Chris Gallagher profiles an underrated talent….Thomas Brolin.
My love affair with Italian football began in 1992, when Channel 4 began broadcasting Serie A matches live every Sunday afternoon. As a youngster, my only exposure to continental football was the big international tournaments every couple of years or whatever European match was broadcast that week.
Keeping track of specific players and leagues took a lot of research compared to the relative ease of today. The football magazine market was huge, with a plethora of different titles to whet your appetite. My magazine of choice was World Soccer, a monthly almanac of continental football news and features.
The Italian top flight was my league of choice for a long time and through the coverage on Channel 4, as well as my subscription to World Soccer, I was somewhat of a Serie A aficionado. The ‘Catenaccio’ philosophy that was widely incorporated throughout the league, made the football tough to watch at times. This defensive approach meant that creative players and goal scorers that were consistent, were world class….Step forward Thomas Brolin.
A Swede in Serie A
Thomas Brolin has become something of a joke figure amongst football fans in the UK, due to the fact that when he played in the Premiership he resembled Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka. It’s unfair to judge him towards the end of his career, focus on his time at Parma and you will see the real Brolin.
The Swedish international played in Serie A at a time when the three foreigners rule saw high profile players forced to leave their clubs, Gullit leaving Milan was an obvious example of this. Brolin played for Parma from 1990 till 1995, developing as a player throughout his time in Italy.
Moving from the relative obscurity of Swedish football to the pressure of Italy’s top flight, the 20-year-old Thomas Brolin took to it like a zombie to brains, scoring 7 goals in his first season. Parma finished 5th and qualified for Europe for the first time in their history.
The 1991-92 season saw Brolin develop into a mainstay for club and country, playing every match in Serie A for Parma that season. Brolin would pick up the first and only domestic honour of his career, as Parma beat Juventus 2-1 on aggregate to lift the Coppa Italia. The disappointment of Parmas debut in European competition, a first round exit to CSKA Sofia, would be more than made up for in upcoming seasons.
Brolin soon found himself as one of the stars of the Swedish national team and at Euro 92 he proved himself as one of the best players in Europe, finishing joint top scorer and putting on an incredible display against England. Sweden would reach the semi finals, losing 3-2 to Germany.
Brolin’s movement for that goal and throughout the tournament was world class. His technique when striking the ball was immense, hitting it with the outside of his right boot into the top corner. Then there was the ‘spin’ celebration, copied in schoolyards all over Europe that summer and beyond.
European & International Success
As Parma became more successful, the players they recruited became of a higher standard. Brolin would find himself being deployed in a wide range of different positions throughout the 1992-93 season. Although he wasn’t a guaranteed starter, he still managed to play a part in the majority of matches.
The Parma side of 1992-93 reached the Cup Winners Cup final, taking on Royal Antwerp at Wembley. Brolin started the match and had a hand in a couple of the goals as the Italians overcame the Belgians 3-1.
Brolin found himself at the core of everything an incredibly talented Parma team did in 1992-93. On a personal note the Swede would have one of his best ever campaigns, playing at the World Cup in the USA and reaching the Cup Winners Cup final for a second time. However, this would be his last consistent season at the top.
Parma would finish 5th in Serie A with Gianfranco Zola in unbelievable scoring form. The club had an abundance of talent with Benarrivo at the back, Crippa and Brolin in Midfield and Zola and Asprilla up front. The Cup Winners Cup final against Arsenal is as one sided a European final as you’re likely to see but somehow Parma managed to lose 1-0 to the Gunners. Brolin hit the post with the score still 0-0 as Zola and Asprilla both missed guilt edge chances.
The World Cup in 1994 was the last chance we got to see the real Thomas Brolin, as Sweden shocked the world by finishing third. In what was a wonderfully balanced team, Brolin pulled the strings for the Swedes as Kennet Andersson, Martin Dahlin and a young Henrik Larsson all benefited from his genius.
Brolin himself would finish with 3 goals and would be named in the USA ’94 All Star Team. An incredible display from Thomas and the Swedes, this would be his final appearance for the national team at a major tournament….and still only in his early twenties.
Brolin at his best: Sweden vs. Romania.
Thomas Brolin’s career would go into freefall after the World Cup. A serious injury in 1994 would mean he would only play a handful of games for Sweden again, his last coming in 1996. His goal scoring record at international level is incredible with 26 goals coming in 47 matches. This places Brolin in the all time top 10 Swedish international goal scorers.
Per Thomas Brolin retired at 29 years old with a Coppa Italia and European Cup Winners Cup medal tucked under his arm. The Swede played in the Semi Finals of the World Cup and was also in that really good Nike advert that had Cantona saying ‘Au Revoir’ in it.
It’s easy to look on the Internet and see stories voting Brolin as one of the worst foreigners ever to grace the premiership but by doing so, you miss the point entirely. The blonde bombshell strutted his stuff at the highest level for four glorious years, dominating in Italy’s top flight as well as on the International scene, how many players can say that?