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Posts Tagged ‘Tomas Brolin’

Parma week has over-run a little bit but that’s okay. I don’t exactly have a wealth of time to devote to writing at the weekend so this is bound to happen from time-to-time. I’ll be introducing this week’s feature club later today and I hope to start sinking my teeth into them tomorrow, but I wanted to complete the Gialloblu Giants series first.

I would have loved to add another 3-4 pieces to this series but I don’t want to get too bogged-down with Parma. A Buffon profile was on the cards as was a look at some Parma’s ’90’s managers and strikers, but I’m going to have to condense everything into one itty-bitty piece. These players definitely deserve a mention, and it would be criminal to close “Gialloblu Giants” without giving them their due.

Gianfranco Zola (1993-96) (forward)

Honours: UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup

An outrageously talented striker, Zola joined Parma after spells with Nuorese, Torres and Napoli and really started to grow into the outstanding player he’d eventually become while at the Tardini. His ability should need no introduction: Zola was one of the best deep-lying forwards of his generation and a wizard with the ball at his feet. Scoring 49 Serie A goals in 102 Gialloblu appearances, Zola was never more prolific than during his time with Parma. I’ll always remember him as (arguably) the best foreign player to ever play in the Premier League, but his dazzling sill first caught my eye at Parma.

Alessandro Melli (1985-94, 1995-97) (forward)

Honours: Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup (x2)

Melli’s two spells at the Tardini brought him 56 goals from 241 Serie A appearances. He wasn’t exactly a goal machine, but he was an incredibly loyal servant and a vital contributor to Parma’s success in the ’90’s. I’ll always remember his partnership with Tomas Brolin, even though it was rather short-lived. Not the most outstanding individual player but a useful squad member who’d go on to serve as Parma’s General Manager.

Hernan Crespo (1996-2000, 2010-present) (forward)

Honours: Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, UEFA Cup

One of two players on this list who is still actively playing, Crespo is actually still a Parma player. He left the club in 2000 to enjoy gold-filled spells with Lazio, Inter, Chelsea, Milan, Inter again and Genoa before returning to the Tardini in 2000. Crespo was a very capable advanced striker in his day and a very prolific goalscorer. Usually averaging about a goal every other game wherever he goes, Crespo will still be scoring when he’s 50. A return of 10 in 42 since his Gialloblu return shows there’s still life in this old dog yet.

Faustino Asprilla (1992-96, 1998-99) (forward)

Honours: UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Cup (x2)

Tino was around for both of Parma’s UEFA Cup victories even if his second spell was nowhere near as productive at first. As a Newcastle fan I am naturally biased towards Tino. He was a big favourite of mine, and I was delighted when my team signed him from Parma in 1996. On his day he was unplayable. Genuinely one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen, Asprilla unfortunately lacked the mental strength to match his sublime technical and physical talents. He was equally capable of brilliance and madness, and would often show both in the same game.

Gianluigi Buffon (1995-2001) (goalkeeper)

Honours: UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana.

Buffon, like Crespo, is still an active player. I don’t think I need to explain just how good Gigi is. He’s clearly one of (if not the) best goalkeeper in the world, even if his recent form has been a tad suspect, and he’s fully justified his tag as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. Buffon has been a stalwart for Juventus and the Azzurri for years, but a lot of people forget he actually made over 220 appearances for Parma back in the day. The world sat up and took notice of Buffon’s talents during his time at the Tardini, and his reputation really went skyward after an incredible three-trophy haul in the 1998-99 season. I realise I’ve used the word “favourite” to describe quite a few players this week, but I can’t think of a ‘keeper I admire more than Gigi.

Luca Bucci (1986-87, 1988-90, 1993-97, 2005-08) (goalkeeper)

Honours: UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup.

Bucci was the man Buffon displaced as Parma’s #1 in the mid-’90’s and was a good goalkeeper in his own right. Like Melli, Bucci’s mention has more to do with loyalty than exceptional ability, but he was a solid ‘keeper who always did well when called upon. Incredibly, Bucci had four separate spells at the Tardini and ended his lengthy career in 2009 (aged 40). Bucci made a total of 181 Serie A appearances with Parma, and was considered the club’s #1 again after his return in 2005.

Nevio Scala (1989-96) (manager)

Honours: Copa Italia, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup.

A very talented manager who is sadly no longer in the game, Scala (along with Parmalet, of course) built the foundations for Parma’s success and moulded the club into a juggernaut in the ’90’s. Scala took Parma from Serie B to European tournament winners in just four season, and was responsible for bringing through some of the greatest players in Gialloblu history. His 5-3-2 system was a Parma mainstay for years, and he deserves to go down in history as one of calcio’s all-time greatest managers.

Alberto Malesani (1998-2001) (manager)

Honours: Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, UEFA Cup.

Current Genoa coach Malesani didn’t quite leave behind a legacy as big as Scala’s at the Tardini bt he did guide the Gialloblu to their most successful season of all-time in 1998-99. Winning three trophies in one season made him an instant favourite, but Malesani would eventually be replaced by the legendary Arrigo Sacchi in January 2001 after a poor start to the 2000-01 season. Things started to decline badly for Parma after Malesani’s departure and Parmalet’s demise, but he deserve his place in history.

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Tomas Brolin wasn’t the only excellent midfielder to strut his stuff at the Stadio Tardini in the ‘90’s. I chose Brolin because I wanted to celebrate the highs of his career. A lot of people only remember the podgy Tomas Brolin who shambled his way through spells at Leeds and Crystal Palace, but he was a great player once upon a time and I don’t think that should be forgotten.

That said, Parma also fielded a lot of top quality midfielders who made the most of their opportunities and enjoyed lengthy, successful careers. Here are a few of my favourites.

Dino Baggio

A rock-solid defensive midfielder who deserves a lot more international credit, Dino spent 7 seasons with Parma and scored 20 goals in his 172 Serie A appearances for the Gialloblu. Baggio came to Parma after the 2004 World Cup. Wanting to stay at Juventus, Baggio rejected Parma’s first contract offer but changed his mind a few days later. The move effectively scrapped an already agreed deal to take Alessandro Del Piero to Parma, but that didn’t exactly work out badly for the Bianconeri…

Baggio’s period at the Tardini was very successful and he collected two UEFA Cup winners’ medals and one for the Coppa Italia during his time there. He was a stalwart for Parma during their most successful period, and also won 60 international caps in a 9-year Azzurri career.

My first memory of Baggio comes from watching him at USA ’94. A confused 6 year old, I still remember turning to my father and saying “’Dino’? I thought Baggio’s name was ‘Roberto’?”. I’m glad I finally sussed the difference between the two as both were wonderful players in their own right.

Massimo Crippa

Read his name again: Massimo Crippa. He just <I>sounds</I> like a hard-man, doesn’t he?

Crippa, like Baggio, was a defensive midfielder but his playing style was much more abrasive. Signed from Napoli in 1993, Crippa held Parma’s midfielder together for 5 seasons before departing for Torino at the age of 33. He was a true battler: the kind of player who never gave anything less than 100%. Even when all hope seemed lost and his teammates had surrendered, Crippa puffed his chest and carried on like he could beat the opposition on his own.

But Crippa wasn’t just a pure destroyer. Sure he wasn’t quite as classy as Baggio, but Crippa was comfortable with the ball at his feet and was very adept at recycling possession. He was gritty, ferocious and strong in the challenge, but Crippa was no hatchet man and he rarely lost the ball.

In addition to winning the UEFA Cup and Super Cup with Parma, Crippa won Serie A, the Supercoppa and a further UEFA Cup with Napoli. Crippa was capped 17 times by Italy, and finished his career in 2002 after a two-year spell with non-league Canzese.

Juan Sebastian Veron

A completely different type of player to Crippa and Baggio, Veron is (was?) one of the classiest playmakers of his generation. Veron only played for Parma for a single season (1998-99) but he helped the Gialloblu scoop two trophies (UEFA Cup & Coppa Italia) that year. Because of the briefness of Veron’s Parma stay it’d be a stretch to call him one of the club’s all-time greats, but this isn’t about that: this is about my favourite Gialloblu players.

Veron, like yesterday’s subject (Tomas Brolin), endured a rough stay in England but he was always world-class in Serie A. Equally at home in deep and advanced positions, Veron’s technical quality, vision and passing made him one of calcio’s great creators. He was the heartbeat of the side spraying passes around the field and dictating the game like a metronome.

I’m sure Parma would’ve achieved even greater things if they’d been able to keep hold of Veron, but Lazio’s lure was too much for him and he left the Gialloblu in 1999 for approximately £18m. To be fair to Juan Sebastian, the move paid-off: he won Serie A, the Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa and the UEFA Super Cup in two seasons with the Aquile.

Honourable Mentions

Journeyman Stefano Fiore played for 12 professional clubs before his retirement this year and enjoyed two spells with Parma in the ‘90’s. I remember him and Diego Fuser in Gialloblu shirts crica 1998 with Fiore as playmaking and Fuser occupying the right channel. Alain Boghossian always springs to mind and not just because he has a fantastic surname: the Frenchman was real terrier around the centre circle.

Two players that I’m too young to vividly remember but definitely deserve a shout: Gabriele Pin and Marco Osio. I know that Osio in-particularly was hugely popular with the fans, and not just for his impressive Jesus-haircut/beard combo. One of Parma’s first real stars during the ’90’s.

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There are plenty of great Gialloblu midfielders I could’ve dedicated an individual profile. Juan Sebastian Veron only spent a single season with Parma but he was an excellent playmaker and I’d love to analysis and break his playing style down. Massimo Crippa, the tough-tackling achorman, was one of my favourite Italian players growing-up, and what about Dino Baggio? Stefano Fiore? Diego Fuser?

As good as these players were, none captured my imagination quite like Tomas Brolin. The Swede played for Parma from 1990-95 and again in 1997, so I didn’t see him play as much as Baggio or Crippa, but I was often dazzled by what I saw of him. Brolin was a great player in his pomp, and his story is both sad and fascinating.

Spending his career’s formative years in his native Sweden, Brolin shot to international prominence a series of impressive performances at Italia ’90. Brolin’s club, IFK Norrkoping, were soon inundated with phone calls from potential suitors. In the end newly promoted Parma won the bidding war, and Tomas signed for the Gialloblu in a £1.2m deal later that summer.

Brolin started his Parma career as a deep-lying forward and quickly forged a productive striker partnership with Alessandro Melli, a more advanced striker. The two scored 20 goals between them in Parma’s first-ever season of top-flight football, helping propel the Gialloblu to a 5th-place finish and European qualification. 1991-92 was even more fruitful: Parma finished 6th in Serie A and beat Juventus 2-1 on aggregate to win the Coppa Italia (the first major trophy in the club’s history).

As successful as these two seasons were, the next two were the making of Brolin. Faustino Asprilla, the sporadically brilliant Columbian (and cult hero of mine, as a Newcastle supporter), joined Parma in the summer of 1992 and many expected him to take Brolin’s place in the starting XI. Brolin was benched in favour of Asprilla for most of 1992-93, but an injury ruled the Columbian out of the Cup Winners Cup final. Brolin grabbed his opportunity with both hands and performed well, helping Parma to a 3-1 win over Royal Antwerp.

Future legend Gianfranco Zola signed for Parma the following summer and it widely assumed that the Swede’s days were numbered. Nevio Scala, however, had an ace up his sleeve. The coach, having seen the benefits of playing Brolin in midfield in 92-93, pulled Brolin even deeper and positioned him centrally in a 3-man midfield with Crippa and Gabriele Pin.

Brolin thrived in his new role and was handed his former strike partner Melli’s number 7 shirt. Still only 23, Brolin reinvented himself as a playmaker. His technique, quality on the ball and passing ability made him a great candidate for the role, and his performances as a pseudo-regista helped Parma to another Cup Winners Cup final in 1994 (sadly, they lost 1-0 to Arsenal).

Tomas was in the best shape of his life by the time the 1994 World Cup came around. Playing as a striker (as he always did for his country), Brolin was one of the stars of the tournament. His grinta was vital to an unfancied Sweden side as they battled their way to a fantastic 3rd-place finish after victories over Russia, Saudi Arabia, Romania and Bulgaria, and a group stage draw with eventual champions Brazil.

Brolin scored 3 goals at USA ’94 and was the only Swede to be named in the All-Star team. Tomas had the world at his feet, and there were rumours of him moving to Barcelona as Hristo Stoichkov’s replacement. Despite the Catalans’ interest, Brolin opted to stick with Parma with the belief that they could mount a serious title charge in 94-95.

Sadly, this is where things start to fall apart. On November 16th 1994, Tomas Brolin broke his foot during a Euro ’96 qualifier in Stockholm. Parma were 2 points clear at the top of Serie A when Brolin sustained the injury and they suffered badly in his absence. The Swede eventually returned in April 1995 with his team 8 points adrift of league leaders Juventus. He made his return start for Parma on the 7th May in the absence of Gianfranco Zola and struggled for form and fitness for the rest of the season, failing to complete 90 minutes once. To compound his misery, Brolin was sent-off against Napoli on the last day of the season and Juventus took the Scudetto.

The Swede faced a long, arduous summer. Tasked with recovering his fitness and keeping new signing Stoichkov out of the team, Brolin scored two pre-season goals but Scala saw little improvement in his fitness level. Brolin was dropped for Massimo Bambrilla and never reclaimed his place. Struggling for form, fitness and confidence, Tomas Brolin had fallen out of the loop at Parma.

It was time to move on. Leeds United swooped to sign Brolin on a two and a half year deal and the Swede made his debut a day later at Newcastle. After battling his way into the Leeds XI, Brolin turned in a vintage performance against Manchester United on December 24th, 1995. Even Eric Cantona looked second-class as Tomas tormented the Reds’ defence all evening: Leeds won 3-1 with Brolin having a hand in every goal.

Things seemed to be looking up for Brolin and a good start at Leeds had yielded 4 goals from 8 Premier League games. Things turned sour in January 1996: Leeds were thrashed 5-0 by Liverpool and manager Howard Wilkinson chose to point the finger at Brolin, labelling the forward “lazy” and criticising his defensive contribution.

Things never really improved between Wilkinson and Brolin. Tomas was eventually loaned to FC Zurich after failing to report for pre-season training, but returned to Leeds shortly after Wilkinson was replaced with George Graham. Brolin, however, refused to go back to Elland Road, and only accepted his recall when threatened with legal action by his parent club.

Injuries continued to plague Brolin. A metal staple inserted into his ankle during an scar tissue-removal operation earlier in 1996 scuppered a move to Sampdoria. Oblivious to the staple’s existence, Leeds called Brolin back to Yorkshire to have the injury properly examined amidst fears that his playing career might have reached a premature end. Brolin never played to Leeds again, and was eventually loaned back to Parma in December.

His return to the Stadio Tardini was fruitless, with Brolin restricted mostly to brief cameos and substitute appearances. The Gialloblu decided not to renew the Swede’s deal and he returned to Leeds, only to have his contract terminated in October 1997 for skipping a match without prior permission.

Brolin at Palace: a shadow of his former self.

A free agent for the first time in his career, Brolin wasn’t exactly hot property but managed to secure a deal with Crystal Palace. His spell with the Eagles was every bit as shambolic as his time at Leeds. Brolin failed to score in 13 Palace appearances. By this point he was visibly overweight, completely out of form and a sad shadow of his former sense. He retired in August 1998 aged just 29.

It’s a huge shame that Brolin’s career panned out the way it did. He was once a wonderful player with all the potential in the world, but he never truly recovered from that first injury. Excellent in his first Parma spell and brilliant for the Swedish national side, Brolin was, in 2003, voted Leeds United’s “worst ever signing” in a BBC poll. Few players have fallen quite as far as Brolin, but his conduct at Leeds and Palace didn’t exactly do him any favours.

Most British football fans remember Tomas Brolin as an overweight flop, but not me. His time in Britain was an unmitigated disaster, but Brolin’s brief boom at Parma was absolutely thrilling. A midfield maestro for Parma and a deadly marksman for his country, I choose to remember Tomas Brolin, the wonderkid, not Tomas Brolin, podgy waster.

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