Looking through the footballing archives, there is substantial evidence to support the decision Manchester United made in bringing Jesper Olsen to England. The Dane is a household name in his homeland and the Netherlands, whilst also managing to write himself into the World Cup record books with goals at Mexico 1986. So ‘the Flea’ was ready to take the English game by storm, right?
Well, sort of. Despite his proven pedigree as a top quality footballer and five years at United, English football never really suited the winger. Towards the end of his stay in England, he struggled with the demands of the game and soon enough became a victim of Sir Alex Ferguson’s cleaning out project when he took over from Ron Atkinson in 1986.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the talented Dane, though. His spell at Old Trafford produced 24 goals in 139 games and a memorable FA Cup win in 1985 over holders Everton. He added this medal to an already impressive collection formed during his Ajax days. He won two Eredivisie titles and a Dutch Cup, as well as being proclaimed ‘the most surprisingly talented player’ in the Ajax squad by his then coach, Kurt Linder. The Daily Mail even listed him as number 31 in the 40 best wingers to grace English football, ahead of Arjen Robben and Steve McManaman.
Unfortunately for Olsen, he may be remembered by some for all the wrong reasons. No amount of trophies, medals or goals for his country in major competitions will erase the memory of the part he played in the second round tie against Spain in Mexico ’86.
It had started so well. Olsen was picked on merit and didn’t disappoint as he opened the scoring with a penalty. But whilst trying to perform the most straight forward of back-passes something went drastically wrong as he presented the ball to Emilio Butragueño. He scored the first of his four that day as Spain went on to win 5-1. Consequently the phrase ‘a real Jesper Olsen’ was born into Danish proverb.
It seemed Olsen had reached the pinnacle of his career. In 1988 he travelled with the Danish squad to the European Championships but played no part and was later sold by Man United to French side, Bordeaux, in a deal which saw Ferguson actually make a profit on the player.
After one season he again moved on, this time to Caen. But after a serious injury Olsen decided on retirement in 1992, despite having the chance to return to England with Blackburn and Nottingham Forest.
He now resides in Australia and in spite of some cruel mocking he still may receive from fans because of Mexico ‘86, Olsen gives back to the game with his ‘Fun Football Group’ company, which he founded in 2003.
Three years later, though, Olsen was omitted to hospital after suffering a serious haemorrhage. Recovery has been slow, but Olsen remains involved in football. He even managed to go over to Melbourne to offer words of wisdom to Guus Hiddink and his Australian side, before they embarked on Germany for their first ever World Cup.
The career of Jesper Olsen can be remembered in different ways. World Cup goals and FA Cup medals can be counteracted with slurs on mistakes at international level and even the ridiculous ‘pass-penalty’ he took part in with Johan Cryuff.
But none of that seems to matter to the man himself. Even now, despite previous health problems, he in employed as an assistant manager at Melbourne Heart in Australia’s A-League, and whatever may be said about Jesper Olsen, you have to give him credit, he definitely loves football.