Friday’s Forgotten Footballer: Roland Nilsson

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Roland Nilsson Read a summary of Roland Nilsson's career at both Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City

Roland Nilsson

Roland Nilsson (Photo: Christer Wahlgren)

Full name: Roland Nilsson
Date of Birth: 27 November, 1963
Position: Defender
Clubs: Helsingborg, IFK Göteborg, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry City

Roland Nilsson began his football career at local club Helsingborg joining their ranks at the age of 17.

He rapidly established himself as a first team regular and earning himself a glowing reputation as one of the brightest prospects in Swedish football.

His promising performances at his boyhood club manufactured an opportunity to move to decorated Swedish champions IFK Göteborg in 1983. Initially the 19-year-old endured mixed fortunes in Sweden’s second largest city.

His first couple of seasons were largely spent on the bench as more experienced players were preferred to the young starlet. It wasn’t until the latter stages of the 1985 season that Nilsson’s name became a regular sight on the starting sheet.

A run in the first team coincided with a remarkable European Cup campaign which saw the Swedes knock out FenerbahÒ«e and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen. Nilsson and company eventually fell to Spanish giants Barcelona in the semi-finals.

However the disappointment of nearly reaching a European final was eclipsed the following season when another phenomenal string of results in Europe saw Göteborg overcome Inter Milan to reach the UEFA Cup final. They faced Dundee United and clinched victory after snatching a 1-1 draw in Scotland which followed a 1-0 win in the first leg in Gothenburg.

Their European triumph was coupled with domestic success as Nilsson claimed a League medal as Göteborg secured the Allsvenskan. It would be the defender’s final piece of glory with the Swedish side before switching to English club, Sheffield Wednesday.

He cost the princely sum of £375,000 but his first season in England ended with disappointed as the Owls were relegated to the old second division. But the Swede remained at Hillsborough and helped the team rejoin the top flight at their first attempt.

Sheffield Wednesday enjoyed a rebirth during Nilsson’s time at the club and many Owls’ fans still regard the Swedish defender as a catalyst to their domestic cup success.

Such is the impact he left on the club that he was voted the best foreign player to ever have stepped onto the hallowed turf at Hillsborough in a recent poll, beating off competition from the likes of Benito Carbone and Paolo Di Canio.

Nilsson appeared in three finals with Sheffield Wednesday. He won his only medal in English football when he helped the team to the 1991 League Cup, claiming victory over Ferguson once more. This was followed by appearances in the FA Cup and League Cup finals in 1993.

He was one of only twelve foreign footballers to feature in the first round of Premiership games at the start of the 1992 season.

In 1994 Nilsson cited homesickness and Trevor Francis allowed him to be transferred back to Helsingborg. He was runner-up in both the League and domestic up during his three-year spell at his old club. He also attained the personal accolade of Guldbollen which was awarded to the Swedish footballer of the year.

He had another stint in the Premiership when he returned to work under former manager Ron Atkinson at Coventry City in 1997. ‘Big Ron’ was sacked after a disastrous start with Gordon Strachan leading the team to a final day survival thanks to a decisive victory over Spurs.

Following another season at the Sky Blues, Nilsson returned once more to Sweden.

The defender earned 116 caps for his national side. He featured in two World Cups and two European Championships with the highlight of his international career coming when Sweden reached in the 1992 European Championships in front of a partisan crowd. They were eliminated by eventual champions Germany in the last four.

Nillson ventured into football management when he took over from Strachan at Coventry in 2001. Despite topping the First Division at the turn of the New Year the team’s form dipped and Nilsson was eventually sacked. He currently manages Malmö FC.

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