November 3rd, 2002


My football heroes (2) - Jesper Olsen

De Kuip Rotterdam, 1983. A small fragile left winger receives the ball in midfield and starts a dribble. Even then, wingers were getting rare, so the crowd sits up straight to see what will happen. Not in delighted anticipation, as the winger plays in blue, against their home team, Feyenoord. He chooses the path in between two players, of which one tries to tackle him. Him, not the ball, but he had anticipated this move and easily slides past that first tackle. A defender awaits him. Big, wide defender. Fearless. He'll show the little boy what real men do with boys. At least that's what he thinks. He is not fast enough, still tries to kick the cheeky little sod. He misses.

It is a rainy afternoon, the pitch resembles a recently ploughed field as much as a football field. The midfielder is still chasing the winger and decides that brutal force is necessary. Though he feels the hit, he manages to stand up, straight is not possible. The last defender thinks he can take advantage of the sudden imbalance of the striker, but is also too late. The red card rule for fouling someone with a clear path to the goal hadn't been introduced yet, so he becomes the fourth Feyenoord player to try to foul my hero. None of them had a chance of even reaching the ball, none of them manage to get him down either. Still, the last move made it complicated for him to get to the ball before Joop Hiele, Dutch national goalie is there. Hiele is nearing the ball at full pace, but surprisingly is beaten as well. Jesper Olsen is past him, a bit too far to the left, heading for the corner and makes the difficult turn. He scores for Ajax.

The game ends in 2-2, the goal will forever be in my memory. I was 13, sat in front of the television that night and wanted to be a winger, just like Olsen. Ajax had a talent for spotting young Danish players in those days, they all had skill, they all had the flair that Ajax players need and adapted soon to the Dutch life, speaking the language within a few months, soon even better than most local players who never learned to speak anything but the local Amsterdam dialect. A year later Olsen leads Ajax to one of the best victories over their arch rivals Feyenoord. A young Van Basten scored three times against the Rotterdam team, with Johan Cruyff, trying to take revenge on the Amsterdam club that didn't want him anymore. However, the leader of the team that beat Feyenoord 8-2 was Jesper Olsen.

Soon after he left for Manchester united, a childhood dream come true. He played there for a few seasons, though never left the impression he did in Amsterdam. Manchester had to be my favourite English team for a while. Until Olsen retired that was.

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The world will always remember Olsen as the man who brought the downfall to the golden generation of Danish players on their first world championship participation, Mexico 1986. He passed back to their goalie, but hadn't seen Butragueno, who scored the first of his four goals en route to a 6-1 trashing in the eighth finals. My memory of that tournament is a different one. In the first two matches of the group stage, both Germany and Denmark had won, against Uruguay and some other team I can't remember. The last match was not important, as both of them had qualified for the knock out phase anyway. Still the Danes were in great shape and wanted the world to know. They got a penalty kick and Olsen, who I can't remember taking any penalties at Ajax nor Manchester, picked up the ball. The German goalie Harald "Toni" Schumacher was waiting for him. One of the best goalies in the world. Olsen sends him to the right corner and puts the ball terribly slow into the open left corner. In my mind the ball went so slow, it never even reached the net. Had Schumacher realised this he could have stood up from his corner and still stop the ball. He didn't obviously, Jesper knew this would happen. One of the best penalties I have seen in my life.