Pontus Jansson will be leaving Brentford this summer to join Malmo, the club with whom he made his professional debut in 2009.
In this extended interview, which was first published in May 2022, Jansson reflects on fulfilling his promotion dream at Wembley Stadium, captaining the Bees during the club’s first season in the Premier League, and his desire to bring his career full circle with a return to Sweden.
Saturday 29 May 2021. 4.40pm.
Pontus Jansson is sat in the dressing room at Wembley Stadium; a rare moment of solitude beyond the reach of the cameras.
He reads a text from his wife.
Outside, Brentford’s Play-Off final against Swansea City approaches its conclusion.
Jansson, having been withdrawn in the 79th minute, has helped his team to a two-goal lead. Now all he can do is wait.
He tucks his phone away in his locker.
"If something happens, tell me," he says to kit manager Bob Oteng.
No news is good news. With only stoppage-time left to play, Jansson gives Bob a hug and returns to the bench.
The full-time whistle signals the Bees' first promotion to the Premier League.
“It was a crazy feeling,” Jansson recalls.
“There were a lot of emotions. I was happy for the club, of course.
“I remember seeing Peter Gilham’s smile. I promised Peter the year before that I wanted him to lift the trophy with me. Peter is Brentford. He was the first person I met when I joined the club. Lifting the trophy was a very special moment to share with him.”
Jansson's path to the Premier League had been a bumpy one.
In 2018/19, he was part of the Leeds United squad that lost 4-3 on aggregate to Derby County in the Play-Off semi-final. Propped up by an advertising board at the side of the Elland Road pitch, Jansson's devastation – and disbelief - was plain to see.
He suffered further heartbreak the following campaign - this time with Brentford.
Having signed for the club in August 2020, Jansson's first season with the Bees ended with a Play-Off final defeat to Fulham.
Jansson admits that by the time of Brentford's 2020/21 Play-Off campaign, past disappointments were beginning to take their toll.
“When [Arnaut] Danjuma made it 2-0 on aggregate in the semi-final [against AFC Bournemouth], I started to wonder whether I’d ever achieve my dream. ‘No matter how good it looks, it will always end the same,’ I thought to myself. I didn’t want to be a failure.
“Leading up to the final, I slept very badly. There was a lot at stake. I’m not sure I could have done another year in the Championship. If we hadn’t gone up, a lot of things could have happened at Brentford – some players may have left.
“Winning at Wembley was a big thing for Brentford, and a big thing for me. Five years earlier, I’d come to England with a dream of reaching the Premier League. Playing in the Championship, the dream is always to go up.
“I had had a good first season at Leeds [2016/17]. We finished seventh and were around the top six all year, but the dream still felt very far away because we were competing with the likes of Newcastle and Brighton who had big money, big contracts and big players. Promotion was possible, but very hard to achieve.
“Reaching the Premier League felt more and more real during the following two years with Leeds, then when I arrived at Brentford the aim was to go up – both for the club and myself.
“That game against Swansea summarised five years in 90 minutes.”
Jansson had realised his dream, but football offers very little time for reflection. Having returned later for pre-season training in summer 2021 following his involvement in Sweden’s Euro 2020 campaign, he was thrust straight into Brentford’s Premier League preparations.
The Bees were entering uncharted territory.
“When you go into something new, you always doubt yourself a little bit,” Jansson admits.
“As individuals, as a squad and as a club, that was always going to be the case.
“Of course, there were a lot of question marks, but when I look at my team today, I wonder why I ever doubted these players.
“Over this season, these players have shown how good they are. Choosing a player of the season is almost impossible because everyone has stepped up.
“The opening day was fantastic. When Sergi [Canos] scored the first goal, I thought, ‘Okay, we can beat anyone.’ Arsenal were struggling a little bit at the time but even if they’d played with their best team that day, we would have won. We felt unbeatable.”
Jansson says that the blend of personalities in the Brentford dressing room has been key to the club’s success.
“I take a lot of help from my team-mates," he reveals. "I’ve learned so many things from the players in this squad.
“Christian Norgaard is the MVP as a player, and the MVP as a person. I’m always going in with enthusiasm and emotion, whereas he is the one with the calm solutions.
"When I doubt myself, I go to Christian and he makes me feel calm. He helps me to see things from the other side.
“Ivan [Toney] is always so calm. Before the Play-Off games, I had some doubts – there was a lot at stake – but he was so cool. ‘Pontus, don’t even worry, we have this,’ he told me. He’s the same on the pitch.
“If I had 10 players around me who were all stressed and didn’t know what to do, it would be tougher for me as captain.
“Christian, Ivan, David [Raya] and me, together, are the spine of the team. With those people around me, I feel safe. They are fantastic footballers, and fantastic people and leaders.
“At Leeds, I was never captain, so it was something new for me. Thomas [Frank] helped me to grow into this role. I’ve always been a leader with the way I act on the pitch, but it’s one thing to act and another thing to talk and behave as a captain. Thomas has developed me so much as a person – I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me.
“I have to mention Brian Riemer as well. Without him, we would not work as a team – that’s how important he is. We work so closely together - me and the team would not perform at such a high level without him.
“I know he doesn’t like the spotlight, but sometimes he needs to get the praise for it. He’s another MVP for this club. On top of that, he’s one of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met. He has such a warm heart. Brian is a second father to me.
“Everything I’ve done at Brentford has been so natural. Here, I’m completely myself.”
Jansson didn’t just fulfil his dream of playing in the Premier League during the 2021/22 season – he made his mark.
With 3,322 minutes under his belt, the Brentford captain was the second most-used outfield player in the division (behind Wolves’ Conor Coady – 3,363 minutes). He also made the most clearances (186).
Jansson only conceded 14 fouls and was dispossessed on just five occasions.
There’s no player better placed to reflect on the season as a whole.
The Bees' 3-3 draw with Liverpool in September is the first game that Jansson chooses to highlight.
“That was fantastic,” he recalls.
“We went toe-to-toe with them in a very nice game. To score three goals against them was fantastic. We fully deserved it. That game made people respect us.
“We really smashed Chelsea, the Champions League winners, a couple of weeks after that. In the dressing room after the game, we were a bit sad because we’d lost 1-0, but Thomas said that if we performed like that for the rest of the season, we’d have no problems at all. We’ve taken that with us.
“Chelsea away, 4-1, is probably the craziest result. Thomas had a good feeling before the game, but it’s one thing to have a good feeling and another to go out and perform against Chelsea. It maybe wasn’t our best performance, but it was our best result.
“West Ham at home, 2-0, we controlled the game. Southampton, 3-0. To win a game in the Premier League is very hard.”
Jansson continues: “The Tottenham game showed the structure of the club. Kristoffer [Ajer] went out with concussion the day before, so I played with Mads [Bech] and Mads [Roerslev] either side of me. No disrespect to them, but people were questioning whether they were good enough for the Championship a couple of years ago.
“We played against Son [Heung-min], [Dejan] Kulusevski and [Harry] Kane and kept them quiet for the whole game. If you’d told me this before the season, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s been a fantastic season.”
Jansson has made more than a century of appearances for the Bees. He has lifted a trophy at Wembley and captained the club during its first season in the Premier League. His legendary status is set in stone. Yet, whenever Brentford prepare to face Leeds, Jansson faces a barrage of questions about his relationship with the club and his time in Yorkshire. Given what he’s achieved since leaving them, I ask him if the focus on his past is a source of frustration.
“Leeds is a massive club,” he says. “For a few years, when people thought about Leeds, I was the player. I was that type of player for them.
“Leeds is my past, I will always respect them and I will always follow them, even if the way I left wasn’t the best. I still have many friends there.
“With every day that passes, I become more and more Brentford and less and less Leeds. That’s really how it is.
“The Brentford fans have been fantastic with me – they’ve taken me into their hearts. When I first signed, they were happy, but some may have thought that I had more heart for Leeds.
“I still have respect for Leeds, I can’t lie about that, but I live for Brentford. I love this club. This is my passion - I love it so much. I invest everything I have. For my wife and kids as well – Brentford is everything we have.
"My childhood love has always been Malmo, my club in Sweden, but now I’m here I love this club just as much. I had a similar love for Leeds, but I was forced out and Brentford welcomed me with open arms. I don’t take that for granted.”
Jansson's eyes light up when he talks about Malmo. Just visible under the sleeve of his training top is a tattoo of him and his father approaching the club’s stadium together when he was a child.
Having played for the club from 2009 to 2014, I get the sense that Jansson would one day like to bring his career full circle.
“The goal and the dream for me and my wife, from the day that we left Sweden, was to finish back at Malmo," he admits.
“When I see myself, I still see the kid with the Malmo badge on my shirt. I grew up following the team and I still follow them now. I’ve followed them since I was three years old.
“I can’t lie, I love Malmo so much and I want to go home and play for them again one day.
“I played for the club and I know people there – I talk to them almost every day. When I played for Malmo, I’d run onto the pitch and sing the songs with the fans. I love it so much.
“I’m more of a football fan than a player. As a fan, Malmo will always be my team. My biggest passion is supporting Malmo. When I’m at home in the summer, watching a game with a beer in my hand, singing and screaming, that’s when I can live out my passion.
“The discussions that I have with Brentford are very good - we take it season by season. I’m not 22 anymore, I’m getting older, but I feel at my peak. I’ve played at a high level and I’ve been consistent.
“At Brentford, I’ve learnt how to take care of my body. I’ve learnt how to stay fit, both physically and mentally. I want to play football for as long as possible.
“Hopefully, when the time comes for me to leave Brentford, we will be a stable Premier League club. I want to leave in a good way. I will love and follow this club even after I have moved on.”