Superstars, who needs them? Ian Plenderleith reports on Tomas Brolin's not so successful time in Switzerland
It’s a story as old as a Viking legend. Poor, struggling football club surviving on meagre gates suddenly signs big name international striker. Big name turns up amid huge fanfare, yards of extra newspaper print and hyped-up expectation among the fans. Big name runs out onto the pitch overweight and unfit, and after failing to score a goal in a handful of appearances disappears out the back door unnoticed and unmourned.
That a player like Tomas Brolin, who played a major role in taking his country to the World Cup semi-finals just two years earlier, should deign to play in Switzerland was cause enough for amazement in itself here, especially given the country’s massive inferiority complex about the quality of its national league. Most of Switzerland’s best players play abroad, and those that don’t play for Grasshoppers. That Brolin should have been snared by their cash-strapped city rivals, FC Zurich, a club with no stars and modest ambitions, was seen as something of a coup for a side suffering silently in their neighbour’s shadow.
Anyone who saw George Best turn out in exhibition matches in the early 1980s should be able to picture the impression Brolin gave in a league which, while fast and competitive, cannot be classed among Europe’s toughest. Spectators saw the odd finely-crafted long pass, the occasional shimmy of a rapidly-widening backside, and the hint of a once massive talent concealed beneath the folds of an unsightly double chin. That his decline has obviously been so rapid made the sight of his struggle for form sadder still.
His arrival was hailed by FC Zurich’s coach Raimondo Ponte as “a stroke of luck”, while club president Sven Holtz claimed that Brolin’s presence would treble home attendances. His goals were supposed to shoot the side out of relegation danger and allow them to fight with the bigger boys during the second half of the season, when the top eight clubs at Christmas go on to fight for the title. If they didn’t make the top eight cut off, it was supposed, Brolin would leave, but if they did then he would stay until June, and perhaps even a UEFA Cup place could be theirs at the end of the season.
It was a brave scheme, but unfortunately it failed completely. Ten thousand did turn up for Brolin’s first home game, as opposed to the average gate of around six thousand. But by the time Tomas was summoned back to Leeds you suspect that the club’s physiotherapist wasn’t the only one to breathe a sigh of relief.
President Holtz pointed out in mitigation that at least he hadn’t cost anything, adding: “We’ve got ten tough games coming up, and we have to win eight of them. That’s a demand which Brolin can’t fulfil because his foot injury has flared up again.”
This made it all the more intriguing that Brolin was recalled to Yorkshire because of an injury crisis at Elland Road. For the record, he managed four appearances in the seven weeks he stayed here, completing ninety minutes just twice and calling off injured on more occasions than he turned out. Oh, and he didn’t score any goals. I’m sure Premiership defences are quivering at the prospect of his return, if he makes it past the kebab house and gets as far as the pitch.
There was bemusement in the Swiss media at a reported survey of Leeds fans demanding Brolin’s return, with one pundit assuming the story had come from the same source as the forged Diana tape. But a day later the chubby Swede was gone without a goodbye to anyone, and suddenly no-one at the club knew when he’d gone or whether he was going to turn up in England, Stockholm or the bottom of Lake Zurich wearing concrete football boots. Neither did they much care.
Leeds offloaded Phil Masinga out here to St Gallen last summer, and he, too, recently departed after a few months of ailing in front of goal. Who do we get next, that bloke with the big schnozzer?
From WSC 118 December 1996. What was happening this month