Williot Swedberg: Swedish wonderkid being linked with Barcelona

Williot Swedberg NXGN GFXTherese Back/GOAL

On February 23, 2022, everything was ready for Williot Swedberg to join Lokomotiv Moscow.

Only the minor details had to be sorted out before the Russian club would pay just over €4 million (£3.4m/$4.2m) to Hammarby for their teenage forward.

Then, early in the morning of February 24, Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian army to invade Ukraine, sparking war on European soil.

Swedberg's move was, understandably, cancelled.

"It became impossible, both morally and from the security point of view," Hammarby sporting director, Jesper Jansson, said. "In addition, there was no need for us to sell the player."

"Lokomotiv felt like a good project, but then things turned out to be like they were," Swedberg himself said after the move fell apart. "I couldn't have imagined that would happen.

"Everyone wants to play abroad at a certain point, but it doesn't matter when. Now, it is going to be fun to play for my club."

Out of the darkness of his failed move, Swedberg has certainly been having fun in his native Sweden, with the 18-year-old the second-highest scorer in the early weeks of the Allsvenskan season.

The attacking midfielder has scored five goals in seven games to kick-off the campaign, though he did not begin the season as a starter, after being named on the bench for Hammarby's opening match of the campaign against Helsingborg.

He was introduced as a late substitute, however, and went onto score the winning goal in a 2-1 victory, leading to him being asked to sing in his post-match interview. Swedberg chose to hum the fans' tribute to manager Marti Cifuentes, who commented: "That improves his chances of getting a place in the starting line up!"

Whether it was his display on the pitch or his singing off it, Swedberg has nailed down a starting berth in the weeks that have followed.

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His double against Sundsvall particularly caught the eye, as Swedberg dicated the tempo of the game as he floated inside from his position on the left-hand side, performing turns in midfield that Zinedine Zidane would have been proud of.

His superb strike from 25 yards with his supposedly weaker left foot was the cherry on top of what was already a pretty sensational cake.

He followed that up with another brace two weeks' later against Sirius. This time, both strikes came from close range, showing the youngster's ability to be in the right place at the right time.

And though his heroics so far this season have been headline-grabbing, those who saw him make his initial steps into the first team in 2021 are not overly surprised at Swedberg's development.

It took the youngster just two minutes to make his mark on the Hammarby first team in July, with his goal against Degefors leading to Swedberg's father, Hans Eskilsson, weeping tears of joy in the stands.

"When Williot scored, the world stopped moving," Eskilsson said. "I don't have the vocabulary to describe my feelings, which are stronger than when I was a player. It was just total euphoria."

Eskilsson himself enjoyed a notable playing career, becoming a Hammarby legend over three different spells with the club where he excelled as both a defender and as a striker.

He was, however, hailed more for his passion than his technical ability, and it is possible that Swedberg inherited his ball control from him mother.

Malin Swedberg was a magnificent midfielder in her playing days, and took part in the first Women's World Cup in 1991 as Sweden finished third, before going on to be crowned as the Swedish Player of the Year five years later.

Her vision and passing range were outstanding, and such genes could explain why her son was able to show glimpses of his potential greatness from the age of just four.

The Eskilsson-Swedberg family used to spend their summer holidays in Spain when Williot was young, and that gave him the chance to learn at the Valencia academy.

"They see football differently in Spain, and that is a big advantage," Eskilsson said. "I think that Williot has a lot of non-Swedish qualities in his game."

That is definitely true. Swedberg is inventive and graceful, and is slenderly built despite standing at just over six foot (185cm).

He will likely have to fill out physically to make it at the truly elite level, but in the meantime he is able to breeze past opponents thanks to his speed and ability to change direction, with his two-footedness making him a nightmare for opposition defenders to deal with.

Able to play as a box-to-box No.8, as a No.10 or from a wide position, Swedberg has even been tried as a central striker at times, with his versatility another of his key attributes.

"Quality decision making and game understanding usually come with experience, but Williot is brilliant at his tender age" Hammarby's chief scout, Mikael Hjelmberg, explained.

"He is one of the greatest talents to emerge at this club. In my opinion, he is the best Swedish player born in 2004."

A return to Spain could now be on the cards for Swedberg, if rumours of Barcelona's interest is to be believed.

The Blaugrana were first linked with the Sweden youth international in the summer of 2021, and reports of them scouting Swedberg have intensified again following his fast start to the season, though there is a suggestion that Manchester United are also watching his development closely.

"I know I am not at the required level for Barcelona yet, but I wouldn't refuse if they wanted to sign me," Swedberg said amid the initial reports of interest from Camp Nou, though right now he could not be at a better club for his development.

Hammarby currently sit top of the Allsvenskan table as they chase just their second national title, while Swedberg playing regularly could yet earn him a fast-track to the Swedish national team.

The Scandinavian nation alreadly boasts an exciting group of young attackers that includes Dejan Kulusevski, Alexander Isak and Anthony Elanga, and Swedberg has the ability to thrive alongside them for at least the next decade.

Whether he would have got the same opportunities to impress in Russia as he is now benefitting from is an unknown, but he is certainly making the most of it. A move to a bigger club than Lokomotiv Moscow now seems more than likely.

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