The big interview: Tomas Brolin – "I was bullied at Leeds, but I don't regret joining them"

Tomas Brolin
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Who would win: your Parma team or the 1999 UEFA Cup-winning vintage of Buffon, Cannavaro, Thuram, Veron, Crespo and Chiesa?

Jeff Burton, Southampton

That’s difficult to say. In ’99 there were more star players, but in the early-90s we probably had a different spirit. You never know, sometimes the spirit wins against the more experienced players.

You reached successive Cup Winners’ Cup finals but lost to Arsenal in 1994. Should you have won that?

Becky Leighton, London

When I look back over my career, that’s the game we should have won. Arsenal did the right thing, though – they scared our strikers, Tino Asprilla and Gianfranco Zola. Arsenal were very aggressive and kicked them quite well, I think! But that’s the game – no problem.

I missed two incredible chances at 0-0 – one of them hit the post. If we’d gone 1-0 up, I think we would have won fairly easily. Arsenal would have attacked, we’d have enjoyed more space and could have scored four or five. But Alan Smith scored a brilliant goal and after that they defended very well. Arsenal won 1-0 and that’s what we heard in the whole of Copenhagen, with the fans singing: ‘One-nil to the Arsenal!’

You scored a great goal from a rehearsed free-kick against Romania in the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals – how much did you work on it?

Kris Taylor, via Facebook

It was a secret… we’d done that free-kick at Parma and Sweden’s manager, Tommy Svensson, had written it in his notebook. Two days before the Romania game, he took out his book and said: “Tomas, I’ve seen you do this one.” He told me that we couldn’t practise the free-kick during training because people would spy, but if we got a free-kick in the right area, we should give it a try.

Someone would pass the ball around the wall, and then I was supposed to cross the ball back in to give Martin Dahlin or Kennet Andersson an open goal. However, during that match I got there and thought: ‘Shit, I have all the goal just for myself. I have the open goal, so I’ll take a shot.’ That wasn’t the idea – I came up with my own idea and scored! For a little country like Sweden, it was amazing to reach the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1958.

After reaching the semi-finals in 1994, did you think Sweden could go all the way and win the World Cup?

Sebastian Sjostrom, Gothenburg

Of course. But several players were a bit injured and against Brazil you can’t have that. Then captain Jonas Thern got a red card and we thought, ‘Shit, it’s hard with 11 vs 11 against Brazil, now it’s 10 vs 11’. We lost and heads were down, but I was one of the first ones to say: “We’ve had a brilliant tournament, let’s play like hell in the third place play-off. We can’t go back without a medal.” To beat Bulgaria 4-0 was massive. Not many people have a World Cup medal. I was fourth in the Ballon d’Or vote that year, too. Not bad!

You broke your foot in November ’94. How big a turning point do you think that was in your career?

Eddie Green, via Facebook

Everyone says that, but for me it wasn’t that, because an injury is an injury and eventually you will come back. Everyone told me I’d be back after eight or nine months, but I was back after five months and three weeks.

Tomas Brolin Sweden 4

You were at Parma with Gianluigi Buffon when he was only 17. Was it clear early on just how good a keeper Gigi would go on to become?

Domenico Peri, via Twitter

Definitely. I had trained with him and thought: ‘Oh shit, this guy is 17 and he’s maybe already the best’. Gigi was confident, the right height and he made right decisions. He was an experienced player when he was still just a teenager. It was amazing to see.

Why did you leave Parma in November 1995 and sign for Leeds?

Ian Worthington, Batley

At the end of my five years with Parma, the coach [Nevio Scala] and me weren’t on the same level. I was keen to play, so I had to look elsewhere. I loved Parma. I wanted to stay, but the Bosman ruling was coming in and I think someone wanted to sell me because my contract was running out.

I went to speak to Leeds and asked manager Howard Wilkinson: “So where do you want me to play?” He replied: “I see you as a midfielder – a player in the middle taking care of our game.” I really liked that position and thought: ‘OK, if you want to play me like that, I’ll come’.

But I didn’t ever play in that position for Leeds. Never. When I first arrived, Tony Yeboah was injured, so of course I had to play up front until he had recovered, but after that I never got to play in the role that I’d been promised.

Tomas Brolin Leeds 1

Your first goal for Leeds was bizarre – scoring with your face while lying flat on the floor. What do you remember about that?

Steve Maine, Rotherham

That was a very nice header! A Sheffield Wednesday defender tried to kick it out and he kicked it against my head. It was a good first goal.

(At 3:10.) 

Why do you think things didn’t work out for you in England?

Adam Bagshaw, via Facebook

My position was one of the main points, and poor management. I liked Yorkshire and the fans were amazing. I still follow Leeds like a supporter. They need to get back to the Premier League because the fans are incredible – 30,000 and 35,000 at home games even now. I remember being on the bench for the 1996 League Cup Final against Aston Villa – it was so frustrating, but the fans kept signing my name because they wanted me on – I’ll never forget that. They knew something wasn’t right, and that it wasn’t only my fault. Fans are clever like that – they all understood that something strange was going on with the Leeds management.

It was reported that you deliberately played badly in a 5-0 loss at Liverpool, in protest at being played on the right. Was that true?

Sean O’Neill, via Twitter

No, I never played badly on purpose, but I couldn’t play my best in that position and I told the manager so beforehand. That was Wilkinson’s way of telling me: ‘I decide here’. I’d scored both goals in the game before that against West Ham and everybody was saying Tomas Brolin was one of Leeds’ best buys. Then he put me on the right at Anfield and I was out of the team – it was strange.

Did you really play for £800 a week at FC Zurich, then pay some of your own money to rejoin Parma, just to secure loan moves away from Leeds?

Anthony Selby, via Facebook

Yes. At first I went to Zurich to get away from Leeds because they didn’t treat me like a football player. Then I had a great five months back at Parma under Carlo Ancelotti. I liked feeling that the coach believed in me, and we almost won the Serie A title in 1997.

Tomas Brolin Leeds 2

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