Football: Simonsen seeks small miracles: Dane returns to Britain in new role - Phil Shaw talks to the manager of the Faroe Islands, who will test his attacking tactics against Scotland

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The Independent Online
ALLAN SIMONSEN is back in the spotlight, more than a decade after he briefly illuminated the dark days before Charlton vacated The Valley. And as manager of the Faroe Islands, he is still striving for football's equivalent of the loaves-and-fishes routine.

Simonsen, whose team of amateurs and Danish-based part-timers tackle Scotland at Hampden Park tomorrow, had lost his Barcelona place to Diego Maradona when Charlton paid pounds 320,000 for him in 1982. Sadly, the London club had neither the funds to sustain his salary nor enough players on his wavelength. The wiry little striker, European Footballer of the Year at Borussia Moenchengladbach, stayed only 130 days before returning to his native Denmark.

To fill the gap, Lennie Lawrence upgraded an apprentice forward to the full-time ranks. By coincidence Robert Lee, now an attacking midfielder, is set to complete his long march to the England side, not only on the ground where Simonsen struck a famous winner for his country months after leaving Charlton but on the night he returns to the international stage in Britain.

Unless something goes horribly right for the Faroes, it is an evening Lee is likely to remember more fondly. Since beating Austria 1-0 on their competitive debut four years ago, the islanders have become habitual heavy losers. Last month's home defeat, 5-1 by Greece at the start of a new European Championship series, marked Simonsen's first match in charge, yet he arrives in Glasgow far from dispirited.

'We don't worry too much about results at the moment,' he said. 'The important thing is to create our own attacking style. Before I took over, they were playing 10 men behind the ball all the time, but I'm trying to change that mentality. We've got nothing to lose by a more positive approach.'

The odds are stacked against Simonsen. The entire population of the Faroes, a semi-independent, Danish-speaking territory situated in the North Atlantic between the Shetlands and Iceland, would struggle to test Hampden's 40,000 capacity. Fishing is infinitely more important than football, and there are just two grass pitches.

Since the 41-year-old Simonsen also manages his home-town club, Vejle, who stand fourth in the Danish Second Division, opportunities to work with the squad are limited. 'We had a get-together in Austria and beat Sturm Graz 1-0 while we were there,' he explained, 'but it wasn't the perfect preparation for Greece.'

The aim is to make the Faroese 'more professional, less open to ridicule'. In that respect, however, his reported banning of the trademark white bobble-hat worn by the goalkeeper, Jens Knudsen, was not the purge of woolly-mindedness portrayed in the media. 'A lot was made of that, but he decided it for himself,' he insisted.

Simonsen said he had been delighted to hear that Charlton - 'a nice family club' - were back home. Although he understood Lawrence had done 'quite well', he admitted he did not monitor the British scene closely. 'Combining duties between Vejle and the Faroes, I don't really have the time.'

It may be kidology, but he also claimed to know 'nothing' about the Scottish players. 'I'm not thinking about the other team, only ours,' he said, echoing a thousand fishers of football men before him. 'It would be the same whether we were playing Brazil or San Marino.'

Scotland fall somewhere between such extremes, and the Faroes would probably treat as success any improvement on their 6-0 defeat in Wales in 1992. A repeat of the 1-1 draw in Northern Ireland two years earlier would probably send even their phlegmatic manager into paroxysms of delight.

Mention of San Marino, though, is a reminder that there are other small fry in Group Eight. A win in next May's meeting might not rank as highly as some of the successes in which Simonsen has shared, but it would have them dancing in the fleets of the Faroe Islands.

(Photograph omitted)

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