Balsom bows out after record 26-year spell with Sweden

Right: Paul Balsom with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, "just one of the nicest guys"

Right: Paul Balsom with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, "just one of the nicest guys"

Paul Balsom’s amazing run as Performance Manager for the Sweden men’s national team is now over, after 26 years, more than 340 matches and nine major tournaments.

The journey began in 1988, when the Englishman applied to do a PhD in exercise physiology at the renowned Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. An academic paper by Professor Björn Ekblom had been his inspiration.

“Professor Ekblom had written THE sports science in football paper of the time,” Balsom remembers. “So I wrote a letter to him, posted it off and hoped for the best. Thankfully he wrote back, invited me over to Stockholm and, as they say, the rest is history.”

There was an added bonus, too: as well as being an academic, Ekblom was a member of the Swedish Football Association’s Medical Committee. So after completing his PhD, Balsom ended up working with Sweden's national teams, “doing some testing with the young players and then some performance analysis at the 1992 men’s Euros, which were held in Sweden.”

After that he became Performance Analyst and Fitness Coach for the women’s team at the 1995 World Cup and Euros, before going full-time with the men in January 1998. He’s been with them ever since and 26 years later is an adopted Swede with a hybrid accent, Swedish family with four sons and a long-time home in Stockholm.

However, as TGG reported last month, Ben Rosen, the former Head of Performance at Blackburn Rovers, has now come in to take over from Balsom as Performance Manager. The move again partners Rosen with new Head Coach Jon Dahl Tomasson, with whom he had worked at Ewood Park.

“Ben’s appointment was confirmed at the last minute, a week before Portugal (on March 21st),” says Balsom. “Up until then I was still unsure (about his future in the role), but then I was told I was being replaced with Jon Dahl Tomasson’s own man, which is part of football.”

Until now, Balsom, who was our guest on Episode #8 of the TGG Podcast, which you can listen to above, had always signed a two-year contract extension with the Swedish FA. There were 13 of them in all, back-to-back.

He is currently in talks about staying on to lead a project looking at the viability and potential make-up of a new sports science department, which the Federation has never had before, but is also looking at other possibilities.

“I would look at any opportunities where I can have an impact and leave a legacy,” he says, "especially with key stakeholders who are prepared to take things to the next level with innovation and technology.”


Balsom, who grew up in Torquay, looks back on his 26 years with the national team with great fondness.

“I’ve had 26 unbelievable years and travelled pretty much the whole world with some fantastic people,” he says.

Of all his matches with the team (he counts them as more than 340), there are four he picks out as being particularly memorable. The first was the away game against England in qualification for Euro 2000.

“We had beaten England 2-1 at home, at the old Rasunda Stadium, with Johan Mjällby scoring the winner,” Balsom remembers. “Then we had the second game. Growing up in England, going out on the old Wembley turf was really special for me.

“England had a star team at the time, with Alan Shearer, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, but we got a 0-0 result to virtually secure our qualification for the Euros. Freddie Ljungberg played for us and secured a move to Arsenal off the back of that game really.”

There were more goals in his second memorable match, in fact eight in all. Sweden were 4-0 down with 30 minutes to go in their World Cup qualifier against Germany in Berlin in October 2012, but somehow fought back for a 4-4 draw.

“We were 3-0 down at half time, 4-0 down with 30 minutes to go, and did the impossible,” Balsom says. “That summed up the character and belief of that team - and of a lot of the Sweden teams I worked with.”

The third game was in November 2017, a World Cup qualifying play-of game against Italy in the San Siro, which ended 0-0 against all the odds and secured Sweden’s place at the 2018 finals in Russia.

The fourth was very memorable, though for all the wrong reasons. It was last October’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Belgium in Brussels, which was abandoned at half-time following the fatal shooting of two Swedish supporters by a terrorist earlier in the day.

“Victor Lindelöf (Sweden captain) was fantastic,” Balsom recalls. “He consulted all of the players and as the facts started to come through, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

“Football is irrelevant in a situation like this. All of our thoughts were with the two fans who were murdered.”

"The guy is amazing - he speaks at least five different languages and runs several of his own businesses" Paul Balsom

This is the overriding theme of Balsom’s recollections: his relationship with the players made his time with Sweden so special.

“I am fond of so many of them - so many lovely people, both on and off the pitch,” he says. “In a way the players are putting all their trust in you, to help them perform at their best. That is what I will miss the most - working with the players.”

And there is one question that interviewers (including myself) tend to ask: so what is Zlatan Ibrahimovic really like? Balsom worked with the talismanic striker from 2002 to 2023.

“The guy is amazing,” Balsom enthuses. "He speaks at least five different languages, and runs several of his own businesses. When he was sponsored by Volvo, he could tell you anything about their vision and strategy, and where and how their cars were made.

"The guy is very very smart. As a player, he never caused me a problem. He was absolutely amazing - funny and so warm.”

Paul Balsom's four most memorable matches with Sweden:

  1. England 0-0 Sweden (June 1999)
  2. Germany 4-4 Sweden (Oct 2012)
  3. Italy 0-0 Sweden (Nov 2017)
  4. Belgium v Sweden (abandoned, Oct 2023)

He tells a story to illustrate this.

“One of my boys, Benjamin, has Down Syndrome,” Balsom reveals. “He’s 27 this year and is the king of the family, he’s great. He’s kind of grown up with Zlatan, they have a great relationship.

“It was World Down Syndrome Day a few weeks ago. Arbetskamraterna, a Swedish work placement organisation, has a project for Down Syndrome and we emailed Zlatan asking if he would mind sharing a film on his Instagram, which Benjamin was part of.

"Four minutes later, he replied, ‘No problem, send it to me.’ Next day, half a million views. Just one of the nicest guys.”


Sport science and technology have evolved greatly during Balsom’s time with the team.

“I took a desktop computer and big TV monitor to one of our first games,” he remembers. “We were one of the first national teams to do Powerpoint presentations and basic match analysis on a computer.

“We were also one of the first teams to wear heart-rate belts. Slowly but surely it has evolved. For example, we now have GPS vests with heart-rate sensors built in. But the biggest and most significant change for me has been the education of the players.

"For the pre-training preparation period, we now have pretty much all of the players voluntarily in the gym, doing their own routines and doing them very well. They also are very well educated with nutrition and with their recovery strategies between games.”

Up until the 2018 World Cup, Balsom was both Fitness Coach and Performance Analyst for the team.

“I was taking the warm-up, then running up and filming games in my boots in the stand, then coming back down at half time and warming up the subs,” he says. “Second half, back up to film, then back down for the top-up with the non-playing substitutes.”

Despite his experience, Balsom isn’t someone who thinks he knows it all - nor one who ever says “we’ve always done it that way”. Far from it.

As well as working for Sweden, he was Head of Sports Science and Performance Innovation for Leicester City for almost a decade and for their sister club OH Leuven, in Belgium, for four.

Since October 2021 he has been Performance Advisor for Tigres UANL in Monterrey, Mexico, and is also leading UEFA’s Fitness4Football Advisory Group, who are currently piloting a fitness coach qualification that will mirror the UEFA A and B coaching licences.

“If I had to pick one personal strength, I would say open mindedness,” Balsom admits. “I’ve always enjoyed pioneering things, with both Sweden and Leicester and now with Tigres. I strongly believe that there is so much we can improve on in the industry, and that there is so much more to come.

“One area is in terms of how we impart information and share a vision. I did an online presentation a few weeks ago and put up a slide with a clip-art picture of a sofa on it, to represent pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. One of the female coaches commented, ‘I don’t see a sofa, I see a train.’

"And that’s brilliant. We don’t always see the same thing or share the same vision. Some people prefer it written or shown illustrated in a diagram, some prefer to discuss it - it’s about involving them and delivering it to them in the right way.

“There is a lot to come with data, too, which is why I am excited about what the next challenge could be, together with a forward-thinking club that could make that happen. You need experience of working in football but you also need a basic understanding of data.

“After all these years I feel I can now speak most, if not all, of the “languages” needed to communicate successfully with all the key stakeholders working in football. It is the final chapter in my pro career and it will be interesting to see what’s out there for me now.”

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