Football: Great Dane and Faroe king

Allan Simonsen is content with his islands set.
Click to follow
SIZE HAS never mattered to Allan Simonsen. The tiny Dane was probably one of Europe's biggest stars as a player, now he is trying to raise the standing of the continent's football Lilliput.

The man who will map out the Faroe Islands' resistance to Scotland next Saturday, in probably the remotest of the European Championship qualifying ties, will be a long way from the pleasures he once enjoyed on Barcelona's Ramblas. These days the former European Footballer of the Year eschews glamour, and is content to mix with fishermen who dream of being footballers.

It is one of football's rich ironies that Simonsen should be cast up on a remote outpost such as the Faroes. More than 120,000 used to jostle for tickets to see him play at Barcelona, but on the Faroes (population 46,986) only the sheep come close to those kind of numbers. When Simonsen takes his place in the opposite dugout to Craig Brown next weekend he admits he will be lucky to see more than 3,000 faces at the national stadium at Torshavn, the windswept outcrop that is the Faroes' biggest island.

"Maybe a few more if some Scotland fans travel," he said on Friday, from the comfort of his office in Veijle, the town which raised the Denmark legend. He was just back from a trip, he explained. The assumption that Simonsen had just returned from a freebie to his old club Barca, for the Champions League final, was instantly shot down. "I was in the Faroes coaching my squad," he said, "but it takes a long time to get round the various islands."

Only three of Simonsen's team - striker Todi Jonsson at FC Copenhagen is the best known - play their football outside of this tiny Danish protectorate, which did not enter international football until 1990. The initial euphoria of that baptism, when Austria were sensationally defeated, has long since worn off.

Yet, although Simonsen's five years in the job have been unable to resist the tide of defeats since, the 46-year-old coach is convinced his work is bearing fruit. "I think we have improved a lot in the last two years," he reflected. "We are going in the right direction and that is important for me. We only lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic this season when they scored with a late penalty."

If Simonsen chose to look back, he would find the horizon much brighter. His success in the Bundesliga helped Borussia Moenchengladbach to the 1977 European Cup Final, which they lost to Liverpool, but at least the 5ft 5in Dane had the consolation of being voted Europe's best player at the age of 25.

He was the first player from Denmark to make it big in the professional world, and his transfer to Barcelona inspired a wave of his countrymen from Michael Laudrup to Peter Schmeichel to follow his trail.

Yet it seems surprising that this football giant should be ignored by his own country. "They have never asked me," he said simply. "There has been speculation but an offer has never come and anyway I am satisfied with my job. It is not important for me to be among the top brass. There also have to be workers in this world, and that is what I am doing in the Faroes. I enjoy my life."

His former Denmark team-mate, Preben Elkjaer, who helped Simonsen defeat England at Wembley in 1983, explained: "Allan has his own factory which manufactures sports goods, so the Faroes job fits in with his other life. But he is an idol to a generation of Danes playing at the top across Europe and he could inspire the next generation if they asked him."

Denmark, or someone else, may be about to ask. Simonsen admitted that he could soon be taking his leave of the Faroes. "It could be time to look in another direction," he says. "I will make a decision at the end of the year."

Meanwhile, Scotland will hope he does not make things as tough for them as he did at Pittodrie last October. "I thought Scotland would beat us without a problem," he said of the 2-1 defeat. "But we were well organised. That shows we have developed." The little Dane's repu- tation may be growing again.