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Gone but not forgotten:
Allan Nielsen
Position: Midfielder
From: Tottenham Hotspur - £2.25m - August 2000
Record: Played: 104(9) Scored: 19
To: ??? - out of contract - May 2003
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: Allan Nielsen

We got exactly what we'd paid for.

We - or Graham Taylor, to be precise - paid for Allan Nielsen. We got Allan Nielsen, for three seasons and with full, whole-hearted and unarguable commitment. And the most widely mis-spelt name in the club's history, probably. And that's that, really.

The transfer fee is largely irrelevant, regardless of the fact that it set a new club record that will surely stand for many, many years. For a start, the state of the transfer market at the time was different in nearly every way from now, and a fee that seems extreme in the current climate was nothing of the sort three years ago. People paid considerably more for Ashley bloody Ward, for heaven's sake. And besides, this was a transaction between two parties, a compromise between what the seller thought they could get and what the buyer was prepared to pay for that player, and any other, more general valuation is strictly secondary.

So, we come here not to weigh Allan Nielsen's contribution against the sum paid for that contribution. That's not the point. They're separate, distinct things, the responsibility of entirely different people. If Allan Nielsen was ever anything less than some people had expected, given the price tag, that's simply not his fault...for he was very, very rarely anything less than Allan Nielsen. Which is, to repeat myself, what we'd paid all that cash for.

And what was Allan Nielsen? Well, it's hard to get anywhere without involving the words "all-action". A lean, powerful midfielder exploding with dynamic, nervous energy, his involvement was constant and irrepressible, even when he was having one of those everything-not-quite-coming-off days. At his best, he was capable of covering every single area of the pitch, from front to back and side to side, and drawing justified comparisons with that young Hessenthaler chap, albeit that he did it with slightly more style and rather less snarl. Oh, and all that was topped off with a rather pleasing knack of judging the timing for a burst into the penalty area to support and finish an attack.

In some ways, his sheer energy counted against him somewhat. Perhaps if he'd slowed down sometimes, people might've appreciated the more elegant, thoughtful aspects of his game. Then again, it's worth pointing out that Darren Caskey looked like a £2.25m player and yet was precisely sod all use to anyone. On peak form, Allan Nielsen was somehow capable producing touches of quality and moments of genuine class, even as he hurtled around at a hundred miles an hour. They were often missed, and we'll undoubtedly miss them next season.

It's not quite that simple, of course. The problem, for me, was that such an experienced, excellent player needs to have more influence. That's not to say, obviously, that Allan Nielsen wasn't involved in virtually everything that went on - he was that kind of player, always looking for the ball and always looking to get the ball back when it was lost. But it is to say that he was too easily sucked into the Nationwide whirlwind, into the kind of chaos that's all too familiar to regular spectators at this level. Anonymity, albeit very active anonymity, was the inevitable result of that.

Naturally, we must again point out that he couldn't be a different kind of player. He was just Allan Nielsen. Nevertheless, when we desperately needed someone to put their foot on the ball, to look around them, to take stock for a moment, he was frequently to be found on a mission somewhere else. That's not his fault, yet it did mean that he was too rarely completely effective. His work-rate might have been reminiscent of Andy Hessenthaler...but Hessenthaler controls games with that work-rate, rather than merely contributing to them. In the absence of Richard Johnson, Allan Nielsen was never the solution to an on-going problem.

In that, he was unfortunate. In other respects, too. For there was never much doubt that his best position was a central one, allowing him to break to either side as well as into the opposition box. That was his place, permanently reserved...and yet it was a place that didn't exist for much of his Watford career. The result was that he spent nearly two-thirds of that career in a wide berth, and even further back on occasions, which restricted his influence still further.

Perhaps the most telling time was that surrounding Ray Lewington's appointment. Having proclaimed the return of Allan Nielsen to his natural habitat after a willing but ultimately disappointing season of playing out of position under Luca Vialli, the new manager did indeed include the Dane as the central attacking midfielder in a 3-5-2 formation. It suited him perfectly, as well. The problem was that it didn't suit the rest of the team nearly as much. Inevitably, Allan Nielsen was to complete the rest of his term as a makeshift winger, filling gaps on either side until his departure. Still willing, less disappointing...and not quite what might've been.

That's a shame. We did see the best of Allan Nielsen...and it was thrilling, exhilarating and very Watford-ish. Then, you could see what Graham Taylor had seen, and you could also see the echoes of what Graham Taylor had seen in some of his legendary predecessors. At other, lower times, you could still see why managers would be slow to criticise a player of such dedication and determination - he might not have been the solution to some of our existing problems, but Allan Nielsen was never the cause of new ones.

Wherever he goes - and back to Denmark seems most likely - he takes away our very best wishes, then. And, after his final match, an ovation that must still be ringing in his ears. Really, we can have no complaints at all. Whatever he was and whatever he wasn't, Allan Nielsen threw his heart and soul into Watford Football Club for three years, never uttering a murmur of complaint even when what had surely been promised on his arrival was clearly not going to be. Instead of returning to the Premiership, Allan Nielsen found himself transfer-listed at a club in an ever-increasing financial crisis. And he just got on with it, as always. He never did anything else.

He was Allan Nielsen, no more and no less. That was enough in itself.