On November 2, 2019 Markus Rosenberg played his last ever league match for Malmö FF. It would have been his last ever Malmö match had it not for the fact that since he returned in 2014, both Malmö and Swedish football had changed. And in so many ways, he has been that change – by turning Malmö FF into a club that competes in Europe. So when the referee blew the full-time whistle on Saturday and the Swedish league came to it’s end, Rosenberg still had at least three more European matches to play before hanging up those football boots.
And when he finally does, he will be considered, together with Bosse Larsson, as the greatest player that ever played for Malmö FF. He might have spent the majority of his career in the shadows of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Markus Rosenberg will leave with a Malmö legacy so great Zlatan can’t even come close to it. While Zlatan put Malmö FF on the map, Rosenberg became Malmö FF. And while there might be a Zlatan statue outside the Malmö Stadium, inside it there is another king, because that stadium is the home of Markus Rosenberg.
Actually it always been. Rosenberg was only five years old the first time he played football where the current stadium stands. Back then it was gravel pitches, or maybe better described as mud pitches. In a way it’s pretty telling that the very same spot where Rosenberg started in the Malmö FF football school, is the exact same where his career now ends.
Malmö FF has always been Markus Rosenberg’s home. As a kid, his family moved a lot in and around Malmö, and he never had the time to find his place or his group of friends before it was time to move to a new school again. The one constant thing was always Malmö FF, his childhood friends come from football and when he’s asked where in Malmö he’s from, Rosenberg’s answer is always the same “The stadium area, it’s here that I have my heart.”
He has always been a Malmö FF boy and definitely always had a strong winner mentality, but he hasn’t always been the star or the goalscorer. Actually for the most part of his youth-football days, Rosenberg was a defender, a right back. The best players were the ones who got to play in the attacking positions, that’s where everyone wanted to play, and Markus was good, he played for Malmö after all, but he wasn’t one of the best.
By coincidence however, he would eventually end up in that attack. He was 16 and the team had been struck by injuries ahead of a game so Markus was suddenly asked to play as a forward. And since then the goals haven’t stopped coming. This led to a debut for the first team against AIK in 2001, when he was just 18, a game no Malmö fan will ever forget. Not because of Rosenberg but because of a 19-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic who that day, in his first every Swedish top division match, had his first big show, scoring twice.
It was not the first time Rosenberg was ending up in Zlatan’s shadow, the two had also briefly played in the same youth team, and it wouldn’t be the last.
And while Zlatan was sold for a record amount to Ajax later that same year and then went on to success at Juventus. Rosenberg struggled to get a permanent spot in Malmö’s first team. In 2004, Malmö used their Zlatan-money to invest heavily in the transfer market with only one goal – to win the Swedish league, something the club had failed to do for 16 years. With a number of star signings coming in, there was no room for Rosenberg who was loaned out to Halmstad, another Swedish club, that was expected to spend the season in the relegation battle.
It was a decision that could have easily been catastophical for Malmö, because that was the season Markus Rosenberg made his true breakthrough. The season ended with Rosenberg as the top scorer of the league while lowly Halmstad and Malmö competed for the title on the very last day. Halmstad was in pole position, and a win at home against Gothenburg would mean the title was theirs. They took the lead but then their luck turned, Rosenberg got injured and had to leave the pitch, then Gothenburg won a penalty and equalized. All while Malmö took the lead and won against Elfsborg. So Malmö got their title after 16 years, but what they also got was their Rosenberg back.
Rosenberg’s success led to him getting his debut with the Swedish national team and in March 2005, Rosenberg and Ibrahimovic were in the team as the Swedes took on Bulgaria. A situation Zlatan found quite strange saying “for me he is a right-back, I only remember him as a fifteen year-old and then he was a right-back and now suddenly he is scoring goals…”.
After half a season back at Malmö, Rosenberg followed the same path as Zlatan, and signed for Ajax. But he never conquered the football world like Zlatan did, he never became a symbol for Sweden like Zlatan did. Though he did do well – he had a successful time in Ajax, a physically tough but even more successful time at Werder Bremen, he played LaLiga football with Racing Santander and in the Premier League with West Bromwich.
Rosenberg will never be able to compete with Zlatan when it comes to status in international, European or Swedish football. But in Malmö the situation is different, in Malmö he’s made his way out of Zlatan’s shadow and created a shadow of his own, something that, in all honesty, no one ever expected.
In 2014 when Markus Rosenberg decided to return home, no one really knew which Markus Rosenberg Malmö was getting back. Many thought he was already finished as a player and the general belief was that this would just be another Swedish footballer returning home after a few years in Europe to play a out a couple of seasons before retiring, nothing extraordinary, nothing special. There were no bigger expectations than that and no one could think that the story of Markus Rosenberg wasn’t just not unfinished, it hadn’t even really began yet.
Malmö had won the league in 2010 and 2013, but it still wasn’t anywhere near an optimal situation that Markus Rosenberg came back to. The ’Zlatan money’ had long since run out, the debts had grown and in truth, Malmö FF were struggling.
At the time Guillermo “Gische” Molins was the biggest star of the team, he wore the captain’s armband and had been key in the club winning the league title the previous season. More than anything Molins was the most popular player among the fans, the heart of the team. When Gische tore his ACL that summer, it was the fans’ biggest nightmare. Malmö were just about to start the Champions League qualifieres and they were entering the most challenging phase of the league season, all without their captain, their star.
In Gische’s absence, Markus Rosenberg was handed the captain’s armband and eventually, he would also get to keep it for good, but in that moment he still had a long way to go in order to convince the fans that he indeed was their captain.
In 2014, no Swedish team had played Champions League football for over 14 years, and making it into the biggest European tournament was at the time simply considered as something impossible for a Swedish club. European success for Swedish football clubs was something of the past.
Just to get to the Champions League group stage you would have to win the Swedish league and then play three qualification rounds, a total of six matches against opponents who more often than not were on another level in every sense, with much greater resources.
When Red Bull Salzburg came to Malmö that year for the second leg of the last qualifying stage, they did so having invested everything in making it to the Champions League. It was their main goal for the season, and in the league Spanish striker Jonathan Soriano was scoring goals for fun. There was no way Malmö FF should have been be able to beat a big club like that and in Salzburg, Malmö had been ran over. It was by sheer luck that it had ended only 2-1 to the Austrians.
It was a time when Malmö FF’s future was uncertain, when nobody knew what direction the club was heading in. Today, the match at home against Salzburg is seen as the one that decided the club’s future.
Something happened in Malmö that night. Something that changed the course and the story of Swedish football, of Malmö FF and of Markus Rosenberg. That was the key game, the game no one will ever forget.
The stadium was boiling, with the atmosphere reaching such a level that the Malmö Stadium that night got a new nickname “Hexenkessel”. On the pitch, the team stepped out with confidence, with an attitude that would have you think that it was actually Malmö that was the bigger club of the two. It was a night when no one expected Malmö FF to win, except for Malmö FF itself. The fans, the players… it was like they had all been struck by the same magic wand convincing them that they were unbeatable.
Red Bull Salzburg was not ready for what was coming that night. Malmö needed a 2-0 win, they won 3-0. The first goal was an ice-cold penalty from Markus Rosenberg after only 11 minutes, followed by a dream goal from Magnus Eriksson only eight minutes later. It all ended with Markus Rosenberg scoring what has become an iconic goal, walking in the ball for 3-0 with only minutes left on the clock. With his arms in the air, and a smile from ear to ear.
Malmö had done the impossible, for the first time in 14 years, a Swedish club had qualified for the Champions League. It was first time in history that Malmö FF had reached the tournament in its current format. The biggest European success the club had seen since they reached the European Cup final in 1979.
It was the start of what would become one of the most successful eras in Malmö FF history. And it was also a wake up call for Swedish football, demonstrating that Europe wasn’t unreachable.
During the five years following Markus Rosenberg’s return, Malmö would win the league three times, become the first team in over ten years to do so in two two consecutive seasons. They would add a second star to the club shirt, each one symbolizing 10 league titles they had won, as they became the most successful Swedish club in history. They would also reach the Champions League twice and qualify out of a Europa League group stage for the first time ever, something they have the chance to do again this season.
And it is general knowledge that this wouldn’t have happened without him, without Markus Rosenberg. Throughout all the recent success, he has been the one constant. Players and coaches have changed from season to season, and still Malmö kept on dominating. Rosenberg is the one who has always been there. He scored the decisive goals in the decisive moments, led the team, generated confidence and made every player that put on the Malmö shirt believe as much as he does, that Malmö FF must always win, because Malmö FF are the best. Still he’s done more than that.
In coming back, he didn’t take the easy route and he didn’t come back just to play off his last days. Instead, he shook up the club, made his opinions clear, gave demands, even criticizing supporters and challenging board members. In some ways, Rosenberg forced the club to grow up. And because of it, Malmö FF has grown and developed more in the last five years than it had previously done in decades.
When he came back no one knew what to expect of the boy that had left nine years earlier. What they got was a man with that same winning mentality that he has always had but also with new knowledge and experience. With a much more physical way of playing, including his now famous sharp elbows. That have seen opponents thrown to the ground more than once. Elbows so famous they even got their own song and fan stickers. But more than anything, Malmö got a player who would always step up, scoring the crucial goals and doing anything it took to win. He has become the player everyone at Malmö loves and everyone else hates.
And by doing all this he achieved another impossible thing – he became more loved in Malmö than Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In Malmö Rosenberg is no longer in Zlatan’s shadow.
Zlatan will always be a symbol for Sweden and for Malmö but the fact is that he only played half a season in the first division for Malmö FF. And even though the money the club got when he was sold made a huge difference at the time, what Markus Rosenberg has meant for Malmö FF is on another level. He won Malmö that money over and over again on the pitch. And he has give then club and its fans so much more.
So is it time for another statue outside the stadium next to Zlatan’s? If it was up to the fans it would already be there. If it was up to Rosenberg, it never will. Markus Rosenberg has always had that Malmö winning mentality, the confidence, the cockiness. Someone who in interviews had no problem saying ”We know we are the best, biggest and greatest team in Sweden.” He is a guy that when asked how he wants to be remembered when his career is over directly says ”as a winner”.
But he is also the guy who when the entire stadium sang his name after his last league match at home turned red in his face and desperately tried to make the rest of the team come up next to him to turn his tribute into a tribute to the team instead. And when he realized his teammates were not going to let that happen, he made his way up to the stands, took over the megaphone and changed the Markus Rosenberg chants to Malmö FF chants. Afterwards, he admitted he had enjoyed it, but that the entire scenario had also made him feel a bit uncomfortable.
Because even though Markus Rosenberg never have had a problem with being in the spotlight, he wanted to be in the spotlight as a part of a team, or more specifically as part of Malmö FF.
While Zlatan says ”I am the best”. Rosenberg says ”We, Malmö, are the best”.