Jan Molby won championships in England and the Netherlands, represented Denmark on the global stage and shone in the company of Gullit, Van Basten, Rush, Dalglish and the Laudrups. Yet it was the FA Cup that provided the highlight of his playing days - and now the supposedly unfashionable competition may be about to do the same for his managerial career.
Following the 1986 final, Molby and his Liverpool cohorts hot-footed it from Wembley to Stringfellows after overcoming Everton to complete the Double. They were neither the first nor the last footballers to quaff champagne in the notorious nightspot, although the Dane, widely acclaimed as man of the match, established a "first" for the venue by swigging it from the trophy.
The old, silver object of desire (the Cup, that is, rather than Peter Stringfellow) will be absent at Aggborough Stadium today. No matter: should Molby's Kidderminster Harriers defeat Wolverhampton Wanderers in a third-round derby between the sides lying 16th in the Third Division and 20th in the Premiership respectively, the Harriers Arms will be swinging like the wildest West End watering hole.
Wolves, who have only 17 miles to travel and probably have more fans in the Worcestershire carpet-making town than the Harriers, should be warned that Molby is due a giant-killing. In the 20 years since he arrived at Anfield from Ajax, he has avoided even one such outcome (unless you count Wimbledon's Wembley win over Liverpool, which he does not on the grounds that the Dons were "a good top-division team").
In a curious way, this discrepancy reflects his formative years in Denmark. "When we watched the FA Cup on television, we wanted to see big games, like Manchester United v Liverpool," recalled Molby, 40, who will be at the Leeds-Arsenal tie tomorrow as a summariser for Danish TV. "We didn't understand the magic of Hereford beating Newcastle or Sutton beating Coventry because we had nothing comparable in our football culture."
The competition had its hooks in him at a tender age. "When I was seven I saw Charlie George lying on the Wembley turf after his winner against Liverpool in 1971. I became an Arsenal fan," he said, as if confessing a guilty secret. "Had Liverpool won, it would have been them."
Molby atoned amply 15 years later in the first Merseyside final, creating two goals as Liverpool won 3-1. "It was the greatest moment of my career. Some fine players never reach the final. Others get there but don't perform. But it wasn't just the game. It was the whole occasion.
"You don't sense the fantastic atmosphere of a Wembley final in May when you're sitting watching on TV. My brothers came over and the Danish squad were watching back home before we all went off to the Mexico World Cup. So it was a great day."
Not to mention a memorable night. "Stringfellows was just up the road from our hotel and we all turned up carrying the Cup. The people queuing to get in clapped us as if it was the most natural thing in the world. We were there until about five in the morning."
The party mood continued on the flight home, which Liverpool shared with Everton. "I remember their defender Pat van den Hauwe saying to Sammy Lee, "Shift yer big arse". Sammy told him: "It's only big because I've got these two medals in my back pockets."
Two years later, when Liverpool returned as "certainties" against Wimbledon, Molby was on the bench. "I was the penalty-taker but I still hadn't got on when Dave Beasant made his famous save from John Aldridge's penalty. I felt it was my day, but by the time I went on there were only 13 minutes left and they were still 1-0 up. It was one of those days when it was never going to happen for us, though I did get another winners' medal with Liverpool against Sunderland in '92."
Having been initiated in the responsibility for selections, substitutions and tactics at Swansea, Molby's first success in management came when he led Kidderminster into the League in 2000. Two years later, he left for Hull (or "free-spending Hull" as he wryly recalled the press labelling them). After only 16 matches he fell victim to the club's impatience to launch a winning streak in time for the move to their new stadium.
In October, after turning down offers from Exeter and Swindon, he returned as Kidderminster's director of football. "People told me you should never go back. That's just a saying. Some papers claimed there was hostility to me here. But I didn't get one nasty letter whereas I had loads of welcome-back cards and people brought chocolate up to the training ground for me.
"I felt it was an advantage that I knew half the Kidderminster squad, though I told those players I'd judge them harder because I couldn't afford to let what happened before cloud my judgement. It was also a plus that I knew the board would let me get on with it.
"There's no money here as such, same as at most clubs. But the time has arrived for managers to show what they can do. That certainly doesn't frighten me."
Since Molby's second coming, Kidderminster have won seven of their 13 games compared to one in 14 at the end of Ian Britton's reign. Maximum points from two Christmas matches has diminished the threat of relegation, though Molby is mindful of the Shrewsbury precedent. A year ago, the Shropshire club conjured a Cup sensation; now they are scuffling for Conference points with Leigh RMI and Forest Green Rovers.
"They lived off the Everton win and waited for the next round against Chelsea. They completely took their eye off the League. After they went out of the Cup they tried to regain focus but found it too hard."
Keeping the lid on the excitement generated by Wolves' first competitive visit to a ground where they usually send a reserve XI for testimonials has, however, proved impossible. "It's all people are talking about. You remind them the 46 League fixtures are ultimately more important. But when everyone else is gripped by it, it's hard not to be affected."
Kidderminster's dressing-room is no exception. "We've got two boys that were released from Molineux, Kenny Coleman and Graham Ward, and two Wolves fanatics, Craig Hinton and Dean Bennett. It'll be strange for them, but they'll be giving everything to beat their favourite team."
Molby's side trust, as he did, despite an imposing physique, in a passing game. But sometimes in the FA Cup, the more the underdogs snarl, the less the favourites fancy it. Dave Jones, the Wolves manager, has already made it clear he would trade his club's worst humiliation since Chorley knocked them out 17 years ago for survival in the Premiership.
So is Molby tempted to try to knock Paul Ince and company out of their handsomely paid stride? "We won't bully or kick them. That's not my style. But we're certainly going to compete. I know and like Dave. I respect what he achieved in finally getting Wolves promoted. But let's face it: the pressure is all on them. There's always at least one upset and it could be us. What have we got to lose?"Reuse content