allan nielsen

This article originally appeared in MEHSTG Vol. 2. Issue 31 (February 2003)

At a time when Spurs are suffering in midfield, with a search for a defensive midfielder about to start, Isaac Gregory looks back at the sort of player we might be looking for to replace Steffen Freund.

The blond head of Allan Nielsen was often likened to that of a chicken without one by unkind Spurs fans.  The nature of his play made him one of those players in Tottenhamís history that bore the brunt of the crowdís wrath, much of which was probably undeserved.  By definition, he would not be a Hoddle or an Ardiles, but more of a Perryman or Pratt.  Someone who had to do the dirty work of grafting between the boxes and not allowed the luxury of spraying passes hither and thither, catching the eye and heart of the Tottenham faithful.

The prolonged signing of Dane Allan Nielsen came after he starred for his country in the 1996 World Cup.  He was a Gerry Francis special.  A midfielder who the Spurs manager had been watching for what seemed like an eternity and had bought, but then he couldnít join up with Tottenham because of his clubís participation in the Champions League.  Coming to Spurs from Brondby, Nielsen had featured in a startling rise and then fall before arriving in England. 

After starting his career at Esjberg, he was snapped up as a teenager by crack Bundesliga side Bayern Munich.  He was one who they had high hopes for, but he failed to make the impact that the Germans had hoped for and he made only one appearance before returning to Denmark with OB Odense.  Nielsen remained with the side for three seasons, moved onto FC Copenhagen for two more campaigns, then had three seasons with Brondby, with whom he won the Danish Championship.  The side did not make too many waves in the Champions League, but enough to make Francis sit up and take notice. That and his worth to the developing Danish team made him a player that Francis was willing to shell out Sugarís cash on. And it was £1.65 million that brought him to White Hart Lane.

During his time at Spurs, his work often went unappreciated, as other midfield grafters like him had.  Never the greatest tackler, he always got himself back in front of an opponent and was often the one who won a ball after a team-mate had lost it.  However, it is not a glamorous part of the teamís performance, but then someone has to do it !!  There are players who add to the game and people who work at it.  Nielsen definitely fitted into the latter group, but his contributions should not be forgotten.  Six goals in his first season was a reasonable return, especially when you consider that one of them was in the 1-7 defeat at Newcastle, when he appeared to be one of the few who kept going until the end and it did stop us suffering our record domestic defeat in the top flight !!

The next season featured a North London derby goal at the Lane to earn a draw and the now Tottenham defender Ben Thatcher almost cutting him in half in the 6-2 win at Selhurst that virtually ensured our survival under Gross.  Having lost the manager who brought him to the club, Allan plugged away, despite Saib and Berti being brought into the midfield by the new boss.  Nielsenís dogged determination in that Wimbledon match was overshadowed by Klinsmannís four goals, but again, the contribution was important.

The 1998-9 season was one he will remember and one that Spurs fans will remember him for.  Out of all the games he played, it will be his last minute diving header past now Spurs keeper Kasey Keller at Wembley that won Tottenham the Worthington Cup in a forgettable game.  A battle fought out in midfield and with Spurs having to fend off the Foxes with ten men, Nielsen found the legs to catch up with Iversen and be on the spot when the ball popped up off the keeperís hand.  Nielsen also must have angered now Spurs keeper Neil Sullivan in the FA Cup Fourth round replay, when he slid in to challenge Euell and the Donís midfielderís clearance smacked off the Daneís knee and straight past Sully !!  Finding a place in the side firstly under Pleat and then Graham, following Grossí departure, he had a good run and found the net regularly.  His confidence seemed to grow when he knew that he would be in the side and the former Gooner manager, who knew exactly what he would get from him, appreciated his attitude.  However, towards the end of the season, Freund had replaced him as the destroyer in midfield and Nielsen missed out on the last few matches.

With Oyvind Leonhardsen being signed on the dawn of the new 1999-2000 season as the Scandinavian midfielder whose job it was to buzz around, Nielsen began the campaign out of the first team squad.  Due to injuries, he eventually got back in as sub here and there and then, just before Christmas, had a three match run.  As soon as Leo and Sherwood were fit, the man who GG hadnít brought to the club was out again.  It was a harsh way to treat a competent if not spectacular player, who worked hard for the side.

Nielsen went on loan to Wolverhampton Wanderers in March 2000 and enjoyed a successful spell in the old gold midfield.  He was well liked by the fans at Molineux and proved to be a useful addition to the team, as they tried to push on for a promotion play-off place.  On his return to Tottenham, it appeared that he was not going to be in the frame to feature in George Grahamís team and at the start of the 2000-2001 season, he left for newly relegated Watford, along with keeper Espen Baardsen, having played his last game in February of the previous season at Leeds.  Despite the fact that he was not in the first team on a regular basis and was now 29, he earned a fee of £2.25 million for Spurs.  The transfer fee is still a record paid by the Hertfordshire club.  Admittedly, this was during the time of Gianluca Vialliís spend, spend, spend honeymoon at Vicarage Road, but it was a good deal for Spurs and also for Nielsen, who was unhappy at not being given a role in the first team. 

Unfortunately, the way that things have gone at Watford, Nielsen was one of the players they were trying to shift off their wage bill.  His performances still are of a high standard, with his contribution to their rise being unspectacular, but effective.  The unaccustomed red card (although sometimes harshly given) have found their way into his repertoire, but he is still getting into the box, just as he did at the Lane.  Watching him on Sky recently against Norwich, he looked the most likely to score in the first half Ö and for all the shortcomings the fans had about his play, that is not something you often say about Steffen Freund !!


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