Many of us will have dreamed of being plucked from obscurity to play football on the biggest stage, but unfortunately that tends to be as far as it goes. For 18 year-old Tobias Sandström however, it's a bit different. Thanks to a TV show in his native Sweden called 'Proffsdroemmen', he's now playing for Elfsborg, one of the country's top clubs, who face Celtic in a Champions League qualifier tonight.
Tobias was one of hundreds of hopefuls who entered the competition earlier this year to win a year's contract in the under-21 squad with Elfsborg, the current Swedish champions and a stern test for the Scottish giants in tonight's first leg. After weeks of games, tests and trials, Tobias was announced as the winner of Proffsdroemmen and recently moved from his home in the north of Sweden to join up with his new Elfsborg teammates (the video above shows him joining training and being interviewed for Swedish TV). We spoke to the young flying winger about the competition, his ambitions and his thoughts on the big game against Celtic - here's what he had to say...
How did you first hear about the Proffesdroemmen competition?
'I was on the internet just looking at a football news
website here in Sweden, and I saw an
article all about it, saying that you could win a pro contract with Elfsborg,
so I was immediately interested. Then some of my friends said I should
definitely go for it, so I decided to go ahead and enter.'
Who were you playing for at the time?
'I was playing in the third division here in Sweden for Sandviks IK, I'd been playing for the first team there since I was 14. Earlier this year I was actually on trial at
Stevenage in League One over in England. I’d been there a few times, and they
wanted me to sign a youth contract, but they didn’t have the setup in place at
the time, so I would have to wait until they got that set up, and I wasn’t sure
when that might be. But now I have a contract with Elfsborg, and I think
they’re a better club for me.'
How did you end up on the radar of an English team?
'We had two English players at Sandviks, and their agent came over to see them.
While he was over he saw me play and I got talking to him, and he arranged for
me to come over for a trial to England.'
So once you'd entered the competition, what did it involve?
'There were trials in four different cities in different
parts of Sweden, and anyone could apply to come along. Then, they took five
people from each place, chosen by a jury of trainers from Elfsborg who watched
us play 5-a-side, in training and all that. Then, we were invited to go on a
week-long camp near Elfsborg, where we played against other teams, we had
training and lots of tests of our skills.
Almost every day you had to go up in front of the jury, they’d judge how you’d done that day and then decide whether you could stay or if you had to go home. After the first week, there were only 8 of us left.
We then went back for another camp a few weeks later, and that was where the winner was to be decided. So we went through more matches and training until there was only five of us, and then we took part in competitions that tested all the aspects of our play, such as speed, passing, physical strength. I came out with the best scores, so I was announced as the winner.'
Were you nervous at the start of the competition?
'Of course, it’s my dream to get a pro contract with a football club. But I’m quite a confident person, I have a lot of belief in myself, so from the start of the competition I thought that I would win. I know that some of the jury thought that I was one of the best from the start, you don’t want to believe it too much in case you are disappointed, but as the competition went on I did get more confident. When the result was announced, I’d never been more happy in my life, to be honest. It felt so good to win.'
Now that you've won the competition, what has been the biggest change?
'It’s around 1000 kilometres from where I was living, in the north of Sweden, to Elfsborg, which is right down in the south. I’ve only been here four days so far, so I haven’t been able to miss home too much. To be honest, this is my chance to make it, so I’ve got to take it and I’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices along the way.'
Do you feel extra pressure on yourself because of the TV show?
'Yeah, I love the attention I get from being a pro now, I’m really enjoying it. Of course, there’s pressure on me now because everyone is watching me, but to be honest I like it because it makes you perform every time.'
What's your ambition for your year at the club?
'First of all, I want to do well in the U21s team and to be the top player there, and then of course I want to train with the first team. But I’m going to take one step at a time, and I have to make that impression with the U21s.'
How would you describe yourself as a player?
'I’m a left-winger, but right-footed, I’m very quick and I like to dribble with the ball, being unpredictable, so I’d say I’m a lot like Neymar. Growing up I always admired Ronaldo, and over the last couple of years watching Neymar on YouTube, I really like his style of playing and I’d like to say that I play like him.'
As part of your prize for winning the show you also get an Umbro boot contract. What do you think of them so far?
'Yeah, I’m wearing the GT II boots, I’m really enjoying them, they’re really comfortable, they feel very quick and lightweight. And they stand out on the pitch with the colours as well, so I like that!'
Tonight is the first leg of the game against Celtic - what's the atmosphere like at Elfsborg?
"It feels like everyone is really excited, it’s a really big
club to be playing. Everyone has a lot of respect for Celtic, but also they should
have a lot of respect for us because we have a really good team. It feels like
it could go either way, both teams have good players, Celtic have just lost a
big player in Gary Hooper though, so I think that Elfsborg can beat them.'
Thanks to Tobias for taking the time to speak to us - we'll be checking in with him later in the season to see how his Elfsborg experience is going along. You can see the moment when he was announced as the winner of Proffsdroemmen in this video - again, you'll need to speak Swedish to tell what's going on!