Charlton's new Dane indebted to past masters

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Jensen's early impact at The Valley revives memories of his famous fellow countryman.

Jensen's early impact at The Valley revives memories of his famous fellow countryman.

IN AN era when George Weah leads the line for Manchester City, Marcel Desailly and Gianfranco Zola run out for Chelsea, and Hristo Stoichkov is seriously linked with Airdrie, it is hard to imagine the sense of shock felt in late 1982 when it was announced that Allan Simonsen had signed for Charlton Athletic.

The Dane, who only five years previously had been voted European Footballer of the Year, was to leave Barcelona to play for a club then 15th in the old Second Division with an average gate of less than 6,000.

It seemed too good to be true and, though he scored on his debut, watched by 10,000-plus, it was. After nine goals but only five wins in 16 matches Simonsen, who had been signed for £250,000 on the then huge wage of £82,000 a year, moved back to Denmark. It had been "a costly mistake", admitted the club who were by then 16th in the table and had just recorded a sub-5,000 attendance for a goalless draw with Carlisle United.

Eighteen years on Charlton have signed another Dane, Claus Jensen. The £4m fee quadrupled the old club record yet the player came from Bolton not Barcelona and was still to start a full international, let alone be voted the best player on the continent. This time, however, Charlton believe they have got it right.

"He's young enough for us to have an effect on him and good enough to have an effect on us," said Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager, after training with Jensen yesterday. "I am looking for him to score goals and make goals. He has the ability to do both."

So far he has scored one and made several as Charlton have moved into fifth place in the Premiership. A victory over Coventry today and, with Arsenal and Liverpool playing tomorrow, Charlton will be third. "On course for the Champions' League," I suggest to Jensen as we sit down on one of the benches outside the former cricket pavilion at Charlton's well-kept training facility at Eltham.

"Let's just keep our feet on the ground and enjoy it," he responds. "We have a good start but over the season there will be more difficult patches."

Jensen, who is lean with a prematurely receding hairline and near-permanent smile, admits he remembers little of Simonsen, which is hardly a surprise since he was five when the latter signed for Charlton. However, he is aware of the debt he owes to Simonsen and the later wave of Danish exports, including Jan Molby, Peter Schmeichel and the Laudrup brothers.

In establishing reputations for being more stylish, and usually as reliable, as the other Scandinavians they paved the way for the likes of Jensen and his contemporaries, Everton's Thomas Gravesen and Thomas Sorensen of Sunderland, to fulfil "the dream of being a professional footballer abroad".

Jensen arrived in England from Lyngby, a club on the outskirts of Copenhagen which also produced Dennis Rommedahl, Manchester United's tormentor at Eindhoven last week. A £1.6m fee made him part of the Reebok's Scandinavian enclave two summers ago and he quickly impressed with his clever feet and attacking vision. His defensive abilities were less apparent and he admits he still has much to learn but two seasons of tutelage under Colin Todd, then Sam Allardyce, have given Curbishley something to work with.

With the eye-catching Eidur Gudjohnsen, Jensen provided the impetus which took Bolton into three semi-finals last year, FA Cup, Worthington Cup and First Division play-offs. All three were lost and Jensen said sadly: "I feel like we had a great season but we had nothing to show for it so people will forget pretty quickly."

His most important match turned out, however, to be the FA Cup quarter-final in which Jensen inspired a 10-man Bolton to victory over Charlton. The Addicks were already on course for promotion and Curbishley, looking for a midfield partner for Mark Kinsella, took note. "I had been looking at him previously but that game he did very well so we kept watching him," Curbishley said.

When Bolton failed to go up Curbishley moved in. Though Liverpool were rumoured to be interested, the only other bid came from Ipswich, Wanderers' controversial conquerors. Wisely for his continued popularity in Bolton Jensen chose Charlton, though he said it was more because he immediately liked the atmosphere of the place.

At the same time his erstwhile team-mate, Gudjohnsen, moved to Chelsea for a similar fee. The Icelander, it seemed, had made the better move. Yet six weeks into the season Jensen has started all nine matches for Charlton while the 34 minutes Gudjohnsen managed in Switzerland on Thursday was his longest involvement as Chelsea have lurched from crisis to crisis.

Jensen, though, will not be drawn into comparisons. "I'm sure Eidur will have great success there in time, he is a fantastic player and I wish all the best for him."

After today's match Jensen flies to Copenhagen to meet up with the Danish national team. Following the failures of Euro 2000 he is among the young players being given a chance and hopes to make his second start in Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in Belfast. The Danes won their first match, away to Gudjohnsen's Iceland, and are confident about their chances in a group which includes the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Malta.

"We have a new manager in Morten Olsen, and assistant in Michael Laudrup, two of our great players, so we are optimistic," said Jensen. "But it will be a difficult game in Belfast, Northern Ireland have good players like Jim Magilton and Neil Lennon."

While Jensen is with the Danes his new striking teammate, Jonatan Johansson, will be with the Finns planning England's demise next Wednesday. Johansson has scored five matches in as many games for Charlton and is, said Jensen, "on fire". So does Jensen have any tips on how to douse his fire? "No. He's quick and very calm in front of goal. I don't know how to stop him but I do know it will be difficult."

At least England, unlike Coventry, will not have to worry about Jensen providing the ammunition.