Whatever happened to Jesper Olsen?

The Danes have usually produced good footballers and Jesper Olsen certainly falls in to that category. This is a player who English football followers will be more familiar with during his time with Manchester United- the one English club Olsen played for in his career. The majority of his time at United was played before Sir Alex Ferguson took over from Ron Atkinson and in that period Olsen was said to have been a fans favourite because of the fact that he was a speedy winger. He is 49-years-old and finished his playing career in the early 90s. So for all the younger fans out there that will have only heard of his name, let’s have a look through his career and find out whatever happened to Jesper Olsen.

Whilst he was a regular member of the Danish national team, along with his spell at United, his professional career began in 1977 with a Danish club called Naestved IF and stayed there for four years. Clearly he must have impressed at his first senior club because it was in his time there that he received his first call up to the national side and made his debut for Denmark in 1980, playing in a friendly against the Soviet Union. Interestingly, Olsen had a trial for Arsenal in the 78-79 season but while that did not materialise in to a future with the Gunners, his next step in his career took him away from his home country and moved to his first big club in 1981- Ajax.

During his days at Ajax there is one notable aspect that Olsen was part of, and speaking of Arsenal, there is a connection with an incident over a penalty kick. Olsen, along with his team-mate Johan Cruyff, became the first players to try the “passed penalty” routine. This is where one of them taps the ball to the other, from the penalty spot, and it is returned to the original taker (Cruyff in this instance) who put the ball past the goalkeeper. Of course this was repeated in embarrassing circumstances when Thierry Henry and Robert Pires tried the same trick, only for it to fail, at Arsenal’s old Highbury ground. During his days at Ajax, it seemed Olsen was the perfect type of player for the skilful Dutch club due to his ability to match his pace with a beautiful showing of the technical side of his game. He won the first honours there in the 81-82 season when the club won the championship, and the next season he completed the double of the Dutch Cup and defended the league title. He also finished in the top 10 of the European footballer of the year award listings in 1983. His time at Ajax also saw him participate in Euro 84, where Denmark were eliminated in the semi-finals. The summer of 84 also proved to be the ending of Olsen’s Ajax career and he made the transfer to Manchester United in July of that year.

Olsen scored 24 goals in a five year stay at United, but seemed to find English football harder to adapt to than he did in the Dutch league. United paid £350,000 for his services and he helped the team win the FA Cup in 1985, and quickly understood what part of playing for United meant. He said: “In those days Liverpool were the best team in Europe and the rivalry between us made the matches more like cup games. We caused Liverpool a lot of problems. The Liverpool fans were very knowledgeable and we loved playing at Anfield because the atmosphere always made it the biggest game of the season for both clubs.” Eventually though, once Sir Alex Ferguson had taken over, Olsen found that his career in England was starting to dwindle and was subsequently transferred, for £400,000 to Bordeaux in 1989 and he stayed for one season with the French club. After leaving their in 1990 he finished his playing career in France with a club called Caen. He suffered a serious injury there and retired from the professional game in 1992. It was rumoured that Blackburn and Nottingham Forest offered him a chance to return to England but such news was quashed by Olsen.

Since retiring as a player Olsen now lives in Victoria, Australia. The reason for that is because he heads Proactive Management’s Australian division, and runs a grass-root training programme for young footballers. Olsen spent a major part of the last decade identifying and developing talent in Australia. However, the Dane went through a tough time in his life in Australia because he suffered brain haemorrhage in 2006 and he said “it was frightening to feel the loss of control.” At the time of the incident he explained what happened. He said: “Basically, a blood vessel in my brain exploded, I collapsed and was taken to hospital. I don’t remember too much about it but the last test I had was clear and I am feeling well again.”

Even though he has kept a low profile since retiring as a player many years ago, along with settling in Australia, he is currently one of the assistant managers of Australian A-League club Melbourne Heart.

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