Football: Tomasson in the land of heroes

Simon Turnbull says Newcastle's Dane may prove the find of the summer
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The Independent Online
As The clock of St Luke the Evangelist struck 5pm in the Gladwys Street corner of Goodison Park eight days ago, it was looking like Newcastle United's time might finally have come. The Premiership's great pretenders were 1-0 up against Chelsea at half-time in the Umbro International Tournament. And they were playing like a unit galvanised by previously missing parts.

In Shay Given, the Irishman whose transfer fee from Blackburn has yet to be agreed by tribunal, they had a last line of defence with superglue hands. In Temur Ketsbaia, the Georgian gleaned from AEK Athens on a free- transfer, they had a wide boy more familiar with the work ethic than the Frenchman who could never be truly bothered to win his spurs at St James' Park. And in Jon Dahl Tomasson, the young Dane signed from SV Heerenveen of Holland for pounds 2.2m, they had the perfect striking foil for Alan Shearer.

By 6pm, however, disaster had struck. As Shearer made his stretcher-borne departure it was clear that Newcastle would be launching their challenge for Manchester United's crown without their pounds 15m linchpin. By Sunday afternoon it emerged that the Magpies would be shorn of Shearer until winter set in. Les Ferdinand's pounds 6m departure to Tottenham looked a good deal too hasty and, belated attempts to delay it having come to nought, the Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish was left without a natural leader for his forward line.

Faustino Asprilla is too much of a maverick for the job and Peter Beardsley is no centre- forward. Neither, the man himself insists, is Tomasson. But the burden of goal-scoring expectation, if not line-leading duty, is now likely to fall upon the apparent find of the summer. "Tomasson has the typical goalscorer's knack," John Sivebaek, Manchester United old boy, says of his fellow Dane. "He gets on the end of chances and, more often than not, he puts the ball into the back of the net."

That much was clear last season. Playing for the mid-table Frieslanders of Heerenveen, Tomasson was fourth top scorer in the Dutch First Division. And his predatory power has been quickly confirmed in black and white. The stunning goal he scored against Chelsea at Goodison was his fourth of such quality in four pre-season games for Newcastle, who play Juventus in Cesena today.

He is keen to state, however: "I don't regard myself as a striker. I prefer to play in midfield, or behind the front two. I'm the type of player who likes to run from midfield to join the strikers rather than operate in attack. I am not a recognised front man although I always believe I can find the net. Every season I seem to score plenty of goals."

His precise job description might be uncertain, and indeed might be temporarily revised in the enforced absence of Shearer. But it is clear that Dalglish has prised a real gem from the continental market. Tomasson's sparkling debut performance, against PSV Eindhoven in Dublin three weeks ago, prompted comparisons with the Newcastle manager in his playing days and with Beardsley. Tomasson was suitably flattered. Both were heroes in his schoolboy days as a member of Liverpool's Scandinavian fan club.

That worked in Newcastle's favour when Tomasson came to decide where his future lay after three years with Heerenveen. He turned down a chance to join Ajax a year ago, after protracted negotiations with Louis van Gaal, and the smart money in Holland was on him signing for the Amsterdamers once their new Danish coach, Morten Olsen, was in place.

He talked with Barcelona too and the list of potential buyers was also reported to have included Borussia Dortmund, PSV, Real Madrid, Valencia and Monaco. Ultimately, it was the Dane who has had a great say in stopping Newcastle's title challenge in recent seasons who steered Tomasson towards England - and St James' Park.

"Peter Schmeichel told me to come to England in general and Newcastle in particular," Tomasson said. "He said there were four clubs which would be good for me to join - Manchester United, Newcastle, Liverpool or Arsenal. Manchester United showed some interest but they were a little bit late because I had already signed a pre-contract for Newcastle. I did talk to Barcelona but there are several reasons why I chose Newcastle instead. I have a lot of respect for Kenny Dalglish. And it is easier for Danes in Britain than in Spain. We are more like the British. Our cultures are similar."

It remains to be seen whether Tomasson will follow the Danish streak of success in Britain and make as marked an impact on these shores as Jesper Olsen, Jan Molby, Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup have before him. At 20, though, the odds are stacked heavily in his favour. Dalglish, certainly, does not consider his investment to be a gamble. "Jan has come here after being one of the top players and top goalscorers in Holland over the last couple of years," he said. "He has been away from home and shown what he can do. He's still a young player - very promising, very intelligent. He's a good finisher. But that's not all. He's some worker. Near the end against PSV he raced back 70 yards to get the ball away with a flicked header."

It is hardly surprising that Tomasson already looks the finished article, still three weeks short of his 21st birthday. He was only 15 when he made his debut in the Danish League for his home town club, Sorod, and has three full caps to his name. Bo Johansson, the Swedish manager of the Danish national side, made the trip to Merseyside last weekend to watch Tomasson's first appearance on a Premiership ground. He saw nothing he did not know already - other than first-hand evidence of the potent partnership that has been severed indefinitely.

"I saw on television that Jon Dahl and Alan Shearer worked so well together against PSV Eindhoven," Bohansson said. "It was the same against Chelsea. Shearer created so much space and so many chances for Jon Dahl. It's a pity they are not going to get the chance to build on their partnership for the next months or so." One suspects it might be more than a pity for Newcastle. Their time may well have gone on hold - once again.