“Ingesson. Brolin. Dahlin. Brolin. Brilliant! Brilliant Goal!”
Had it not been for this superb commentary moment by Barry Davies, I doubt I’d remember Thomas Brolin’s outside of the boot finish against England at Euro ’92 so well.
Sweden’s 2-1 victory sent England packing as the 1990 World Cup semi-finalists crashed out at the group phase. Aside from it turning out to be Graham Taylor’s last game in charge of England at a major tournament, the Three Lions’ exit was also Gary Lineker’s final international match. Incidentally, the former Tottenham striker was substituted with half an hour to go for Arsenal’s Alan Smith.
But this isn’t another piece on how Thomas Brolin’s career went downhill after leaving Parma for Leeds. This time my focus is on his strike partner Martin Dahlin; the player whose one-touch-outside-of-the-boot pass assisted Brolin’s wonder goal.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson are unquestionably Sweden’s top ranked strikers of all time, although neither had as much impact as Dahlin did at a major tournament for the national team. Four goals and four assists in five games at USA ’94 for the former Malmo striker helped Sweden on the way to a third place finish; their best in the competition since 1958 when a Pele inspired Brazil beat the Swedes 5-2.
Born in 1968 in Uddevalla, Dahlin spent most of his early years in Malmo - via Helsingborg and Lund - as his mother studied psychology at the coastal city’s University. His Venezuelan father was well out of the picture by then, having separated from his mother when Dahlin was two years old. To this day, he sees his stepfather as his only father.
Dahlin’s first club was Lunds BK where he became a first team regular, having been promoted from the youth squad; and earning the nickname “Krubbans Pele.” It wasn’t long before he was snapped up by one of Sweden’s big clubs; and they didn’t come much bigger than Malmo, who were managed by a certain Roy Hodgson at the time.
It was a near perfect debut season, with Malmo winning the Swedish title and Dahlin coming away with the Golden Boot. A year later, the team caused one of the biggest shocks in European football history, beating Italian champions Inter Milan – that contained the German trio Brehme, Matthaus and Klinsmann – 2-1 on aggregate.
As expected, Dahlin’s performances attracted attention from numerous sides throughout Europe, and in 1991 he made the move to German side Borussia Monchengladbach where he spent 6 years, scoring 60 goals in a little under 120 games. A DFB Pokal winners medal came in 1995, an achievement made even greater as the club hasn’t won a major domestic honour since.
Dahlin’s career may have been very different had the Bosman rule been passed a year later than it did. In 1995, and with a year remaining of his contract, Dahlin turned down Arsenal, Tottenham and Bayern Munich to join Juventus. As it turns out, there was a clause in his contract, which stated that any transfer system changes would activate a 1-year contract extension. Juve were prepared to pay up to 2.5 million marks, but this wasn’t enough for Monchengladbach and the Italians withdrew their interest.
Juventus’ loss was AS Roma’s gain, who stumped up the 5.5 million marks required to break Dahlin’s contract. However, his career in Rome was short lived as he struggled to make an impact at the nation’s capital. Head Coach Carlos Bianchi already had 4 forwards at his disposal, namely Marco Delvecchio, Daniel Fonseca, Abel Balbo and Francesco Totti; and 6 months later and with only 3 appearances to his name, Dahlin was back at Monchengladbach on loan.
In 1997, new Blackburn Rovers boss Roy Hodgson attempted to resurrect Dahlin’s career and add much needed firepower up front by signing him for £2m from Roma. As fate would have it, Dahlin suffered a serious back injury during a training session, ultimately resulting in his retirement. Out for just 4 months, he still believes returning quickly yielded huge long-term consequences. In 2 years at the club, he made only 15 starts and scored just 6 goals, although many supporters remember him more for spitting at Marco Materazzi in his penultimate game for the club.
A brief – albeit regrettable – spell at HSV followed, but the back injury continued to hamper Dahlin and he retired in 1999 aged 31. Not long after hanging up his boots, he created MD Management - a football agency representing players in Europe.
Many will remember Dahlin’s disappointing stint in the Premier League and label him a “flop”. But I remember Martin Dahlin the striker who loved drilling the ball into the bottom corner of the ‘keeper’s near post. The Martin Dahlin who timed almost every run to perfection and never panicked when he was in front of goal.
My favourite moment was at USA ’94 when he bagged a brace against Russia. With the game locked at 1-1, Jonas Thern whipped a ball in from the left side, and there was Dahlin on the edge of the 6-yard box, crouching low to direct the ball away from the keeper and into the bottom right corner. His second was even better. Roland Nilsson spotted Kennet Andersson’s diagonal run out wide and played him through. A first time cross from the Lille striker was inch perfect and there was Dahlin with an incredible leap to head it into the top corner. I still can’t fathom how he didn’t break his back going for the ball. His back was practically arched in mid-air. Unreal.
Dahlin’s goals to game ratio aren’t as impressive as Larsson’s or Ibrahimovic’s, but I can’t help but believe we’d have seen a much more prolific and all-round striker had his move to Juventus come about. We’ll never know what might have been, although we do know that without Dahlin, Sweden’s USA ’94 campaign would have ended sooner than it did.