From: Tottenham Hotspur - £2.25m - August 2000
Career stats: Soccerbase
He is: Sprightly for his age
When speaking to some Gillingham fans on the way home from Vicarage Road earlier in the season, the subject of
Andy Hessenthaler's retirement surfaced briefly. Their assumption was that he'd be stepping down to concentrate
on his managerial duties in the summer.
Personally, I'm not convinced. Even now, Hessenthaler's astonishing level of fitness is way beyond those
of the players around him. Christ, would you want him as your manager when it was time for a cross-country
run? By my reckoning, he'll still be capable of holding his own in the league game when he's in his fifties....
Allan Nielsen, of course, is in his fifties. Oh, Graham Taylor might've conjured up a fictional birth date
that puts him in the prime of his footballing career, to persuade us that we hadn't just broken our transfer record for someone
who's, erm, on the saggy side of forty. I'm not fooled, though.
I mean, look at the photos. Those craggy, wrinkled looks. The wispy hair that'd like to think of itself as "white-ish blond"
but is really "white-ish grey". The general impression that the picture isn't complete without a cardigan, slippers and pipe. This,
ladies and gentlemen, is our star midfielder.
To his credit, he's remarkably sprightly for his age. When he's not settling down with a mug of cocoa in front
of "Antiques Roadshow", Nielsen is to be found bounding around the pitch at a fair rate of knots and generally looking
like a pretty astute use of two million quid.
Far from the extravagantly classy player that we might've expected, his contribution has so far been unfussy and
thoroughly understated. He ain't Nordin Wooter, that's for certain. At his best, he keeps the whole thing ticking
over - nothing complicated, nothing unnecessary, just measured, straightforward passing that sets the tempo for the rest of the
side. It's a fine sight.
There have been some important goals too. His well-timed breaks into the box have become nearly as much of a trademark as
Mooney's far post headers. Although there are no cries of "SHOOOT!" when he receives the ball further out, it's been a fair while
since we had a midfielder who looked so confident inside the six yard box. An all-rounder, then. Which brings us back to the mighty
Hessenthaler, I suppose.
Deservingly, he's received several rave reviews from Graham Taylor - not known for praising individuals, but well known
for appreciating team members. Ultimately, regardless of his evident quality, that's what Nielsen is. If there's one
criticism, it's the flipside of the same coin - there are times when he's sucked into the game to such an extent
that he becomes anonymous, losing his valuable influence.
In a sense, though, that's the best thing about him - we haven't seen everything that he can do yet. We've bought some expensive presents in the last year or
so, some of which have barely been taken out of their boxes. Allan Nielsen will have a longer appeal, you suspect.
Some are bought to be stars. Some are bought to contribute. Definitely the latter.
Last updated: January 2001