‘Bullied’ Brolin sheds light on Leeds hell

Tomas Brolin, the man widely regarded as the worst signing ever made by a Premier League club, has lifted the lid on his disastrous spell at Leeds United in the mid-1990s.

The Sweden international had a successful World Cup in America in 1994 as the Swedes matched their Euro 92 record of making to the semi-finals. He also had a productive spell at Parma, who won a Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup with him in the side, before it all went horribly wrong.

Considering the only man to receive more votes in the 2008 poll of worst footballers was not in fact a real footballer — top spot went to Ali Dia, a conman who talked his way into turning out for Graeme Souness at Southampton, it could be argued Brolin has a legitimate claim to top spot.

Having tried to put his English nightmare behind him, Brolin hasuntil now refused to tell the full story of those traumatic months in England, only now opening his heart to Swedish football magazine Offside to explain exactly how things turned so sour so quickly following his arrival at Elland Road.

He arrived at Leeds in November 1995 fighting to regain his fitness after a foot injury but expected to be the lynchpin of the Premier League team, having had a long conversation with then-manager Howard Wilkinson.

“The first thing he [Wilkinson] asked me was, ‘how much money do you want?’ I said the important thing was not the money but what my position in the team would be. He then got out some A4 sheets of paper and started to draw things.

“I was going to be the spider in the middle of the web, pulling the strings in midfield. I was the one who was going to play the decisive pass to Tony Yeboah. Everything was great.”

It certainly started that way. Brolin scored his first goals for the club against Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton in December and grabbed two more in the defeat of West Ham in January.

The honeymoon did not last long, however, with the Swede temporarily moved out on to the wing despite his protestations that he simply did not have the skills to carry off the role.

Playing out wide exposed Brolin’s twin failings: a lack of fitness and a weight problem, so he came up with a plan to force the Leeds boss to move him back to the centre of midfield. He explained: “I decided that I was going to be piss-poor against Liverpool.”

The result? A 5-0 thrashing in which Brolin was the worst of a bad bunch on the park that day. If anything, however, Brolin’s tactics worked too well — he started only one more match for Leeds before being consigned to the bench. And he claims fans have unfairly labelled him as a flop ever since.

“Everyone thinks I was rubbish all the time at Leeds but there you can question the journalists,” he said.

“After the Liverpool game the Swedish papers wrote that I was rubbish. And they were right. Butnobody — nobody — asked me why. How the hell can you go from being a success to being a disaster in one week? And as I wasn’t picked any more, everyone just assumed I was rubbish.”

Brolin is obviously still furious about his treatment by Wilkinson, claiming: “I am a person who will not take any shit. If someone is lying to me, straight to my face, time and time again, then I lose respect [for them].”

His relationship with the club deteriorated so badly he was loaned out to FC Zurich in Switzerland and then former club Parma. When George Graham took over from Wilkinson, Brolin quickly found himself on the wrong side of the Scotsman, who he described as “an even bigger idiot” than Wilkinson.

Graham was furious when Brolin failed to turn up for pre-season training (he missed his plane as a bird flew into his windscreen), and when he finally arrived at Elland RoadGraham locked the player’s passport in his safe. Brolin managed to get atemporary passport to head back to Sweden for a weekend in any case, and when Graham found out he refused to let his man into the squad photo, denied him training kit, and even withheld the credentials he needed to get into the stadium. Even though the midfielder was still a Leeds player, he had to pay to get in.

“In hindsight I have thought that it was actually bullying. It was lucky that I decided just to smile about the whole thing from the beginning,otherwise I would have gone under as a person,” he explained, adding that it was only when he threatened to expose the behaviour of Wilkinson and Graham in a BBC documentary that the club backed down.

Brolin was given a pay-off and shown the door, though within a few weeks he was back in the top flight with Crystal Palace. That spell was, if anything, even less distinguished.

A few months after the end of the 1997-’98 season he announced his retirement from the game, with his final appearance coming as a replacement goalkeeper in a Swedish third division match for his hometown club Hudiksvalls.

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