BY ROSS BELL
Cast your mind back to the 1994 World Cup, what does it conjure up for you? For me I can see Diana Ross’ incredible penalty that exploded a goal, big Jack Charlton handing little bags of water to his Irish players on the sidelines, Alexi Lalas and that beard; and most of all, the exciting Swedish forward line of Martin Dahlin and Tomas Brolin. They lit up the competition with an excellent partnership that looked to set them both on the road to fantastic careers at the very top level.
Whilst Dahlin would score 50 in 106 games for Borussia Mönchengladbach, his career would gradually slide from relevance with a move to Blackburn Rovers not really working out. His partner in crime, however, would be the subject of a big money move to Leeds United.
On November 7th 1995, just over a year after starring in a World Cup semi-final against eventual champions Brazil, Tomas Brolin would reject moves to three Italian clubs to join Leeds United in a club record £4.5million deal – a hefty sum for the time. The thought behind the deal made complete sense as Howard Wilkinson looked to partner him with goal machine Tony Yeboah. The thought of Brolin playing just off the rampaging Ghanaian striker was an exciting one for the Elland Road faithful and 11-year-old me. I had been dazzled by the football played at USA ‘94 which to this day remains my favourite tournament.
Brolin hit the ground with a leaden-footed jog rather than a sprint; he scored his first goal for the club in a 6-3 loss to Sheffield Wednesday and contributed a few more goals here and there, but a 5-0 loss to Liverpool on January 20th proved to be a flashpoint for Tomas and his renowned disciplinarian manager. Wilkinson believed Brolin to be lazy after he played him on the wing for that game. In 2012, Brolin claimed in the Swedish magazine Offside that his poor performance in the game against Liverpool that led to his being dropped had been a protest against Wilkinson playing him out of position, leaving him “to run up and down the right like an idiot” as opposed to the centrally lying playmaker role he believed that he had been signed for.
Just weeks later, Brolin was dropped altogether from the Leeds squad to play Aston Villa despite Leeds missing nine first team players through a combination of suspension, injury and international duty.
He wouldn’t return to the line-up until late February when he played in the League Cup semi-final win over Birmingham City.
Playing tricks on Sgt. Wilko was never advisable – just ask Vinnie Jones what happens when you do. However, on April Fools’ Day, Brolin told Swedish TV that he was returning to former club IFK Norrköping on loan. He was forced to apologise to the manager after this story was picked up by the national media. He would play just four more games for Leeds that season before being sent back to Sweden to undergo surgery to remove scar tissue from an old ankle injury.
Things got messy that summer as Brolin was told to find a new club with Leeds willing to do a deal at £2million, a sign of things to come for the club when it comes to poor financial management. Wilkinson fined Brolin a week’s wages – around £12,000 – for not turning up to pre-season training and announced he was seeking guidance from the PFA on the legality of withholding Brolin’s wages. He told the press that he would rather have any other player in his team than Brolin. Leeds stopped his wages when he refused to show up for pre-season training and reportedly saved £72,000 by the time Brolin had joined FC Zürich on loan, where he received the minimum wage of £800-a-week for a player in the Swiss League.
The following season he tried to push through a loan move to Sampdoria but the move was pulled after a recurrence of the ankle injury. He would eventually rejoin former club Parma but only after paying £500,000 of his own money to fund the move. He would see out the season there but Parma made it clear they had no intention of keeping him; they were merely keeping him fit after many years of great service in his early career with them. A return to Yorkshire beckoned but after new manager George Graham axed him from a pre-season tour of Sweden he was told to find a new club. Loan moves to Real Zaragoza, Hearts and two other clubs fell through which forced him to train with the reserves, paying countless fines for missing reserve team games and once being absent from the club to attend his father’s 50th birthday party. It appeared to be the final straw; on October 28th 1997 he was released from the club, costing Leeds a further £140,000.
In less than two years Tomas Brolin had gone from World Cup superstar to being ignominiously binned by a struggling Premier League club. In total he made just 19 appearances for Leeds United scoring a paltry four goals. In 2003 a BBC poll, fans of the club voted him Leeds’ worst ever player.
Costing the club £1,125,000 per goal it’s hard to argue with them.
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