Cult Heroes: The Swede With The Dodgy Barnet - Stefan Schwarz

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With the FA Cup done and dusted we can turn our attentions back to the bread and butter of the Premier League and Saturday's opponents at the Stadium of Light - Arsenal. Despite a turbulent season the Gunners will still pose a test to the confident Black Cats particularly going forward. With that said it is time once again to turn our attentions to a Cult Hero who has represented both sides. Selections for this feature have been slim pickings as of late you will no doubt have noticed but not this week my friends! So rejoice as we look back at the cultured midfielder Stefan Schwarz

Hans-Jürgen Stefan Schwarz was born in Malmo, Sweden, to a German father, hence the name, and began his youth career with local side Kulladals FF before progressing to hometown club Malmo FF, a brief spell with Bayer Leverkusen before moving to Portugal to join Benfica in 1991. Stefan spent a successful four years with the Portuguese giants as they won the league title each year the Swede was with the club with the midfielder making seventy-seven appearances over his four year stay with the club.

Schwarz really made a name for himself at the 1994 World Cup USA where he helped Sweden to a third placed finish which brought him to the attention of Saturday's opposition Arsenal. George Graham was suitably
impressed with the midfielder's performances on the International stage that summer that he saw him as the ideal replacement for David Rocastle following his departure from Highbury two years previously.

The Swede's endless drive, determination and workrate made him an integral part of his new club's European Cup Winners' Cup campaign and saved certain elimination in the Semi-Final when he scored a late freekick against Sampdoria to force the game into extra time and ultimately penalties, a shootout in which David Seaman heroically
earned his side progression to the final.

The Gunners stumbled at the final hurdle however and Schwarz's brief spell in London was over when Graham was replaced by Bruce Rioch who in turn brought David Platt to Highbury. Stefan spent the next few years with Fiorentina and Valencia, continuing his journey of playing for some of the biggest clubs in Europe before rocking up to Wearside in 1999 in a deal worth around £4m.

Now when most footballers join their new club there are usually certain bonuses, incentives and clauses written into their contract. The standard stuff we have all heard about no doubt thanks to Football Manager. However last time I made a transfer on FM I cannot recall the option to ban my player from commercial space travel as being
available from the handy drop-down list. Yes, the midfielder was indeed informed by John Fickling that space travel would invalidate his contract with the club after concerns were raised that his advisor had already booked places on the commercial flights and may invite the Swedish International along for the ride.

With dreams of boldly going where no midfielder had gone before dashed Stefan signed on the dotted line anyway and became a first team regular in spite of a questionable barnet. Then again if you've seen any pictures of Stefan from recent years the "bowl cut" he was sporting whilst on Wearside was positively "trendy" in comparison, put Google to use if you don't believe me! Schwarz's signing was something of a coup at the time having come off a great season with Valencia and he brought a much needed touch of class and experience to our midfield and wasn't shy of putting his foot in when needed.

By 2003 Schwarz found first team football near impossible to come by with the likes of Gavin McCann and Claudio Reyna occupying the central midfield positions and was often left to pass on his experience to the club's youth side during training. Relegation was inevitable following a dismal haul of 19 points and Schwarz decided the time was right to hang up his boots. Not before being involved in a bizarre Police investigation involving youngsters throwing snowballs at his car in Darras Hall and said youths sustaining injuries such as a broken ankle... Stefan was later cleared of all charges so we'll never know what really happened that snowy day in Ponteland.

Stefan's SAFC connections did not end following his retirement however as the midfielder ventured into the dark underbelly of the game, the world of the football agents, with one of his clients being Roker Report favourite, the dashing Argentine, Julio Arca.

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