Nils Liedholm remembered as great player and manager
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Nils Liedholm remembered as great player and manager

Nils Liedholm signs a football in this February 18, 2004 file photo.

Nils Liedholm signs a football in this February 18, 2004 file photo.

Nils Liedholm was a rarity in soccer, a great player who went on to be a top manager. While so many leading professionals flounder when it comes to coaching, the Swede, who died on Monday aged 85, made the transition thanks to his perfectionism as a player.

Having won titles in Sweden and an Olympic gold medal with his country in 1948, midfielder Nils Liedholm set off for Milan and quickly helped turn the inconsistent club around.

He became one of the first international successes in Italy, forming a superb bond with compatriots Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl which became known as Milan's Gre-No-Li partnership.

The four scudettos he won during the 1950s helped build the brand of Milan as a great passing team and they came close to beating the mighty Real Madrid in the 1958 European Cup final only to lose out in extra time.

Stories still circulate about Liedholm not misplacing a pass for two seasons and being given an ovation when he did finally err, while his attention to fitness was before his time and helped shape his later beliefs as a manager.

He was almost 36 when he helped Sweden to the 1958 World Cup final against winners Brazil, who sported 17-year-old Pele.

Liedholm's longevity on the field enabled him to amass a huge amount of know-how and he used it to good effect in the dugout.

A spell in Milan's backroom staff was followed by a number of Italian coaching jobs including a stint at Fiorentina before he returned to San Siro as manager.

He led Milan to their 10th league title in 1979 but it was at Roma that 'Il Barone' (the baron) as he was dubbed, really made his mark.

Roma won only their second scudetto in 1983 and reached an unprecedented European Cup final the next year where only Bruce Grobbelaar's antics in goal helped Liverpool sneak the penalty shoot-out and deprive Liedholm of the top European honour again.

His innovative training techniques are now used across the game and he was still acting as a pundit long into old age, making sure the game was played properly.

"It is too easy to stop a player by fouling him," he once famously said.

"Proper training teaches you how to win the ball without committing a foul, which is much more difficult. I learned that as a youngster and that was why I was rarely booked or suspended."

Nils Liedholm

Born: Oct. 8, 1922 - Valdemarsvik, Sweden.

• Began his career with IK Sleipner in 1942 before joining IFK Norrkoping four years later. While at the club, he was part of the Sweden team which won the 1948 Olympics.

• In 1949 Liedholm joined Milan. He won four Serie A titles. He retired in 1961 having scored 81 goals in 359 matches for the Rossoneri.

• He captained Milan and Sweden in their debut 1958 finals in the European Cup and World Cup respectively, losing to Real Madrid and a Brazil side which included the 17-year-old Pele.

• In 1964 Liedholm first took charge of Milan and after subsequent spells as coach of Verona, Varese and Fiorentina, he returned to guide the Rossoneri to the Serie A title in 1979.

• In 1983 he led Roma to their first scudetto since 1942 and a year later guided them to the European Cup final where they lost on penalties to Liverpool. • Liedholm also returned to briefly coach Roma in 1997, aged 74.

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