FwB #9: Olaf Mellberg

From 2001-2008 Olaf sat at the heart of the Villa defence. For the last few years he forged an unbreakable partnership with Martin Laursen, who equally had made Birmingham his home. Under the enthusiastic guidance of Martin O’Neill the Scandanavian duo prospered, and alongside the likes of Barry and Young  helped transform the team into a credible outfit.

His career, somewhat obviously, began in Sweden. Playing firstly for his home team of Gullspång, Olaf moved to the lowly Degerfors and then onto one of the country’s biggest clubs – AIK. His profile at AIK rose so much, that he made his move again; this time to Spain, and to Racing Santander. On several stages, in different arenas, in different countries, Olaf has made his mark. His accompanying 103 caps for Sweden make him one of the country’s highest capped players, and at 33 sees him as one of Sweden’s many (!) ageing squad members.

Evidently, Olaf has cemented himself as a fiercely passionate and dedicated professional. But of course, all footballers have their ups and downs, and Olaf’s ‘downs’ have come at various times through his career, yet two spring to mind.

The first, in 2002, saw Olaf  break into a fight with Freddie Ljungberg following a typically strong challenge by the former, during an open training session before the World Cup. The squabbles between the two were well-documented, and Sweden’s mediocre performance at the finals reflected the squad’s general unrest following the very public disagreements.

Yet the second disappointment for Olaf has come relatively recently. After 7 years as a Villa player he chose to move to Turin and signed for Juventus, undoubtedly his biggest team. Yet a year later, following a disjointed season playing second-fiddle to Chiellini and co., and downtrodden from the arrival of another Italian stalwart Fabio Cannavaro, Mellberg was resigned to an early exit, making a move to popular Greek side Olympiakos.

But what of the highs? The many years at Aston Villa no doubt, culminating in the most fantastic of tributes. For his goodbye game on the final day of the 2007-08 season Olaf gave all 3,100 travelling Villa fans an away shirt lettered ‘Thank 4 Your Support’, as a heart-warming thank-you for his time there. In the eyes of the Villa fans, and now Olympiakos fans,  he is nothing short of a legend, with the beard only adding to his god-like status.

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