If Ireland can control Zlatan you have a chance
KEVIN WALKER admits that he's a bundle of contradictions.
He has an Irish name but a Swedish passport. He's represented his native Sweden at underage international level, but his accent is as Irish (Carlow, to be precise) as could be.
So it's understandable that the midfielder, the son of an Irishman who plays for a Swedish club, has mixed feelings about tomorrow's World Cup qualifier in Stockholm, though he does fear that home advantage and a superior squad will win out for Sweden. "It will be a tight game but I can see Sweden winning 2-1, they just have better players in their squad, and they are very strong at home," says Walker, a midfielder with Swedish second-tier side Sundsvall.
"It's a close call for me when it comes to both countries as I am eligible to play for Sweden and Ireland. I have a very strong feeling for both countries and for me, the ideal scenario would be for Ireland to win the group and Sweden to make the playoffs.
"I have played underage for Sweden but I have a strong pull to Ireland as well, Ireland is a huge part of my life," added Walker when speaking to the Herald, laughing at the fact that his pure Irish accent is notable, as he comes across as someone who was born and bred in Carlow, instead of northern Sweden
"A lot of people ask about my accent, we spend a lot of time back in Ireland and the accent just seems to stick."
His international career went no further than U19 caps for Sweden but a call-up from Ireland would be welcome. "I know my dad and all the family back in Carlow would love to see me play for Ireland. I am 23 now so I don't know if it will happen but you never know," added Walker, who does retain an insight into the type of player involved.
"I know a good bit about the Sweden squad, I would have played against most of them in the Allsvenskan, the Swedish league, so I know they have decent players," he says. "Of course we have Zlatan Ibrahimovic and while he is world class, he's not the only player Sweden have.
"If you can control and contain Zlatan you have a chance. But then again, he's the type of player who could be quiet for 89 minutes but will pop up with a stunning goal to win the game, he is that good.
"I know Irish people will know the Premier League players like Jonas Olsson and Seb Larsson, but I like some of the others. Rasmus Elm is a top-class player, he's with a club in Russia, CSKA Moscow, and I really like the look of Alexander Kacaniklic, who's gone on loan from Fulham to Burnley.
"Ireland have good players as well, though, I watch the Premier League and I think Seamus Coleman is a superb player."
The story of the Swedish Walkers came about when Kevin's dad, Carlow native Patrick, found himself at a loose end when released by Gillingham in the early '80s, having also had a spell on loan to Bohemians.
The chance came to move to Sweden and Walker took up the offer, playing for clubs Häcken and Sundsvall (where a young Thomas Brolin was a team-mate) before embarking on a coaching career which saw him manage in the top flight in Sweden and Norway, and also work with Sweden's underage international teams.
Football skills were passed on through the genes as his sons Robert (now 26) and Kevin (now 23) both played at a high level, and while Robert has dropped down to the Swedish third division to play part-time (with a club called BK Forward) and focus on his career in business, Kevin is still playing at a high level, as Sundsvall hope to win promotion back to Sweden's top flight next season.
It's a sign of the wealth in the game in Sweden that, even though his club are in the equivalent of the Championship, they are spending this week on a warm-weather training camp in Barcelona ahead of the new league season.
At one stage Kevin had a trial with Blackburn Rovers and hoped to earn a move to the Premier League in England, as well as gaining senior international honours.
"You never know what could happen, I might wear that green jersey yet," he smiles.