The Scandinavian Ballon d’Or Winners Club has only one member — he’s Allan Simonsen.
*This is the translation of an article originally written by Mustafa Koç for socratesdergi.com in Turkish. It has been translated by @blogtifosi.
The studio was teeming as always that day. The jury was panning the contestants, as serious as always. The presenter was beaming with excitement, waiting for the sign from the director to announce the next contender. It would be an honor to invite one of the country’s greatest heroes on stage.
As the presenter finished his words, a thunderous sound filled the large room, cheers and applauses. Allan Simonsen came on stage with his partner, looking as gorgeous as he did early in his career, in blacks and whites. After a brief silence, a delightful tango melody started to play and the couple began moving. Seeing such Argentine figures from a Scandinavian player was dazzling for everyone.
At the end, once again, applauses flooded the studio and although the points weren’t all that high, the jury said it was very brave of him to try tango, putting all the cruelty aside. But in public voting, Simonsen managed to finish the night in the first place as the Danish people stood by his side. Years after another piece of art from Argentina making the Danishman leave Barcelona, Simonsen had made himself smile with some tango.
After 3 consistent, splendid seasons, he had had to leave the Catalan club due to Diego Armando Maradona’s arrival. The rule book said there could be only two players in their squad and the club decided to keep Bernd Schuster instead of Simonsen. Despite those 3 wondrous seasons, it would be an easy break-up and it would be a breaking point in the then-30-year-old’s career.
Born in the small Danish town of Vejle in 1952, Simonsen started playing football at the local team, Vejle FC. In 1963, he moved to Vejle VB, the town’s big club; it was a very significant step in his career. The rest, Denmark and the whole Scandinavia would watch proudly.
Vejle VB reached the title in Simonsen’s first professional season, 1971. He got on well with success — they became the Danish champions once again the next year. He hit the road for the Olympics in Munich in August. His 3 goals at 6 matches attracted the Germans — the curly-haired boy was dazzling in midfield. By the end of the Olympics, Borussia Mönchengladbach knocked on Vejle’s door. Simonsen was going to the Bundesliga after two professional seasons -and two titles- in his hometown.
With the transfer, Simonsen’s rapid rise came to an end and he had his several moments of doubt and pain in his first two seasons at the German champions. Most of the times he couldn’t make it to the starting eleven and even when he did, he couldn’t prove himself. For those two years, he had only 17 matches and 2 goals while the team missed two titles and a UEFA Cup. 1972’s DFB-Pokal was all they got and it was not a consolation.
Their luck eventually turned in the 1974-75 season. He stepped on the grass in all 34 matches that season and scored 18 goals. They became champions. He was proud, striking a pose in front of the media with the cup, he knew no other’s share in the cup was greater than his. It wasn’t the last time he would pose with a cup.
Simonsen took a crucial deal of responsibility at the UEFA Cup and scored a sum of 10 goals — including 2 against Twente in the final. After a long time, he was showcasing his talents again. Now it was time to expand his collection of trophies. He didn’t intend to delay these anymore.
The following season, he made a great contribution to his team with 16 goals en-route to a second Meisterschale. Making it to the quarter finals, Die Fohlen got relegated from the Champion Clubs’ Cup due to the away goal rule that season after two draws against Real Madrid.
‘76-77 was the season of his career. Two-time-domestic-champions before Simonsen’s arrival, Borussia Mönchengladbach won the Bundesliga for the third consecutive season.
In a fresh European campaign, they went all the way to the final after a majestic season both from Jupp Heynckes and Herbert Wimmer. Liverpool were the rivals. Despite scoring a beauty during the early minutes of the second half far from the goal to draw the game level, Simonsen’s effort was not enough. Liverpool won 3-1 and got to lift the trophy.
They did lose on the most stellar of Europe’s stages, but the Danishman made history that year. A typical Ballon d’Or winner is the guy who won a few trophies alongside performing well through the season. That season was an exception. European Champion Kevin Keegan and Platini The Magnificent were both beaten by Simonsen in the voting. For the first and only time, a Scandinavian was the winner of the Ballon d’Or.
Simonsen went on scoring goals for the German side for two more years. Yet, the last of the three-peat remains as the most recent of the club’s Bundesliga titles. In the 1979 UEFA Cup final, he scored against Red Star and lifted the trophy before departing for Spain.
Simonsen never managed to learn how a La Liga title would feel in his 4-year Barcelona career. They won the 1980-81 Copa del Rey, though — which made them contenders for the following season’s Cup Winners Cup. Carrying his team to the final in colloboration with Schuster and Quini, he once again scored in a final and equalised the game just before half-time. With this goal, he became the first and only player to score in the finals of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. In the second half, Quini found the net and Barcelona were the champions.
Celebrations ended and players had their well-deserved holidays. When they returned, they saw there was a new kid in town, an Argentinian boy called Maradona. Despite posing arm in arm, the arrival of a new foreign star meant a farewell either for Schuster or Simonsen following the foreign quota. Simonsen was the one they parted ways with.
He was forced to leave Barcelona at the age of 30. It was a breaking point for him. While everyone was wondering about his next destination, he put money first and accepted a tempting offer from Charlton Athletic. It was indeed a surprise. New chairman Mark Hulyer wanted a gamble and he put his money on Allan Simonsen. Although they had only seven thousand fans on the stands to watch him play, they offered twice what Real Madrid and Tottenham did.
He could have played in Spain, Italy, Germany or even in the First Division. But he chose to play under less pressure and signed with a Second Division team. Both sides played a gamble and lost. It was the beginning of a rough period which resulted in a bankrupt. Having only played 16 matches for Charlton, Simonsen scored 9 goals. The club couldn’t sustain paying their international star’s wage and decided to get rid of him. Simonsen was on the edge of another breaking point. Still, his opinion was pretty much the same. He didn’t want to play for the top clubs of Europe and returned where it all started, Vejle BK.
The legend paid his debt to his first club by playing six more seasons for them. Between 1983-89 he played 166 games and scored 70 goals. After leading his team to the title, he ended his career where it all had started.
The dancing contest? Despite his poor performance, he always won as long as there was a public voting, drawing some angry words. Would football preclude art? Maybe, yeah. In a program named Dancing with Stars, a nation’s greatest football star qualified for the last three but couldn’t manage to reach the final. He would certainly score a goal if he did. Unfortunately, he couldn’t add a golden dance shoe to his shelf, next to his golden ball.