Since we are in the midst of an international break and following the reports yesterday linking us with Swedish international defender Victor Lindelof, I thought this was a good opportunity to remember a former Swedish international to have worn the claret and blue jersey of Aston Villa Football Club with pride. That man was Olof Mellberg.
Back in 2001, the then Villa manager John Gregory brought the relatively unknown defender to these shores following the departure of England international Gareth Southgate. The man rated by Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the greatest ever Swedish defender signed for the club, despite reported interest from Barcelona and Valencia, for a fee in the region of £5 million. This proved to be a steal and he would no doubt he would be worth several times that in today’s market.
During his period in claret and blue, the Swede led by example and for much of his time at Aston Villa he had the captain’s armband. It was David O’Leary who gave Mellberg the captaincy after somewhat unbelievably leaving him on the bench for his first match in charge, favouring Alpay and Johnsen in central defence. This decision backfired as we lost to newly-promoted Portsmouth. However, O’Leary soon realised the error of his ways and Mellberg was a mainstay for the remainder of his tenure.
Mellberg was a fine captain for the club and had a fantastic rapport with the fans. Fans remember his famous statement regarding our neighbours, Birmingham City, which no doubt will go down in Villa folklore.
“I just feel, I’ve got that feeling, that I just don’t like them. That’s just the feeling I get from the whole club and the fans.”
Mellberg’s actions on the pitch also kept the fans on side. He was good in the air, strong, comfortable as one of two or three centre backs, possessed a turn of pace and had a controlled aggression. This combination of skills meant that he rarely let the team down.
In his seven years at Aston Villa Mellberg racked up two hundred and thirty-two games before his move to Juventus in 2008. The fact that he moved to a club of that stature emphasises the quality of the player. Given the service he gave in claret and blue, few could begrudge him his big move to Turin.
Before he left Villa he showed his class again. This time it was with an unprecedented gesture to the away following at West Ham United, where each fan was given a home or away shirt which had the lettering ‘Thanks 4 Your Support’ emblazoned upon it. More than anything, this showed what Villa meant to Mellberg and what Mellberg meant to Villa and the fans. In my opinion, he was a modern day legend for the club.
Our former captain is now cutting his teeth as a manager back in his homeland for Brommapojkarna, following his spells post-Villa as a player at Juventus, Olympiacos, Villareal and Copenhagen. His experience and determination is paying off, with his team top of the league. If Mellberg continues to develop we may even see him in the dugout at Villa Park one day.