Trollhättan, Sweden: Saab Automobile will support the Nils Liedholm Cup this year through a personal donation by recently retired CEO Jan Åke Jonsson. The Nils Liedholm Cup is an annual Swedish youth football tournament for boys and girls between 13 and 16 years of age, with this year’s edition starting on June 30. The tournament, named after Swedish football legend Nils Liedholm, is held in Valdemarsvik, a town around 200 km south of Stockholm on the Swedish east coast.
In 2010, Jan Åke Jonsson received an annual award for business leadership from the Svensk Chefsförening, an association for Swedish business leaders, which included a 20,000 SEK prize. This prize was offered as a personal donation to the 2011 Nils Liedholm Cup by Jonsson. Just like Liedholm, Jonsson is a native of Valdemarsvik and this common heritage has much to do with Saab Automobile’s involvement as a sponsor of this year’s edition of the tournament.
As CEO of Saab Automobile during the turbulent process through which the company was sold to Spyker Cars early in 2010, Jonsson was praised by the Svensk Chefsförening as a leader for his determination, patience and commitment. Jonsson readily acknowledges the contributions that team sport and the disciplines learned through this in his early life made to his professional life as a business leader. “That is why Saab Automobile and I decided last year to make a donation to this event, in the hope that participants in the 2011 Nils Liedholm Cup will learn and apply the same lessons in their lives,” says Jonsson.
For those who are unfamiliar with Liedholm: he is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats of Swedish and, arguably, international football. He played 23 times for the Swedish national team, winning an Olympic gold medal in 1948 and leading the Swedish team that finished second in the 1958 World Cup. On club level, Liedholm celebrated his biggest successes with Italian giants AC Milan, where he signed in 1949 and formed an all-Swedish attacking line-up with two other prominent Swedish footballers of that period – Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl. After his playing career, Liedholm coached Italian football teams successfully for several years, winning Italian championships with both AC Milan and AS Roma.
As said, the Nils Liedholm Cup is a special event for Saab Automobile and more in particular for Jonsson, who retired on May 19 of this year after 40 years with the company. Jonsson is a football enthusiast to this very day and grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in Valdemarsvik, idolising his local hero. And in the early 1960s, Jonsson got the chance to meet Liedholm.
A young Jan-Åke Jonsson (center) meets his footballing idol.
“It was in 1962 or 1963, I don’t remember exactly anymore. I was around 12 years old,” Jonsson recalls. “Word spread in the local newspaper that Nils Liedholm was briefly back in town, and naturally we all knew where the Liedholm family home was located. So I and two friends headed for Liedholm’s house in order to meet our idol.”
Jonsson and his friends managed to get an audience with Liedholm, and a photographer of the local newspaper who was also present shot a few images of the gathering. “A few weeks later, I received a photo from the meeting in the mail, sent to me by the photographer.” Jonsson decided to forward the photo to Liedholm’s address in Italy, asking him to sign it. Liedholm obliged, and also sent Jonsson the autographs of all his team members at AC Milan.
“I’ve kept the photo ever since,” says Jonsson. “It’s a wonderful memory to a special moment. Liedholm was not only my idol because of his football skills, but also because of what he embodied: his was a mentality of hard work, determination, leadership and full commitment to his profession. He taught me the importance of these values and showed that you can reach the highest heights if you stay focused on your goals.”