Football: Bjorklund answers the reunion call

Phil Gordon hears ex-Rangers defender look back without bitterness
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The Independent Online
SIXTEEN MONTHS ago, Joachim Bjorklund cut a lonely figure as he sat at pre-Scottish Cup final press day ignored by many of the journalists. The Swede, along with everyone else, knew he was about to become history around Ibrox with the imminent arrival of Dick Advocaat and few sought out his thoughts.

Last week could hardly have been more different. Bjorklund has been fielding regular calls ahead of Wednesday night's Champions' League encounter in Valencia between his old club and his new one, and most of the interrogators' accents have been Scottish.

Indeed, the Valencia coach, Hector Cuper, has ordered his players to turn off their mobile phones for the last 48 hours in order to focus minds on the challenge that awaits in the Luis Casanova Stadium. Two defeats in their opening two Spanish league matches have done much to deflate Valencia's pre-season optimism under the man who guided Real Mallorca to the Cup- Winners' Cup final last May.

The last thing they need now is a defeat in Europe, and Rangers have the hallmarks of adversaries who could provide just that. The continental perception of the Scottish champions - deep pockets, shallow pool of talent - has evaporated with that eyebrow-raising defeat of Parma in the qualifying round.

Advocaat's revolution is bearing fruit, but the only man in Valencia who knew that was the one who was sacrificed in the name of progress. "I have satellite television over here in Spain," explained Bjorklund, "so I have seen a lot of Rangers since I left.

"I watched the first leg of the game with Parma and I thought Rangers looked terrific. The entire team were so well drilled and to beat Parma over two games is a wonderful achievement.

"To be honest, when I saw the draw being made for the group stages, my first thought was that we could have landed a much easier side from the last pot than Rangers. They did really well to win the Treble last season and the squad has obviously improved enormously since Advocaat took charge."

That verdict was given without a tinge of bitterness. Both Bjorklund and Rangers have flourished without each other, since Advocaat took the decision to sell the Swedish central defender to Valencia for pounds 2m just a month after getting his feet under the Ibrox table.

"That's often the case when there is a new gaffer," said the man who still answers to his Glaswegian name of "Jocky". "I knew before that cup final with Hearts that I could be going. There is nothing a player can do about it - you have to wait and see. Anyway, this has been a good move for me. Valencia finished fourth in the league last season and won the Spanish Cup and we began this season by winning the Spanish Super Cup."

If the 28-year-old, capped 65 times by Sweden, has made a seamless change from the cold north of Europe to the warm south, that is because he has had plenty of practice. He spent a year in Italy with Vicenza after leaving IFK Gothenburg before coming to Glasgow. "I made many friends in Scotland," says Bjorklund, "and even though there are not too many people left from when I was at Rangers, it will be be nice to go back to Ibrox next month." The warmth in Glasgow, though, may depend on what happens in the heat of battle in Valencia.

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