Joachim Bjorklund speaks to us about his time at Sunderland and his new life as a scout and TV pundit.
Good morning, you lot. It's time for another Roker Report exclusive, and it's a blast from the not-too-distant past in Swedish centre-back Joachim Bjorklund.
For those that don't remember, or have erased the 19-point season from their memory, Bjorklund managed 50-plus games for the Lads in a two-year spell circa 2002. He played 79 times for his country, too and always played at a high level for us following his transfer from Venezia.
Any ways, let's get to it...
Your time at Sunderland coincided with a difficult time for the club; you played under three different managers in two years. After the end of your first season, did you envisage what would happen next?
Joachim: Okay, interesting start. I remember there being a sense of relief that we didn't do down, and that in the summer the rebuilding we would do would benefit us. The intentions were there - we broke our transfer record on the last day [of the transfer window] - but we couldn't get going. The team was still a good one; we had many internationals, but once we had started badly everything got on top of us quite quickly. The change in manager seemed to compound things, and as they say, unfortunately, the rest was history.
You played at a number of great grounds during your time at Valencia, Rangers and in Italy. How did the Stadium of Light compare to stadiums you had played in before?
Joachim: It is a beautiful stadium - one of the best in Europe. It is difficult because unfortunately my time at Sunderland was spent at the wrong end of the table, whereas as in Spain and in Glasgow we were competing in European competition. Despite that, the fans still made themselves known at the Stadium of Light, which has stayed with me. Of the games during my time there, the Liverpool one around Christmas time, was really special as we desperately needed the points.
During your time at the club, Sweden played in the 2002 World Cup. Given that your country were in the same group as England and Argentina, was there much banter as the domestic season drew to a close?
Joachim: There was definitely a huge amount of pride in topping the group - both Sweden and England finished above Argentina - but it was disappointing not to be out there contributing. I played many times for Sweden and was honoured each time but unfortunately it wasn't to be. There were some good players in my position like Olof Mellberg and Johan Mjallby which made it difficult.
But I don't recall there being too much banter; our season at Sunderland didn't end the way we wanted it to and it was simply a case of having a break and hoping to come back stronger the following season.
And of course, Sebastian Larsson will be representing Sweden in the upcoming Euros. How have you rated his first season on Wearside?
Joachim: From what I've seen, he's been important. Larsson's expertise at set-pieces is well documented, but he also works so hard for the team. I remember reading Martin O'Neill's comments about his performance against Man City when Sunderland won 1-0 at the Stadium Of Light - I think Larsson had been ill prior to the game and there he was at the end leading the break-out that saw the goal in the last minute. He's the same for his country, too.
The following season saw Sunderland back in the First Division as it was called then, but after the win against Preston that prevented a record of consecutive defeats, the club seemed to fight its way back onto its feet. What are your recollections from that season?
Joachim: You are right. We had that following us around and until we had removed it, it felt like it could have consumed us like it had the previous season. But thankfully, we managed to win, and win a few more which saw us head back up the table. The Cup run was also very nice - it would have been wonderful to have given something back to the fans - but unfortunately that wasn't meant to be either.
At the time, I remember being disappointed to see that you had left the club at the end of the season. Was there a realisation that a new challenge was needed or were you happy to stay?
Joachim: I would have liked to have stayed. At that stage in my career I was looking for a bit of stability and was enjoying my time here. As a defensive line, we had plenty of experience, but the manager had opted to go down a different route for next season. I think that was clear with the signings he made, but it was still good to see the club get promoted.
There were only a few appearances preventing Sunderland from becoming the club you played the most league games for. Do you still keep an eye on how the club are doing?
Joachim: I try to. I now spend my time covering a lot of Spanish football for a company called Canal+ but there are sometimes occasions where I get to watch the Premier League.
For those unaware, what are you doing with yourself these days? Are you still involved in football?
Joachim: I mentioned above, but also do some scouting for one of my old clubs - Valencia. I oversee the Scandinavian nations, such as Sweden and others like Norway, which is hugely enjoyable but time consuming.
We thank Joachim very much for his time, and wish him all the very best for the future with his roles at Valencia and with Canal+ Television.