Tommy Moller-Neilsen was just making his way in the business then, and a year at the Faroese club Gotu Itrottarfelag was as good an opening as any. Five years later, the 32-year-old Dane will be able to show his latest employer, Rangers, just how much he gleaned from that first job. By a quirk of fate, the Scots have been drawn against Gotu in the first qualifying round of the Champions' League, and Moller-Neilsen, appointed as the Ibrox first-team coach only two months ago, returns to Europe's football outpost on Wednesday determined to bite the hand that once fed him.
"I was assistant to Pal Gudlaugson, Gotu's manager, for a season," Moller- Neilsen said last week. "It was my first job and I learned a lot." Gudlaugson earns his living from four sports shops in the Faroes, but Moller-Neilsen insists that disguises a hunger to be a success at football. "Pal goes to a lot of teams around Europe and studies their methods. He is a good coach and very good at tactics. He will make things difficult for us."
The "us" in Moller-Neilsen's statement is no affectation. The Dane has followed Rangers since he was a teenager, thanks to the influence of one of his father's old team-mates, Kai Johansen, who was an Ibrox player in the 1960s. "Tommy has always been crazy about Rangers," Richard said. "He has all their videos and my wife has family in Aberdeen so Scotland was a natural place for him to move."
Richard Moller-Neilsen's working relationship with Walter Smith, created by the arrival of Denmark's leading player Brian Laudrup, allowed his son to study the Ibrox inner sanctum three years ago. Tommy then returned home, where he worked with Odense as an assistant manager until Smith phoned the Dane up and asked him if he would like to come to Rangers permanently.
"I felt a fresh approach was needed in training," said Smith. "With the amount of foreign players we have brought in, it's crucial to have an environment they can relate to." Moller-Neilsen spent six months going around the top German clubs studying their methods in preparation for his Ibrox arrival.
Moller-Neilsen looks fit enough himself still to be playing and would have been but for an Achilles tendon injury at the age of 27. Dad helped him stay in the game. "I sent Tommy to watch players for me," the former Danish national coach said. "But he had to go his own way, be his own man. He couldn't have me beside him throughout his career telling him what to do. Anyway, I think now Tommy has more exciting ideas than I have. Football has to change and his methods are those of the future."
With seven new players, all foreign, Rangers are also looking to the future. The pounds 13m that Walter Smith spent during the summer is to procure progress in Europe, not further domination domestically. His side must overcome two hurdles, Gotu and then IFK Gothenburg next month, to claim a Champions League group place, but the Rangers manager refuses even to think about the Swedes yet. "We can't afford to think ahead because we are changing our whole team around and we're not at our best right now," Smith said. "The stakes are too high not to approach this properly."
The Faroes have proved their ability to deliver a shock before. In 1990 they defeated Austria in their opening European Championship game and the hero was a bobble-hatted goalkeeper called Jens-Martin Knudsen, who will face Rangers in the Faroe capital of Toftir on Wednesday.
"Knudsen doesn't wear the hat any more," Moller-Neilsen said with a smile. "The Faroes' national coach, Allan Simonsen, told him it was unprofessional and he had to lose it or not play again. Many of the Gotu players I knew have left to play in Denmark but the Faroe Islanders are very tough people who are not afraid of anything, and we know we will get a physical match."
Across Glasgow, Celtic have also gone continental. Tommy Burns' successor in the dugout is Wim Jansen, who twice played in World Cup finals for Holland and won the European Cup as a player with Feyenoord in 1970, beating none other than Celtic. His first step in trying to put the Parkhead club back on the European map comes in the less celebrated surroundings of Ninian Park on Wednesday, when Celtic face the Welsh club Inter Cabletel in the Uefa Cup. "Celtic are one of the biggest clubs in Europe. I know that from my own past but I think I can make them better for the future," Jansen said.Reuse content