Wolves throwback: Allan Nielsen is one that got away

Sadly nothing lasts forever.

Wolves' Allan Nielsen.
Wolves' Allan Nielsen.

Joy can be fleeting, success short-lived.

Moment of happiness can disappear in the blink of an eye.

And sometimes, loan players can come along, perform impressively well, gain huge popularity with the fans, but never return.

It wasn’t Allan Nielsen’s choice as to whether he could stay at Wolves after an all-too-brief spell at the back end of the 1999/2000 season in which he made seven appearances, and scored two goals.

“I would definitely have been interested,” the former Danish midfielder, then at Tottenham, recalls.

“However, I don’t believe the package between the two clubs was going to be met.

“It was something that was out of my hands before it was even possible, that is how I remember it.”

Instead Nielsen went on to join Wolves’ opponents from last weekend and then First Division rivals Watford, making 113 appearances and scoring 19 goals.

It was however at Tottenham where he had first made his name in English football, chalking up very similar stats with 117 appearances during four seasons at White Hart Lane and providing 18 goals.

Wolves, of course, face Tottenham next week in the EFL Cup, and it was in the final of that very tournament, just over a year to the day before making his first loan appearance at Molineux, that Nielsen had very much earned his Spurs by notching an injury time winning goal against Leicester.

It had been a largely unspectacular last League Cup final of the Millennium at Wembley, apart from Justin Edinburgh’s sending off following a clash with Robbie Savage, but after another future Wolf Steffen Iversen’s cross had been palmed out by Kasey Keller, Nielsen was perfectly placed to convert a diving header and etch his name into folklore.

“The drama of that game was unbelievable,” he recalls.

“We had seen Justin get sent off and then I managed to score so close to the final whistle and pick up the Man of the Match award.

“it was definitely the highlight of my career, but I had four amazing years at Tottenham and there are many things I remember.

“What history remembers though is your name when you score a winning goal in a cup final.

“English fans are fantastic, they love their footballing history, and they appreciate when someone is working hard and giving everything for the club.

“I was lucky enough to score that winning goal and the Tottenham fans have always been very welcoming and kind to me ever since.”

Nielsen had joined Tottenham as a 25-year-old after several successful years in Denmark with Odense, Copenhagen and Brondby.

He won a cup with Odense, the league with Brondby, and became a regular in the Danish national team, scoring in his only appearance against Turkey at Euro ’96 and going on to be crowned his country’s player of the year ahead of the likes of Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup.

In total he would make 44 appearances for the senior Denmark team, scoring eight goals.

Landing that move to Spurs in that summer, he was no doubt helped by having spent an earlier spell with Bayern Munich, making only one six-minute appearance for the first team in three years after joining as a 17-year-old, but enjoying the most extensive of football educations.

“I came from a small town, a small club, a small everything in Denmark, and went to Bayern Munich,” Nielsen explains.

“That three years around the club gave me the foundations, my education in football, which would help me all the way through.

“I went back to Denmark after Bayern Munich and established myself, made my name, and then a few years later got the chance to go to Tottenham.

“Again, coming from such a small place in Denmark and joining a massive club like Tottenham was a major step, and going back up to that big stage was difficult.

“But to get to that point I had already been through many things, many ups and downs and different challenges, and that was what helped me compete at that level in the Premier League.”

Wolves, then. Swapping Spurs in the Premier League a year after being the cup final hero for the battle for a place in the then First Division play-offs.

Tottenham Hotspur's Goal scorer, and man of the match Allan Nielsen celebrates at Wembley.

There were several factors involved.

“We were getting closer and closer towards Euro ’96 and, as a player, of course I wanted to be part of that,” says Nielsen.

“But I had a little misunderstanding so to say with Tottenham’s new manager George Graham.

“I wasn’t sure or it didn’t look like I was going to get much playing time – I was still part of everything but I needed to be sure I kept playing.

“There was no guarantee I would get that at Wolves and I would have to show myself and earn a place in the team but that was why the move came about.

“And I was so pleased that a club like Wolves came in.

“At the time I did not know them so well but when I got there, and got into it and spoke to the people around the club and the players, I realised the history that was there and the size of the club.

“Then there was the atmosphere of course – Wolves was a good memory for me and also good learning for me as well.”

Nielsen’s seven appearances came with a Wolves side under Colin Lee battling to make the play-offs.

It didn’t quite happen, a controversial defeat at Bolton – yes, another one – put paid to that in the penultimate game of the season.

What Nielsen realised pretty quickly, but what he also adapted to so well along with his technical ability, was the relentless physical nature of life in the second tier.

Not least given one of his other appearances was a 1-0 defeat at Birmingham when the hosts had two players sent off.

Nielsen’s ability to adapt and mix it in the muck and nettles of Championship football also motivated him to defy injury when coming back from international duty to notch the second of his Wolves goals in a 3-0 win against Fulham.

“I respected just how hard the players worked and how tough they were and how committed they were,” he says of his stay at Wolves.

“It was like they threw their whole lives into those games and that really stood out for me.

“For me, a player coming from a smaller country, it was about realising how much I had to give of myself in order to be part of this game and this atmosphere.

“I remember that Fulham game in particular, where I had to drive down to London and go off on international duty with the national team.

“My calf was exploding, it was like a dead calf where the muscle had gone, but when I came back from Denmark I wanted so much to play in the next game.

“I brought back my physio who looked after me and when I was warming up I could hardly run.

“But I started the game, scored a header not long after half time, but then I had to come off.

“Luckily enough I was able to take part in the game, and to me that was a special moment.

“It was one of those times when even though it hurts so much, you just want to give everything you have for the club and the team, and I scored the first goal and we won 3-0.”

Nielsen was, briefly, part of a very lively dressing room at Wolves.

He uses the word ‘crazy’ and, while mentioning no names, does later drop in that he used to share travel from London with Steve Sedgley occasionally. Say no more!

Keith Curle. Kevin Muscat, Darren Bazeley, Carl Robinson and Neil Emblen were others within the ranks, all of whom who have since progressed into coaching and management thanks to possessing the high standards and never-say-die commitment that contributed to such a vibrant and demanding squad.

“There were some crazy players at Wolves at the time, and I mean that in a good way, but ******* crazy,” Nielsen laughs.

“With players in England you never really knew what was going to happen in the dressing room.

“The one thing about England is to go out and play football, the other is how the **** you survive in the dressing room!

“What they used to come up with, what they used to do or say, you really had to be on your guard and I completely understand players who can’t adapt or react.

“A football dressing room is a tough place, imagine all the hormones and all the attitude and people wanting a place in the team.

“Most of the time everything is done right and with good humour but just sometimes there can be an agenda with everyone wanting to show how strong they are.

“Someone like Steve Sedgley who I travelled with a little bit – he was such a nice guy but I probably wouldn’t have believed he would go on to become a coach at Tottenham like he has!

“And I often remember a crazy atmosphere at games, again in a good way.

“I could always feel that passion from the Wolves fans, the burning desire they had to be in the stadium and support the team and the players.

“There is of course the golden colour to Wolves as well, which I think really adds something to it as well.”

With Wolves finishing seventh and missing out on the play-offs and no deal on the table for a permanent move, another appearance at a European Championships, this time in 2000, once more saw Nielsen on his travels as he made that switch to Watford for a then club record £2.5million.

He would spend three years at Vicarage Road, under different managers for each season in former Wolves and England boss Graham Taylor, legendary Italian striker Gianluca Vialli and future England assistant Ray Lewington.

“I had a very good time at Watford, from the time Graham Taylor reached out and signed me up from Tottenham,” says Nielsen.

“He was a kind man and a kind person who was so dedicated and committed and realised every player is special and different.

“I would say I joined Watford for two reasons – because of the talks I had with Graham and because I really believed that the club was going to be promoted that first season I joined.

“We made an unbelievable start as well, 15 games unbeaten in the league, but then after that we had a bad run after and we struggled.

Allan Nielsen.

“Graham decided to move on at the end of that season and Watford brought in Vialli, which was quite a big regime change.

“Ray Wilkins came in as well, but I don’t think some of the English players were quite ready for the change.

“I understood it because I had played overseas particularly at Bayern with the demands of three training sessions a day, eating differently, and being really dedicated.

“I remember the first day of a pre-season trip in a five star hotel in Rome when I was asleep in my room and got a call to say we were needed for a team meeting.

“Five or six of the lads had gone out drinking down the road from the hotel and I think it was just that while they were definitely professional, it was sometimes hard for players in England to deal with the freedom that they had.

“So it was a big change for everyone, and Vialli tried, and we all tried, but it just didn’t work out.

“Then Ray came in, and it was still early in his managerial career really and, if I am speaking honestly, it was a big challenge for him at that time.

“It was a tough task to come in as he made his way to that level of coaching but I still feel I improved under all three of the managers at Watford and I remember coming off in my final game and getting such a special reception from all the supporters.”

Nielsen rounded off his career back in Denmark with Herfolge before taking some time deliberating on his next step.

“I thought about going into coaching and started doing it a little bit, but coming after 18 years as a professional, so long dedicated to football, I was asking myself if that is what I really wanted to do,” he reflects.

“It had been football 24-7, and now with children and a family I thought it was time to step back.”

Nielsen then became an agent where he could have more control about the hours he worked, and also became involved in promoting a street football project in Scandinavia pioneered worldwide by Dutch legend Edgar Davids.

He also helped out at Viborg Sports College and owned a sushi restaurant in Island Brygge in Copenhagen.

But then, eight years ago, the Nielsen family upped and moved out for a new life in Dubai and, as so often happens when perhaps you least expect it, a new opportunity came to fruition.

“We met an amazing family also from Denmark who got me involved in a huge online network marketing company called B:hip,” he explains.

“I run the operation in the Middle East to try and open up those countries to make sure we have our health and wellness products incorporated with the governments there.

“The role is something where I can use my experience from football about goal-setting, mentality and mindset, and I do training sessions with our distributors around the world.

“I love having the chance to pass on what I have learned and helping people get the most out of themselves if they want to.

“Health and wellness is always so important and our health is the number one thing we have which perhaps sometimes we take for granted but when we don’t have it then life can become difficult.

“With everything that has been going on with the pandemic, the last two years have been extremely busy.”

It is also perhaps down to looking for an improved or at least more rural quality of life that Nielsen, now 50, and his family have very recently moved from Dubai and back to Denmark.

Nielsen’s wife Tina has taken up an opportunity in professional horse-riding and so they have moved back to a 28-acre farm in Copenhagen including forestry and lakes.

It’s an ideal location for the family – Nielsen has five children - although a couple of whom are now grown up, including daughter Ida Marie, who played Margrethe in the historical drama television series, Vikings.

Allan Nielsen.

Nielsen’s role with B:hip lends itself perfectly to remote working with the ability to travel – when permitted – and with that and enjoying the natural environment, his interest in football is nowhere near as all-consuming as it had to be when he was a player.

“I do still watch football but I wouldn’t say I follow it really closely, all the time,” he admits.

“I think since I finished I now have a greater understanding of how much it takes out of you to become a professional and how difficult it actually is.

“Our nine-year-old son loves playing football, and I go to tournaments with him and his little team and I see a football field packed with so many young players.

“And at the same time there are probably 50 other places across Denmark also with pitches full of young players.

“Obviously not everyone makes it through to the national team but when you think there are only 11 players who can start for Denmark at any one time it makes you realise how difficult and challenging it is for your dream to come true.

“So many things need to add up and work for you to have a career, and I respect that even more when I look back now.

“I did everything because I liked it, I had a passion about it and I loved the game.

“Now it is life after football, and after eight amazing years in Dubai we have moved back to Copenhagen.

“With the farm, the quality of the nature, the lakes and the forest, it felt like a good time to relocate this summer.

“We have come back to where it all started – and life is beautiful!”

It was also beautiful for just a short while when Nielsen was directing operations in the midfield and who’s to say how much more beautiful it could have been had Wolves managed to make it to the play-offs and maybe make it to the Premier League.

Instead, he will always be remembered as one of the best loan players that Wolves ever had, or on the other hand one of the best permanent players that Wolves never had.

Allan Nielsen, the one that got away!

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