Union Berlin had plenty of heroes in their first ever Bundesliga campaign, but selfless Swedish striker Sebastian Andersson’s aerial prowess is a major reason they are still in the top flight.
bundesliga.com shines a light on a team player who was up for the fight, unrivalled in the air, and finished the 2019/20 campaign as one of the top-10 goalscorers in the Bundesliga.
Andersson has experienced a whole range of emotions in the three years since he left Sweden. The 29-year-old moved abroad relatively late in his career, joining Kaiserslautern from Norrköping in August 2017. Since then, though, he has packed all sorts of drama into his footballing life.
Despite their forward getting 12 league goals in his first season in Germany, Andersson’s new team - Bundesliga champions as recently as 1997/98 - finished bottom of the German second tier.
A move to Union Berlin followed, and Andersson - as consistent as ever - again ended the 2018/19 campaign with 12 league goals in his first year in the capital.
In contrast to the agony he went through with Kaiserslautern 12 months previously, however, the Swede experienced ecstasy with Union. Having secured a third-place finish in Bundesliga 2, the plucky east Berliners saw off VfB Stuttgart on away goals in a tense and thrilling two-legged relegation/promotion play-off.
"It was a dream when I came here, of course, for the whole club - for the whole team," Andersson said, after the 0-0 draw in the second leg led to wild celebrations at Union’s Stadion An der Alten Försterei stadium.
A dream continues
Against all expectations Union had become the 56th team to feature in the Bundesliga, and Andersson would make sure they were no flash in the pan.
With Christopher Trimmel providing some excellent service, the 6'3" frontman soon went about tormenting top-flight defences in the same way he had done in Bundesliga 2. He was decisive from the bench as "Iron Union" earned their first Bundesliga point, sidefooting home with 10 minutes remaining to equalise in Augsburg on Matchday 2.
A week later Andersson was back in the starting line-up, and he tucked home in front of a raucous crowd in Union’s Köpenick home to seal a 3-1 upset against Borussia Dortmund. That famous maiden top-flight victory was but one of several highs for the promoted side, however, as their spirited players and vociferous supporters made them a handful for any team.
Watch: See Andersson's goal in Union's win over Dortmund
Andersson would get his first brace - two headers from Trimmel corners - in a 3-2 win at Mainz in November. Next time out the Sweden international was at it again, capping off another memorable home triumph by netting in injury-time as Union beat then league leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-0.
With his agent, former Gladbach striker and compatriot Martin Dahlin, to draw on for advice, Andersson swiftly developed into a dangerous Bundesliga target man. In December, he struck twice in the 2-0 home win over fellow promoted side Cologne, a Matchday 14 victory that lifted Union to tenth in the standings.
A hard worker
By thumping home a header for his first strike in that game and cleverly rounding the keeper for his second, Andersson had by that stage scored eight of his side’s 18 league goals. Union head coach Urs Fischer was quick to stress, though, that there was much more to the striker’s game.
"He was always on the go, held on to the ball, and relieved pressure… he was very efficient," the Swiss coach said after the Cologne game. "Yet again he invested a lot - not just in the goals that he scored but in doing the kind of work that helps the team."
With Andersson on the end of some delightful dead-ball deliveries from Trimmel, Union were a serious threat from set pieces. But when they struggled to match more illustrious opponents for time on the ball, Fischer’s side often had to go direct in the 2019/20 season.
Scrapping for virtually every one of those balls forward was Andersson. Despite only starting 31 league matches, he led the league for challenges won and - by some distance - for aerial duels won.
A new contract
The former Kalmar and Djurgardens player was, Trimmel admitted, a huge factor in Union’s success. No surprise, then, that he was rewarded with a new contract in February 2020.
"I have settled in very quickly at Union and also with my family here in Berlin, so I'm delighted to extend my contract here," Andersson said after penning a deal running until 2022.
"In the one and a half years that I've been playing here so far, there have been many really wonderful moments. I would like to play my part in ensuring that we experience even more of them in the future."
Union sporting director Oliver Ruhnert admitted that the determined forward’s performances had "aroused a lot of interest", and he continued to deliver later in the campaign.
The physical frontman added four more goals in the stop-start second half of the season, with two of them - in the 2-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt and the 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg on Matchdays 23 and 24 - earning Union four more vital points.
Watch: Andersson got a vital double against Cologne
But with 12 goals yet again - out of an overall total of 41 and including seven headers - their topscorer contributed hugely to the unfancied capital club’s eleventh-placed finish.
With a meagre budget and no top-flight experience, Union’s goal had been to prove their many doubters wrong by simply staying in the league. Not only did they do that comfortably - finishing 10 points clear of the relegation places - but they won many admirers in the process.
Clinical, industrious, and a real team player, Andersson did so too.