Sweden's national coach bids “Per-well”
Per Johansson finished his mission as national team coach with a 24:24 draw against Iceland in his home town Uddevalla on Wednesday. In eight years as assistant (2004 to 2008) and head coach (since 2008) he led the Swedish women to great success, allowing them to step out of the men's national team's large shadow.
In 2003 he coached the Swedish men’s junior team including players like Kim Andersson or Jonas Larholm to the world championship crown in Brazil before dedicating his career to Swedish women's handball.
In this exclusive interview with eurohandball.com he relives his career, but also looks ahead to his personal future and to the future of Swedish women’s handball.
eurohandball.com: A draw against Iceland and then you said farewell – how emotional was this day for you?
Per Johansson: It was very emotional, not the match, but all the time after the final whistle. As it was in my home town a lot of friends and colleagues came to say farewell. I was in the focus, what I usually don’t like. I wanted my team to win my last match in this position, but in the end we were lucky to get away with a draw against a strong Icelandic team.
eurohandball.com: After eight years you announced your resignation. Was it a long-planned decision or only the reaction to the results at the London Olympic Games?
Per Johansson: I am a person who must be 100 percent motivated and convinced, and for some time I had found out that the time to leave had come. Maybe an Olympic success would have made it easier to go, but I really felt that it is over. I wanted to resign directly after the Olympic Games, but Stefan Lövgren, the manager of the national teams, said that I need to stay for two more months until those test matches against Iceland. I agreed, now I feel relieved, but also sad that it is over, full of emotions.
eurohandball.com: What were your highlights and lowest points in this time?
Per Johansson: Of course to qualify twice for Olympic Games and to win the silver medal at the EHF EURO 2010 – the first ever medal for a Swedish senior women’s team – were the clear highlights, but I am also proud that we qualified for all past seven major tournaments. Besides it was a highlight to be in the position to guide our younger age teams, which just have won gold medals at the youth and junior world championships. Another highlight is to see the development of the organisation of the Swedish women’s team, it is really professional now compared to seven or eight years ago.
The lowest low was our result in London, missing the quarterfinals. We had put much effort in the preparations, had test matches and camps, and then we failed. This was the biggest disappointment of my career.
eurohandball.com: How do you rate the development of Swedish women's handball since you started your mission?
Per Johansson: It was and is a huge development, as women’s handball became more equal to men’s handball in Sweden, we have climbed another level and to be in focus is really good for the girls.
eurohandball.com: So your team managed to step out of the shadow of the men's team?
Per Johansson: We are bridging the gap more and more. One proof is that the financial resources for men’s and women’s teams have become the same in Sweden – and both teams get big coverage in the media.
eurohandball.com: The future with junior and youth world champions is looking bright for the Swedish women - was it also the time for a new coach?
Per Johansson: In contrast to other big European nations we currently have a big number of top talents. The next generations have the chance to leave their mark in the Swedish team in the years to come. But it is a hard work to be part of the women’s team. In my final games against Iceland nominated six debutants, four of them from the world champion teams – all of them have a long way to go to be successful.
eurohandball.com: What is your major advice for your successor?
Per Johansson: To be coach of a national team means to have a very complex job. You have to plan either long-term and short-term, you have to work with younger age categories, you have to search for talents, you need to do organisational work with administration and you have to be a coach. So there are a lot of tasks for my successor. The only hope I have is that he or she will be able to work in a four year cycle, as he or she has to switch a whole generation of players. The most important key I hope for my successor is to have a huge dedication for handball.
eurohandball.com: Do you already know in which position you will be connected to handball?
Per Johansson: I just moved to a new house right at the sea, ten meters away from the water in a fishermen’s village. It is an ideal place to relax and calm down after nearly 20 years of coaching. I really feel tired currently and so I actually don’t know what the future will bring. I could have had some opportunities right now, but I don’t know when I will return to handball, especially as actually the lobster season has started in my new home village.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts