Who are the best Swedish soccer players of all-time? Find out the best Sweden has to offer

Who are the best Swedish soccer players of all-time? Find out the best Sweden has to offer

Steve Njuguna
updated at January 28, 2024 at 2:36 PM
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Sweden has a rich and proud footballing history, marked by a tradition of excellence on the international stage. The Swedish national football team has consistently showcased a high level of skill, resilience, and sportsmanship, earning admiration from fans worldwide. This article delves into the best Swedish soccer players of all time.

Swedish soccer players in national team training
Sweden's national team during a training session in 2016. Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP
Source: Getty Images

Over the years, Sweden has produced numerous talented players who have significantly contributed to the global football community. The Swedish top-flight league, the Allsvenskan, is considered by many pundits and fans as one of the best in Europe.

The best Swedish men's soccer players of all time

These footballers changed Swedish football with their impact on the game, raising the country's profile in global circles. Here is a ranked list of the top 10 best Swedish players ever.

10. Patrik Andersson

Starting as a tough tackling defender at Malmö FF in the late 1980s, Patrik later ventured into the football scenes of England, Germany, and Spain. A career highlight came with the 2000–01 UEFA Champions League victory with FC Bayern Munich. After a brief stint at Barca, he successfully returned to Malmö FF in 2004, concluding his career the following season.

On the international stage from 1992 to 2002, he earned 96 caps for the Swedish national team, playing a vital role in their third-place finish at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. His impact is further underscored by winning the Guldbollen as Sweden's best footballer in 1995 and 2001. He currently works as a Sporting director for Malmo FF.

Patrick Andersson presenting a UEFA trophy
Patrik Andersson makes an appearance during the 2017 Europa League final. Photo by VI Images
Source: Getty Images

9. Thomas Ravelli

Thomas Ravelli is the best goalkeeper in Swedish football history. He rose to prominence with his remarkable career that began in 1978 with Östers IF. His exceptional goalkeeping skills earned him 143 caps for the Swedish national team, establishing him as one of the nation's most capped players. Notably, Ravelli played a pivotal role in Sweden's impressive third-place finish in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, showcasing his talent on the global stage. He retired in 1999.

Thomas Ravelli during an international appearance
Thomas Ravelli during an international game in 1992. Photo by Shaun Botterrill
Source: Getty Images

8. Kurt Hamrin

Kurt Hamrin, who played as a forward, left an indelible mark on football during his illustrious career spanning from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Recognised for his scoring prowess and versatility, Hamrin significantly impacted AIK before achieving success with Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina in Italy. He remains the Serie A's 8th-best goalscorer with 190 goals.

Internationally, he scored 17 goals in 32 caps and played a pivotal role in their journey to the 1958 FIFA World Cup final held in Sweden, cementing him as one of Sweden's greatest footballers.

7. Tomas Brolin

Born in Hudiksvall, Sweden, Brolin emerged as a talented forward and midfielder, showcasing his skills at the domestic and international levels. His professional journey began with AIK in the late 1980s, and he later gained prominence during his stint with Parma in Italy, where he played a crucial role in the team's success, including winning the Coppa Italia in 1992, UEFA Super Cup in 1993 and the UEFA Cup in the 1994-95 season. He had low-profile stints in England with Leeds United and Crystal Palace.

Brolin's international career was equally significant, earning 47 caps for the Swedish national team. A standout moment came during the 1994 FIFA World Cup, where he played a crucial role in guiding Sweden to a third-place finish.

Tomas Brolin at the 1994 World Cup
Tomas Brolin celebrates Sweden's third-place finish at the 1994 World Cup. Photo by Ben Radford
Source: Getty Images

6. Erik Nilsson

Nilsson began his football journey with Limhamns IF during his youth before transitioning in 1934 to Malmö FF, a prominent Allsvenskan club, where he remained until 1953. His tenure with Malmö FF was marked by considerable success, securing five league titles and winning five Swedish Cups.

Nilsson made 57 appearances for the Swedish national football team, participating in various international tournaments. His journey included the 1938 FIFA World Cup, where Sweden secured a fourth-place finish. Notably, he contributed to Sweden's historic victory at the 1948 London Olympics, clinching a gold medal by defeating Yugoslavia 3–1 in the final. In the 1950 FIFA World Cup, he played a pivotal role as Sweden claimed third place, marking him as one of the rare individuals to participate in World Cups before and after World War II.

Erik Nilsson at the 1958 World Cup
Erik Nilsson (far left) clears the ball away as his teammate Samuelson (No. 2) watches during Sweden's 1950 World Cup game against Brazil. Photo by Picture Alliance
Source: Getty Images

5. Freddie Ljungberg

Freddie Ljungberg, a dynamic forward, initiated his professional journey with Halmstads BK in Sweden. He later made a significant impact during his tenure at Arsenal in the English Premier League, notably contributing to the success of the "Invincibles" team during the 2003-2004 season. Ljungberg played a pivotal role in Arsenal's unbeaten league run and played a substantial part in the team's triumphs in the FA Cup in 2002 and 2003.

On the international stage, Ljungberg represented Sweden with distinction, earning 75 caps and participating in numerous UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cups. His standout performances in the 2006 World Cup and the 2004 UEFA European Championship solidified his status as a footballing icon in Sweden. After retiring from playing, Ljungberg went into coaching, contributing significantly to his former club Arsenal's coaching staff.

Freddie Ljunberg during a warm up session with Arsenal
Freddie during his time as Arsenal's interim head coach in 2020. Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC
Source: Getty Images

4. Gunnar Gren

Gunnar Gren played a pivotal role in the famous "Gre-No-Li" trio alongside Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Nordahl. Starting his career with Örgryte IS in 1937, Gren later joined A.C. Milan in Italy in 1949, significantly contributing to the club's success throughout the 1950s. His reputation was built on exceptional vision, playmaking skills, and goal-scoring prowess, making him a versatile forward capable of influencing the game from various positions.

On the international stage, Gren proudly represented the Swedish national team, amassing 57 caps and participating in numerous major tournaments. His notable achievement was reaching the 1958 FIFA World Cup final, where Sweden finished as runners-up. He passed away in 1991.

Gunnar Gren at the 1958 FIFA World Cup
Gunner Gren is pictured here posing in Sweden during the 1958 World Cup. Photo by Emilio Ronchini/Mondadori
Source: Getty Images

3. Gunnar Nordahl

Widely considered one of the best Swedish football players to ever play in Italy, Gunnar Nordahl is most renowned for his tenure at AC Milan from 1949 to 1956, during which he clinched the Serie A title twice. His remarkable achievements include the prestigious title of "Pluricapocannoniere," as he secured the coveted Serie A top scorer (Capocannonieri) award an unprecedented five times. This feat stands as a record, surpassing any other player in the storied history of the Italian championship. He is also AC Milan's all-time top scorer.

Internationally, Nordahl represented the Swedish national team, earning 33 caps and participating in significant tournaments. His goal-scoring prowess was particularly evident in the 1958 FIFA World Cup, where Sweden reached the final.

Gunnar Nordahl in 1946
Gunnar Nordahl playing for Norrkoping in 1946. Photo by Barratts/PA Images
Source: Getty Images

2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

When you talk about famous Swedish soccer players, Zlatan tops the list. Ibrahimović's professional journey began with Malmö FF in 1999, where he quickly gained recognition for his goal-scoring ability. He subsequently embarked on a remarkable international career, representing top European clubs, including Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester United, and returning to AC Milan.

His dynamic playing style, characterised by acrobatic goals and exceptional technique, has made him one of the most iconic and revered footballers globally. Ibrahimović is also Sweden's all-time leading goal-scorer, having earned over 120 caps for the national team.

1. Henrik Larsson

Henrik Larsson is the best Swedish soccer player ever. Larsson was known for his prolific goal-scoring and versatile attacking skills. Beginning his career with Helsingborgs IF, he later achieved significant success with Celtic in Scotland, winning multiple Scottish Premier League titles and the Scottish Cup.

During his distinguished career, Larsson played for top clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester United. He famously won Barcelona the 2006 Champions League final by giving two assists. He earned over 100 caps for the Swede national team, participating in UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cups. He led Sweden to the bronze medal match at the 1994 World Cup.

Henrik Larsson at the 1994 World Cup
Henrik Larsson playing for Sweden at the 1994 World Cup. Photo by Mark Leech
Source: Getty Images

Who is the best Swedish women's soccer player of all time?

Pia Sundhage is the best Swedish women's soccer player of all time. She excelled as a forward during her illustrious playing career, accumulating 146 caps while representing the Swedish national team. Her impact was felt in numerous UEFA Women's Championships and FIFA Women's World Cups, where her exceptional skill and goal-scoring abilities left an enduring impression. Sundhage's achievements as a player include securing a bronze medal at the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup and a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Transitioning to coaching, Sundhage has been a driving force in women's football. She steered the United States women's national team to consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012 and guided the team to the FIFA Women's World Cup final in 2011. She has also coached the Brazilian women's national team to the 2022 Copa Feminina trophy.

Pia Sundhage coaching the Brazilian women's national team
Pia Sundhage coached the Brazil national team at the World Cup in 2023. Photo by Morgan Hancock/NurPhoto
Source: Getty Images

Who is the best Swedish soccer player right now?

Tottenham Hotspurs winger Dejan Kulusevski is the best Swedish soccer player right now. Kulusevski, a native of Sweden, was born to a father of Swedish Macedonian descent and a mother from Macedonia. During his youth career, he showcased his talents by representing Macedonia and Sweden internationally. However, at the senior level, he decided to play for his country of birth, marking his full debut in 2019.

Final words

Swedish players' success in top European clubs enhances the country's football reputation, supported by modern infrastructure and inclusive football culture. Notably, the women's national team has achieved significant international success, contributing to the overall vibrancy and resilience displayed by the men's and women's teams in major tournaments.

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Steve Njuguna
Steve Njuguna is a media professional with close to a decade of experience in the sports media industry. He has previously worked as a sports journalist with Bamba Sports TV, Vybez Radio and The Nairobian newspaper.