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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 18:45 GMT
What is the 'Swedish way'?

Not everyone is happy with a Swede at the helm of England's football team. But what do we know about the Nordic nation beyond Ikea, Abba and Absolut?

For followers of English football, defeat is a way of life. But however hard losing may be, the idea that a Swedish coach could turn around England's fortunes is even more depressing.

At least that's how some sports commentators reacted to the appointment of Swede Sven Goran Eriksson to the country's top sporting job.

Ulrika Jonsson
Purveyors of high fashion and style
Humiliation enough that a foreign coach has been drafted in to save football's mother country, but that he should be Swedish would appear to be a step too far for some.

"We've sold our birthright down the fjord to a nation of seven million skiers and hammer throwers who spend half their life in the dark," said the Daily Mail.

To the average Briton, hefty athletes and a shortage of daylight are only half the story. Sweden also stands for Vikings, Volvo cars, Abba, Ulrika Jonsson and flat-pack furniture.

Bar the odd mention of Absolut vodka, Ericsson phones and Bjorn Borg, that about sums up our "appreciation" of this 1,000-year-old nation.

Net central

So it may come as a surprise to discover that Sweden is the world's third largest exporter of pop music, behind the USA and UK.

Stockholm is so abuzz with new media start ups, it has been dubbed the European capital of the internet and a recent report found Sweden hosted the world's most successful stock market of the 20th Century.

Mobile phone user
"I must get one of those discreet Swedish mobiles."
While the Swedes may be suffering something of an image problem abroad, the country - which has a population equivalent to that of Greater London (nine million) - is clearly doing something right.

So what is the secret of Sweden's success? What is the "Swedish way"?

The short answer is "lagom" - a Swedish word that has no direct translation, meaning neither too much, nor too little.

The word is said to date from Viking times, when the warriors would pass round a jug of beer and urge their compatriots to leave enough for everyone.

Team spirit

"It permeates the whole of Swedish society," says Claes Britton, editor and publisher of the style magazine Stockholm New.

There is no tolerance for big egos and glitzy lifestyles.

Britt Ekland
Swede who is a true Britt (Ekland)
"Elitism is not politically correct in Sweden. Even stars and famous people say 'I'm just a regular person. I go shopping at the supermarket; I like to sit at home and watch TV'."

Ingvar Kamprad, founder of the home furnishings giant Ikea, is a good example. Despite his status as a multimillionaire, Mr Kamprad travels economy class on aeroplanes and does his food shopping in the afternoon, when the price of fresh food drops.

Stockholm may be an internet boom town, but it doesn't flaunt it. Its entrepreneurs prefer to cycle to work on mountain bikes than arrive in flashy sports cars.

The principle lies at the heart of companies such as Ikea and fashion retailer H&M.

Broad horizons

"They're both based on the Swedish concept of good fashion and design for the masses. Volvo started the same way, although it has become more upmarket in recent years," says Mr Britton.

The country's small population has forced Swedes to look abroad for profitable markets and this has led to especially strong ties with Britain. An estimated 30,000 Swedes live in the UK.

Sven Goran Eriksson
Under pressure, but England's new boss will have to get used to it
"England has always been the most favoured country for most Swedes in Europe," says historian Herman Lindqvist. "[The Swedes] are standing outside Europe most of the time, like you are, mentally. And they consider England number one in Europe."

And while Sweden is strong on generating new ideas - only Switzerland has more research and development personnel per capita - it's also exceptionally good at innovation, says Mr Britton.

This is particularly so in the case of pop music, according to Richard Benson, former editor of British music magazine The Face.

"They're very good at copying an idea and almost making it more perfect than the original. The Cardigans do that kind of jangly, wistful girl singer pop music that English bands pioneered, but they do it so much better."

On a roll: A Swedish gastronomic staple
The problem, concedes Mr Britton, is that a society so ease with itself can become bland.

"In football, it's always been based on the collective effort rather than the individual. We don't have the big name stars like other countries."

But those who like a bit of British edge in their game, should not be disappointed with Sven Goran Eriksson at the English helm, says Mr Britton.

"He's spent many years in southern European football. It's changed him. He's come to adopt more of a game that focuses on individuals."

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01 Nov 00 | World Cup 2002
Lazio block part-time Eriksson
28 Jul 00 | Europe
Ikea's self-assembled billionaire
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