Leeds United Bygones: Swede Tomas Brolin ‘did not pull up any trees’ for Whites

Howard Wilkinson and Tomas Brolin.
Howard Wilkinson and Tomas Brolin.
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The mid-nineties were a simpler time. Baggy clothes, great music, the transformation of English football; life was set to the backdrop of Blair and Brown, of Liam and Noel, Zig and Zag.

In November 1995 Howard Wilkinson, in the process of rebuilding a Leeds United Football Club still suffering from the hangover of winning the last-ever first division title three years earlier, set about putting together an iconic double-act of his own; Yeboah and Brolin.

Sweden international Tomas Brolin. PIC: Jonas Lindqvist

Sweden international Tomas Brolin. PIC: Jonas Lindqvist

It was very much a transfer of the time. Sky TV riches were beginning to flood into the top level of the game and between 1994 and 1996, the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola and Jurgen Klinsmann signed for English clubs.

Not wanting to be left behind, Wilkinson set about signing himself one of the biggest forwards in European football. The problem was that nobody knew just how big Tomas Brolin would turn out to be.

He arrived from a fashionable Parma outfit for a club-record £4.5 million and was a name well-known to the English football public, the haunting echoes of Barry Davies’ “Brolin, Dahlin, Brolin!” providing the soundtrack to Sweden knocking England out of the 1992 European Championships. Two years later, he was named in the ‘World Cup All-Star’ team.

Had they existed at the time, the YouTube reels of Brolin’s work would have excited Whites fans even further. The Swede, who turns 49 on Wednesday, had a penchant for the spectacular. Yeboah and Brolin? What a prospect. It’s no secret what happened next. Leeds’ new superstar arrived having played only three games that season, overweight and demotivated after suffering a broken foot playing for Sweden a year earlier.

Leeds United fans' favourite, Tony Yeboah.

Leeds United fans' favourite, Tony Yeboah.

Reports in hindsight from within the camp said that the signing was rushed and under-researched, but Leeds weren’t the only club to have pursued the cursive playmaker – he’d turned down three Italian clubs on his way to West Yorkshire.

His opening run of matches went reasonably well, the highlight of Brolin’s Leeds career coming as he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers a month after his signing.

With Tony Yeboah and Brian Deane injured, it was one of the only matches in which he was employed in a central role, something he says was the biggest factor in a disastrous spell at the club.

Speaking in a rare interview earlier this year, he criticised Wilkinson’s handling of him.

Utilised on the right in a 5-0 drubbing against Liverpool, many accused Brolin of playing deliberately poorly, something he later admitted in an interview with a Swedish magazine.

Leeds couldn’t get him out of the door quickly enough. Memos were sent to clubs around Europe advertising his availability and Brolin refused to show for pre-season training, allowing Leeds to withold his wages.

He eventually signed on loan with Zurich on an £800 per week contract – the minimum wage in the Swiss top tier. Brolin’s career continued to freefall.

A loan move back to Parma was seen as an act of charity by the Italian club, who passed on the option to sign the player for a fraction of the fee they received for him less than two years earlier. Leeds fans would get one last cringeworthy glimpse of the enigmatic Swede during a short spell at Crystal Palace.

He retired at the age of 27 – making his last appearance for Swedish club Hudiksvalls ABK as a goalkeeper – and now makes his living selling vacuum cleaners. An enigma indeed.

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