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Ronnie Ekelund – star Saint who never quite made it

3 July ~ Last year, Matt Le Tissier presented the awards at my local team’s end of season do. At a working men’s club, he invited us to ask him questions on his career. Raised arms shot up from those eager to learn that the best goal he believed he had ever scored was at Ewood Park, and how difficult it would be to call the winner in a fight between Jimmy Case and Terry Hurlock. When Le Tissier was asked who had been the best player he had played with, it seemed reasonable to expect him to choose somebody well known. However, Matt said it was Ronnie Ekelund, leaving several of the audience asking who Ekelund was. Matt smiled, explaining that the two of them just clicked on the pitch, albeit briefly.

Ekelund made 17 appearances for Southampton during the 1994-95 season. Manager Alan Ball had taken the club on a pre-season training camp in Holland, where they shared a hotel with Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona. Cruyff indulged Ball in his speculative request for a player by sending him the 22-year-old Dane. Anything seemed possible with Le Tissier and Ekelund in the side – even winning away at Coventry City. They exchanged passes much like Rodney Marsh and George Best during their brief spell together at Fulham.

The lack of online video of Ekelund goes some way in growing his mythical status. If your imagination can substitute a Porsche 550 in California, with Highfield Road and the Los-Angeles based kit manufacturer Pony – which Southampton wore at the time – then Ekelund is a James Dean figure, forever frozen in time scoring against Coventry. Footage of that goal is hard to find. The Singapore Southampton FC Supporters Club would probably not be everybody’s first port of call, but their website runs a continuous loop of Ekelund exchanging a double one-two with Jim Magilton, before shooting past Steve Ogrizovic. It was one of five goals he scored for the club, before a bad back ended his time there. Club doctors wanted him to have surgery, Ekelund didn’t and so began a long journey from club to club. Ball left to manage Manchester City and Ekelund followed, playing only a handful of games.

Little information is available on his following three seasons back home with Odense BK. One wonders if whispers of his unfulfilled potential drove him away from a team who were relegated from the Danish Superliga in 1998. A further 17 appearances for Toulouse during 1999-2000 helped them to promotion to the French first division, but when Alain Giresse was sacked at the start of the following season, Ekelund’s days were numbered and he moved on Walsall. A player who once trained alongside Romario and Hristo Stoichkov became a peripheral figure at Bescot. Behind Dean Keates and Pedro Matias in the pecking order, he made only nine appearances.

Ekelund moved on again to MLS and San Jose Earthquakes, playing alongside Landon Donovan. Ekelund won two MLS Championships, setting up the winner for Donovan in 2001 and opening the scoring in the Championship final win over Chicago Fire in 2003. Today he is CEO of a company selling clothing that allows mothers to breastfeed in public discreetly. Whether or not Ekelund’s footballing career fulfilled its promise, Le Tissier’s accolade remains a substantial one. Mark Sanderson 90 Minutes of Burridge

Comments (1)
Comment by Scratchmonkey 2011-07-03 20:39:46

Ekelund is a legend at San Jose (or at least he deserves to be). Wracked by injuries inflicted over his career, he wound up being one of those central midfielders who moves at a constant limp, yet was the heartbeat of that team. Since he couldn't move very well, he played deep so as not to get caught out defensively -- some MLS fans were derisive of his performance based on his anemic stat line of 0 goals and 1 assists in his first season -- a season where he should have been in the running for MVP.

His genius centered around never giving the ball away, always being available for a simple pass and always passing the ball into good situations. He never really needed to leave the middle of the field, shuttling from side to side, keeping the ball moving, using his still-impeccable dribbling skills to move past defenders, to set up the next pass.

Getting to watch Ronnie play was a joy and as good as Donovan was and is, San Jose would have never won a championship without the Dane.

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