He gave up his day job and secured his place in football’s hall of fame. Romantic as it sounds, that really does sum up the illustrious career of Swedish legend Tomas Brolin. FIFA.com brings the whole story.
At the end of the 1980s, a young man in Sweden was earning his living as an accountant and a semi-professional footballer for IFK Norrkoping. Needless to say, Tomas Brolin was not expected to achieve greatness. But a wonderful debut for the Tre Konor followed by goals against Wales and Finland in the run-up to the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ earned the attacker a ticket to the tournament.
Sweden’s youngest player featured in all three group matches, and even managed to score against Brazil. Bringing the ball down on the edge of the box, he elegantly turned Seleção sweeper Mozer before shooting low past the keeper to round off a great move.
The Scandinavians might have suffered 2-1 defeats at the hands of Brazil, Scotland and Costa Rica at that World Cup, but Brolin’s performances and goal against the South Americans certainly gave them something to cheer about.
With clubs across Europe fighting for his signature, the 20-year-old Brolin chose to follow in the footsteps of fellow Swedes Kurre Hamrin, Gunnar Gren, Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Nordahl, widely regarded as one of the best players to have ever represented the Tre Konor, by moving to newly-promoted Parma in Serie A.
“Watching Tomas play is like looking back at my own career," said Nordahl when he saw the young Brolin in action at Italy 1990. "He has the potential to become great."
And he was proven right when his countryman inspired Parma to UEFA Cup success in his first season at the club, before helping Sweden reach the last four at UEFA EURO 1992. Brolin’s energy, powerful shot and technical skills made him an extremely flexible addition to the side, and national team coach Tommy Svensson, who also won 40 caps for Sweden, gave the player the freedom to choose his position. He decided to play in attack because “here I see a lot more of the ball and can make the most of my strengths”.
Brolin certainly did not disappoint. His goals in the 1-0 win over Denmark and the 2-1 defeat of England made him the tournament’s top scorer and propelled the hosts into the semi-finals, where they were knocked out by three-time world champions Germany. But Brolin was back in action again just weeks later, scoring two goals in four appearances at the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
He plays like an Italian, the only difference is his hair colour.
But the biggest triumph for the two-time Swedish Footballer of the Year came at USA 1994. Brolin guided his team into the last four, scoring one and using his wonderful vision to set up two more as Sweden thrashed Bulgaria 4-0 in the match for third place.
Another tactical masterstroke from Svensson was at least partly responsible for Brolin’s performances. The coach convinced his “best horse in the stable” prior to the tournament that his talents could be put to best use in midfield rather than attack, where Sweden already had two top-class strikers in Martin Dahlin and Kennet Andersson. Putting the needs of the team first, Brolin agreed to his coach’s suggestion and dropped in behind the front two to fulfil an attacking midfield role.
Brolin scored 26 goals in 47 games for his country in a remarkably short international career spanning the five years between 1990 and 1995. In 2005 he was nominated for the Greatest Swedish Footballer of the Last 50 Years award, coming in second behind Henrik Larsson.
Brolin might never have steered the Blågult to the title he so desired, but he more than made up for it at club level, winning the Coppa Italia, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup during his time at Parma.
“He plays like an Italian, the only difference is his hair colour,” German football legend Gunter Netzer once said of Brolin. He is a club legend at Parma to this day, where he is fondly remembered by the fans. His trademark celebration, the pirouette, remains popular back home in Sweden and is often performed by players as a tribute to their compatriot.
The high-flying performances of the early 1990s did not last, though. A broken foot suffered in November 1994 during a EURO 1996 qualification match marked the beginning of the end for the Swede, who had lost his place at Parma during his six-month spell on the sidelines. His next move brought him to English, where he signed for Leeds United.
Despite his best efforts there, he was unable to reproduce his earlier form in Britain. Subsequent loan spells at Zurich and former club Parma were just as unsuccessful as his short stint with Crystal Palace.
Brolin hung up his boots in May 1998 at the age of just 29, leaving the football world just as suddenly as he had entered it some ten years earlier. In his last-ever match, for Swedish second-tier club Hudiksvalls ABK against Kiruna FF in August 1998, he made a substitute appearance as a goalkeeper for the last 15 minutes.
Vacuum cleaners, poker and music
Brolin has pursued a wide range of activities since his retirement from the beautiful game. Perhaps most notably, he appeared alongside tennis legend Bjorn Borg in the music video for Dr. Alban’s hit ‘Friends in Need,’ where he can be seen sitting in a helicopter and later in a limousine. But the former footballer has also sold his own brand of shoes and vacuum cleaner parts and is a professional poker player too.
The babyfaced Swede might have only enjoyed a short career at the top of the game, but his exploits were remarkable enough to secure his place in football’s hall of fame. Ultimately, quality is more important than quantity.