From Vejle to Madrid: the story of Thomas Gravesen

Ben Mountain

Big, bald, Danish sweepers with fiery temperaments don’t tend to fit the mould at Real Madrid. Thomas Gravesen proves this better than anyone. Away from Spain, however, the big fella has quite the story.

Like we do at CLICKON, everyone love a renegade. The stars who amuse, entertain and baffle live on in our hearts long after those who score, succeed and then subside.

For Everton fans, Thomas Gravesen fits that renegade bill.

By ‘the bill’, we mean he could amuse and entertain, but succeeding was not so much his forte.

Starting his career at the Danish side, Vejle Boldklub, whom Gravesen shone for, the man quickly realised his potential. Big moves were imminent.

Hamburger SV came knocking. But they too were not enough. 94 appearances later came the big-shot.

Well, the first of two big-shots.

Following an individually successful Euro tournament for his national team in 2000, Everton were keen to snap up the passionate Dane. In no time he became an iconic fan favourite.

Gravesen earned a somewhat cult hero status with plenty of shouting, hard-hitting tackles and having a heart worn well and truly on his sleeve. Toffee fans regard him warmly and he began to shine way brighter than those around him.

Gravesen’s character was worryingly summed up when the coach of the Danish squad, Bo Johansson, expressed that he might be not “psychologically stable” enough to play internationally, however.

Fortunately he was wrong. And Gravesen excelled at both national and domestic level right up until 2005.

It was during this period that the defensive midfielder’s heroics earned the attention of a rather unexpected fan.

Whilst Gravesen was himself a bit of a tough guy, he couldn’t have imagined who would be sporting his name in 2002, as the boxer Mike Tyson donned a named match-worn shirt for an entire holiday in Denmark.

We’d love to see them go toe-to-toe in the ring.

Anyway, celebrity fans aside, Gravesen’s career continued to take off at a rapid rate. His standing at Everton began to make him a six foot fish in a Goodison Park-sized pond. You get the picture.

Sadly, Gravesen’s psychological stability really did come into question in early 2005 when the chance for a big money move came up. He set himself up to wave bye-bye to Merseyside.

Despite being reluctant to say goodbye and disappointed when they did, few at Everton could say Gravesen was doing them a disfavour by jumping ship. However, the ship he jumped to may raise a few eyebrows.

You guessed it, HMS Los Blancos. When Real Madrid say jump, of course, you ask how high.

Unfortunately, Gravesen failed to turn this phrase into a decent contract financially.

For the not-so-high £2.5m, the Dane packed his bag and headed for central Spain. Even in those days of yore, that was surprisingly low for a player in his form.

And, disappointingly, the move wasn’t profitable on the pitch either.

Gravesen’s price tag matched his class. Surrounded by the likes of Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, his inexperience and lack of genuine footballing quality became glaringly obvious.

Despite remaining a vocal, strong and passionate figure both on and off the pitch, Gravesen quickly descended to becoming a bit-part player who would start most games on the bench. Still vocally, we assume.

He fast became more notable for his off-pitch antics instead. Whilst the media were quick to invent imaginary little stories about the fella, some amusing tales have actually been self-confessed.

One play-fight led to the Brazilian legend, Ronaldo, losing a tooth. It takes a brave man to swing for that hero.

‘Tea-bagging’ players during training was another bizarre little trick Gravesen had in the bag. No pun intended, honest.

As you can see, he was quite the character. But performances on the pitch simply didn’t improve and following a training-ground dispute after one hard-tackle too many, Fabio Capello let the big man go.

And so off Gravesen went, tail firmly between legs, to Celtic. Back to a more Danish climate, perhaps.

His career at Celtic Park took off to a flying start. His first ever hat-trick in a 3-1 drubbing of St Mirren was sadly followed by a decline in his status in Scotland.

Gordon Strachan began to leave Gravesen on the bench and quickly expressed his sorrow that the Dane did little to earn his place back.

Celtic later released Gravesen, following an uninspiring loan return to Everton.

Aged just 33, he revealed that he no longer had any great interest in football and so he hung his boots up for the last time.

Despite a playing career that ultimately burned out, Gravesen’s name still lingers fondly in the hearts of the fans whom he entertained.

But he hasn’t disappeared just yet. Oh, no.

Investing your life savings in Las Vegas is not a good idea for most. But for the former Madrid midfielder, it was the best decision of his life.

He now lives with his wife, Kamila Persse, a model, and is estimated to be worth around €100 million in the heart of the City of Sin. Quite the transition, then.

So, from the inconspicuous suburbs of Denmark to the glaring lights of Vegas, via a failed spell in Madrid, Gravesen has cemented his status as a true renegade footballing icon.

But it is in Everton where he will be remembered most fondly.

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