Syrianska's remarkable rise in Sweden
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 04:38 PM UT
Özcan Melkemichel has few peers in Swedish or European football. He joined Syrianska FC at the age of ten, played for the club as they climbed from the seventh to the second division and, as a self-taught coach, led them into the top flight.
Syrianska were founded in 1977 by Syriac immigrants in Sodertalje, a city south of Stockholm. A year later, Melkemichel joined the club that his father had helped establish. "I was raised by Syrianska. The club is a part of me," he told UEFA.com.
As a player, the now 44-year-old helped Syrianska win a local seventh division title in 1983 before more promotions followed and the club reached division two in 1991. After acting as a board member, director of football and club president, Melkemichel took over as head coach in 2005 and led his team into the Swedish top division four years later.
"I taught myself the basics of coaching by reading books and surfing the internet," explained Melkemichel, before adding with a laugh: "Even when I was club president, I never missed a training session. I was there more than some of the players!"
Melkemichel has added formal coaching badges to his sheer enthusiasm in recent years and, much like the club, has come a long way in a short space of time. It was only in 2006 that he quit his day job as a hairdresser and he was keen to stress that although the club's Syriac roots remain intact, it is a modern, diverse club.
"We've got 12-13 nationalities in the first team squad, and you see the same diversity in our youth teams," he said. "We're a club for everybody in Sodertalje. The club name doesn't only mean a lot to Syriacs in Sodertalje and Sweden. We've got an enormous amount of supporters among Syriacs all over the world."
In the early days, Syrianska played local opposition on gravel pitches and could only dream of playing on grass. They have not only realised that dream but achieved so much more, surviving a relegation play-off in their first season in the top flight in 2011. "There are so many great memories," he added. "It's simply been a fantastic journey. It could be made into a book or a film."
Syrianska are on course to improve on their debut campaign this term and Melkemichel highlighted the club's ambition. "We always hunger for more," he said. "We didn't think we would reach the Allsvenskan as early as this. With the right conditions we could aim for higher positions in the table, eventually playing in Europe. But that's in the long term."