the title again in 1968 when Norrköping were one of four teams who finished the season level on points, finishing third on goal difference. The following season brought the only major trophy on Nordahl's coaching career when he led Norrköping to victory in the Swedish Cup, beating AIK 1-0 in the final. Through the 1970s Nordahl moved around a number of clubs including AIK, before ending his career in 1980 after a brief return to Norrköping. After returning to spend his later years in Italy, he died in September 1995, aged 73.
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- Published on Friday, 02 March 2012 22:05