Jon Dahl Tomasson: an opportunity missed

Alex Caple

Jon Dahl Tomasson is a player who had success all over Europe, scored over 50 international goals for Denmark, and has a reputation as a very, very good forward – except in England. England has it wrong.

Tomasson started his career as a 16-year-old in the Danish fourth tier, playing for his local team Køge BK. He found his niche as an attacking-midfielder, playing in support of a more direct striker. The youngster spent just two years at Køge, but his impact there was huge. Comfortably averaging over a goal every other game, the teenage Tomasson led the side to back to back promotions, leaving them sitting in the Danish First Division when he moved on.

Of all the places a young, promising technical player could go, Dutch football in the mid 90s was probably as good as it gets.

The 93/94 season had seen Louis van Gaal lead his incredible Ajax side to the Eredivisie title for the first time. They were young, brilliantly well drilled, and were soon to be the envy of European football, playing a kind of football that nearly every team dreamed of. Nearly.

van Gaal’s team was all about winning, and they did it well. They set up to exploit weaknesses and played with a mechanical image – keeping the ball, boasting about possession, playing percentages – set up like a ‘modern’ version of Total Football.

They were seen by some as robotic – a charge labelled at van Gaal even in his Manchester United days, over twenty years later. There was another coach in Dutch football at the time, however, who also idolised Total Football, but this time for its style. Froppe de Haan was the coach of Heerenveen, and in 1994 he brought Tomasson to Dutch football for the first time.

“Winning is not the most important thing. The most important thing is to play a good game.”

“We want to be a nice club, playing nice football. In the future we want to be not really at the top, but about fourth of fifth place.”

Froppe de Haan

Heerenveen were only a small provincial team, but their style and fair play made them very popular in the Netherlands. Tomasson joined them in 1994, being part of a group of young forwards in the Eredivisie that now featured Patrick Kluivert, Henrik Larsson and Ronaldo, among others. And under the style of football that de Haan had his team play, Tomasson flourished.

By his second his season at Heerenveen Tomasson had become a regular, and proved his worth by scoring 14 goals as a 19-year-old. At the end of 1996, the Dane was named ‘Dutch Football Talent of the Year’ (their young player of the year award). He was the first player in five years to not be at van Gaal’s Ajax, and the award put him in great company – the three winners before him were Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, and Kluivert. Tomasson improved even further in the 96/97 season, hitting 18 goals and finishing as Heerenveen’s top scorer for the second year in a row.

Like every young talent in Holland at the time, Tomasson was linked with big moves to all over Europe. He was picked up for £2m in 1997 by Newcastle (Heerenveen faced a difficult task in replacing their top scorer and took a risk – they signed a young forward from the second tier called Ruud van Nistelrooy), who had recently employed Kenny Dalglish as their new head coach. Dalglish had led Newcastle to second in the latter half of the previous year, their second runner-up finish in a row.

The Scot saw Tomasson as the ideal player to play off Alan Shearer, even taking drastic moves like selling Peter Beardsley and Les Ferdinand as a sign of faith in the 21-year-old Dane. Tomasson’s year at Newcastle was a disaster though, and it hurt his reputation almost completely. Shearer suffered a bad ankle injury that limited his appearances, and after Faustino Asprilla was also injured, Tomasson was asked to move forward and play as a striker. An unnatural position, he struggled, managing just three goals.

“It is quite simple, really. I was too young.

“Things had gone really well in pre-season and I was excited about playing for Newcastle but then Alan Shearer got injured and Tino Asprilla got injured and I had to fill in for them. Kenny Dalglish had bought me to play behind them but suddenly I was put into attack as a target man. That’s not my game and my confidence disappeared.

“I mean, how do you replace Alan Shearer?”

Newcastle dropped to thirteenth, and Tomasson was determined to move on, especially after finding his reputation had sunk so low that he wasn’t included in Denmark’s World Cup squad. Froppe de Haan had kept in touch, and advised the struggling talent to get out of England. Tomasson did just that, going back to the Eredivisie with Feyenoord.

The move was a huge success. Tomasson immediately found himself back to his best, winning the title in his first season – the Dane’s first silverware. Playing behind Julio Ricardo Cruz, and later Pierre van Hooijdonk, Tomasson would comfortably score double digits in each of his four seasons at Feyenoord. He would, however, also be responsible for one of the worst misses of all time.

In his final season, he scored in the final as Feyenoord lifted the 01/02 UEFA Cup, their first European trophy for 26 years. His form was so good that he won the Danish Player of the Year award for the first time, and then finally got the move to a top European side that he’d wanted in 1997.

2002 saw Tomasson move to AC Milan on a free transfer. Now playing with the attacking talent of Shevchenko, Inzaghi, Tomasson wasn’t the key force going forward. He played an important part though, and in his first season he made it back to back European triumphs, this time winning the Champions League – his three goals on the way to the final being his input, as he wasn’t featured in the final itself.

His role at Milan was more of a squad player, although he did hit 12 goals in 03/04 as Milan won the Scudetto – his performances even earned him a second Danish Player of the Year award. He played one more season in Italy, this time featuring in a Champions League Final as Milan lost to Liverpool on penalties (he did score his though).

Stuttgart was next for Tomasson, and his two years there saw the team win the Bundesliga. The now 31-year-old suffered bad injury problems, however, being limited to just four appearances that year.

Two years at Villarreal followed but Tomasson was clearly on the way down. He would finish his career with two years back at Feyenoord, where he managed to show enough to be their top scorer in 2010 before his career was sadly ended by injury.

Jon Dahl Tomasson had a very successful career, with his one year at Newcastle being an incredibly unfortunate one that threatened to halt his promise. He certainly shouldn’t be remembered it, and boasts a medal collection that many would envy, leaving one blip in the North East of England as inconsequential to say that least. He enjoyed enough success that the question should probably be flipped – how did Newcastle waste such an opportunity?

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