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the top-flight manager who refuses to be beaten by cancer


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Klas Ingesson played for IFK Gothenburg, PSV Eindhoven, Sheffield Wednesday, Bari and Bologna and is now the manager of Elfsborg. Photograph: Adam Ihse/TT News Agency/Press Association

It was half-time in the west coast derby between IFK Gothenburg and Elfsborg in the Swedish top flight. The players had trudged off the pitch and behind them came Elfsborg's co-manager Klas Ingesson. The former midfielder, who won 57 caps for Sweden, had to take another route to the dressing room because these days he sits in a wheelchair.

Suddenly, however, after getting stuck on a cable, Ingesson fell forwards, out of the wheelchair and on to the ground, without a chance to dampen the fall with his hands. He was clearly in agony. Medical staff immediately ran to his rescue and an ambulance was there within minutes to take him to the hospital. In the end it turned out that he had broken his thigh bone. Yet, at that moment, he did not want to leave the Gamla Ullevi stadion.

"He wanted to stay and see how the game finished," the Elfsborg doctor Matilda Lundblad told Sportbladet the following day. "He asked about the sending off [in the first half] and whether it was the correct decision. But we just had to take him to hospital."

A broken thigh bone was not going to stop Ingesson. And neither, he has decided, is his cancer. In early 2009 Ingesson was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer. For most people there is no cure.

Ingesson-Sheffield-003.jpg Ingesson, right, said at Sheffield Wednesday he encountered players 'who went straight to the pub after training'. Photograph: Colorsport/REX

Ingesson's career was phenomenal. Born in Odeshog in Ostergotland, he was not, it is probably fair to say, blessed as a player with outstanding technique. He was, however, an extraordinary athlete. He ran and he fought, long after others had given up.

He played for IFK Gothenburg in Sweden, Mechelen in Belgium, PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Sheffield Wednesday in England, Bari, Bologna and Lecce in Italy and Marseille in France. He represented Sweden for almost a decade and game by game he slowly won over a sceptical public. When he retired from the national team he was a cult hero with an affectionate nickname: "Klabbe".

His club career saw him overcome obstacles pretty much everywhere he went. At PSV the manager did not want him and at Sheffield Wednesday he encountered players "who went straight to the pub after training but still able to run like wild animals come Saturday". Finally, at Bologna, he came face to face with the "biggest idiot" he ever met [Francesco Guidolin]. "I should have left when Fabio Capello wanted me at Roma," he told Expressen in 2011.

For Sweden, the biggest success came as part of the team that finished third in the 1994 World Cup, Ingesson providing the industry on the left-hand side of midfield necessary because Tomas Brolin had been given a free role on the right.

In the beginning there had been clamour for the inclusion of Anders Limpar instead of Ingesson but after the group stage that sentiment had evaporated. Ingesson, throughout the tournament and despite the heat in the United States, was immense.

He retired in 2001 after a disappointing spell with Lecce. The first year after quitting was difficult, he admitted, saying: "One journalist, Hans Linné from Expressen, used to call me at 1.30am during my career and, when he did, I shouted at him. The first year after I retired I was lying awake at night at 1.30am thinking: 'It would be nice if Linné called.'"

After 2001 Ingesson worked on his farm and took charge of the 815-hectare wood he owns. After a while his wife told him to return to play for his first club, Odeshog, in the fifth division, and he ultimately became their manager.

Lecce-v-Bologna-009.jpg After finishing his playing career at Lecce, a disillusioned Ingesson, left, worked on his farm in Sweden before managing Odeshog. Photograph: Grazia Neri/Getty Images

Then the cancer struck. Ingesson had been having back pains for several months before he finally visited the hospital. There he was told the news that would change his life for ever.

"When I was told [about the cancer] everything just went black," Ingesson told cancerinformation.nu. "I have had a lot of people in my family who have been diagnosed with cancer so for me that word equalled death. But when the shock had subsided I decided to choose life, to fight and to make the most out of my situation.

"First everything went black and then, for a while, I was Superman and thought: 'Ah, I will deal with this, it is nothing to complain about.' And then I crashed completely. But I think you have to crash to get back up to the surface again. To end up at the bottom and having to work yourself up again is important."

At the time of the interview he had just undergone his second round of stem cell transplantation. The illness, he said, had changed his life and his priorities completely. "Before I had cancer I lived an egoistic life where football was the most important thing. Now it is just the family that counts and everything that I took for granted previously is now huge and important. Before I was restless and wanted things to happen all the time and now I am completely the other way around. I love to be home with [his wife] Veronica and the boys [he has two sons] and just enjoy it."

There is no cure for multiple myeloma but these days there is at least hope. New drugs and new treatments mean that, according to the most recent figures from cancerresearch.co.uk, 37% of patients live for more than five years after being diagnosed. It is now five years since Ingesson experienced the worst day of his life but he is not about to give up.

"To go on to Google and look at survival rates and other things can be devastating so for me it has helped not to know too much about the illness," he says. "To talk to other people who have also been diagnosed can be nice because you cannot escape. The illness is there and I like to talk about it. I feel more relaxed afterwards and sleep better."

IF-Elfsborg-v-R.-Standard-009.jpg Ingesson says everything went black when he was told about the cancer but his family and football helped him pick himself up. Photograph: Eurofootball/Getty Images

The football has helped too. He was managing one of Elfsborg's youth teams in September last year when the first-team manager, Jorgen Lennartsson, was sacked. Ingesson was persuaded to take over. It has not been straightforward and over the winter the club brought in Janne Mian to help him out.

In the beginning he was on crutches. Then a Zimmer frame. After the pre-season camp in February this year the doctors ordered him to start using a wheelchair.

In April, in an interview with Dagens Nyheter, he said: "The pain moves around my body. Right now it is in my knees but before I have had it in my back and in my chest. I don't have any muscles left and then there is a hellish kind of pressure on the tendons and ligaments and then it hurts.

"I am constantly talking to the doctors and will do so for the rest of my life. I listen a lot to my wife and the doctors who say: 'Do it.' The only thing I am worried about is that it [my illness] is going to affect the squad. But I have spoken to them and they know what the situation is. I have this shit, that's the way it is. Right now my knees hurt and I am in a wheelchair but that is the way it is. But the first thing I said to the players is that I don't want any sympathy. I want them to tell things straight to my face."

There is no doubt he is struggling. The bones in his body are extremely weak and the risk of them breaking extremely high. Yet he is adamant that he should be judged in the same way as any other manager in Allsvenskan.

Last month he wrote an open letter, which was published on the club's website. It said:


"I have in the last couple of days read a lot of articles in the media that talk positively about our work at IF Elfsborg. That makes me happy. But I have also read a few columns in which it has been questioned whether it is right to have me as the club's manager because of my illness. I am irritated that I am judged because of my illness and I will once and for all say that I am feeling well apart from the fact that, from a strength point of view, I have had to start all over again.

"All my levels are the same as they were in 2009 when I became ill, which means that I am healthy. I am much weaker after five years of different treatments which means that the body perhaps isn't what it should be at the age of 45, and my bones are weak.

"But now the talk about my cancer has to end. IF Elfsborg and I have an agreement that I am manager for the first team. Physically and mentally I don't have a problem to do my job. I should be judged as anyone else to determine whether I am good enough for the job but then I should be judged on my competence, not my physical status. It is every person's right to be judged by who you are and what you do – not because you have an illness or a handicap."


At the weekend Elfsborg beat Helsingborg 1-0 to win the Swedish Cup. Ingesson was unable to be there after the operation on his thigh bone but is convinced he will be back sooner rather than later. The Swedish journalist Johan Orrenius once wrote that Ingesson was born with a clenched fist and there can be no better description of him. In Ingesson's own words he "will continue until … it is all finished" and there is no one who is doubting him.

Fight on Klabbe. You are an inspiration.


really puts all problems at Villa into perspective. must be horrible time for his family but he is showing a positive comeback and not letting it get the better of him



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