The inevitable has arrived. After three years of ascendancy and three years of turmoil, Ostersunds FK have been relegated out of the Swedish top-flight following a 3-0 defeat away at Varberg BoIS, an inevitable outcome considering the state of crisis that the club has been in the past three years. Once an exciting side that took Europe by storm, Ostersunds are now facing a year of total rebuild in the Swedish second tier.
Everyone knew the story already. Graham Potter led his ragtag team of non-leaguers and nobodies into a European run that captured the imaginations of many. Having already won the hearts of the Swedish public in 2017 with their Swedish Cup win, Potter was seeking to have his side do well in their debut European campaign in the 2017/18 Europa League. What comes next was an underdog story like no other – Ostersunds became one of the only two Scandinavian teams that season to advance into the European knockouts after winter, being the only Swedish side as the other Scandinavian team is European regulars FC Copenhagen of Denmark.
The likes of Galatasaray, PAOK, and Hertha Berlin felt the might of the Swedes before Arsenal narrowly avoided meeting the same fate after being beaten 2-1 at the Emirates in what turns out to be Ostersunds’ last European outing for a while.
Potter alongside chairman/director of football Daniel Kindberg had won plaudits worldwide for their excellent collaboration in transforming Ostersunds from a mediocre nobody to a European challenger, with stories of players performing cultural performances together endearing the team in everyone’s hearts. However, just after their 4-2 aggregate exit from the Europa League at the hands of Arsenal, everything came crashing down.
Kindberg was arrested by the Swedish authorities after it was found out that Ostersunds were funded using fraudulent money, only months after the Arsenal game. With their main source of finance gone, Ostersunds were picked apart by the footballing vultures.
Potter has now established himself as a Premier League manager at Brighton & Hove Albion, after making a brief stop at Championship side Swansea City once he left Ostersunds behind. Creative duo Saman Ghoddos and Ken Sema were flogged off and the two are now playing amongst the European elite – Ghoddos with Amiens and now Brentford and Sema with Watford. However, there were complications with Ghoddos’ transfer involving Spanish side Huesca, which meant that Ostersunds were slapped with a transfer ban due to the three-way dispute involving themselves, Amiens, and Huesca.
Hosam Aiesh is now plying his trade with Swedish giants IFK Gotheborg, while captain Brwa Nouri has established himself as a familiar name to Southeast Asian football fans – being a dynamo in the Bali United midfield.
Not even Ostersunds’ non-leaguers – English players who found their second calling at the Jamkraft Arena after failing to settle in the EFL back home – were spared from the footballing vultures. Jamie Hopcutt stayed with the club until 2019, getting a Swedish citizenship in the process, before going off on an adventure that saw him play for GIF Sundsvall, Hapoel Kfar Saba, and now, Oldham Athletic. Fellow Englishman Curtis Edwards also left in 2019 – to Swedish giants Djurgarden, where he won the league upon his arrival there.
Practically, from the starting lineup that beat Arsenal at the Emirates, only Guinean goalkeeper Aly Keita remained with Ostersunds until this day.
Potter’s replacement Ian Burchnall initially did well after his predecessor’s departure and Kindberg’s arrest, guiding Ostersunds to 6th in the league in 2018, before the club’s finances wilted completely in 2019, forcing Ostersunds to organize a fundraiser in order for them to remain afloat. Potter and a number of his former charges contributed to the fundraiser, allowing Ostersunds to survive for another season.
Burchnall left the club in 2020 as he wanted to return back to England and young Iranian-Swedish manager Amir Azrafshan took over the reins. Amir’s Ostersunds side battled relegation in the early stages of the 2020 season before the ship was steadied somewhat, a loss of form at the end of the season denying them a mid-table finish with Ostersunds finishing the season in 13th place.
Amir managed to guide Ostersunds to an okay start in 2021, however, from Matchweek 9 onwards the team found themselves mired in the relegation zone, being dead last in the league since Matchweek 13. Amir was sacked in early September in favor of former Rosenborg BK manager Per Joar Hansen, but the damage has been done, and last weekend’s defeat at Varberg confirmed Ostersunds’ relegation after six seasons in the top flight.
While relegation is never a good thing, this author hopes that Ostersunds could use this time away from the top-flight to rebuild themselves. As they have shown during the Kindberg era, they have the ability to defy expectations, and this time the odds are truly stacked against them. They didn’t have the funds that Kindberg used to invest into the team, they didn’t have an influential figure in the managerial dugout like Potter, and the players that they have right aren’t on the same level as the players that Potter had handled during his tenure. But through a process of rebuild and financial recovery, this one-time European surprise package can make their stay in the second-tier a brief one and bounce back with a bang.