He lives in another world now, but Jesper Olsen still remembers the day he signed for Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United.
Olsen was 22, had just done the double Dutch with Ajax – winning the Eredivise and Dutch Cup –and was fresh out of an impressive Euro 1984 tournament with Denmark.
Manchester United was a different club too.
Before Sir Alex Ferguson, there was Atkinson and the Red Devils were hunting for its first league title since 1967.
Still, when Manchester United came knocking, it was hard to say no.
“Even then, it was a massive club,” Olsen said. “Ajax obviously was as well, but the difference was the fans, the stadium. United was getting 60-70000 a game and the stadium was fantastic. (Atkinson) had seen me play a couple of games and he was one of those guys that just wanted his players to go out and play.”
That suited Olsen just fine, and the flying Danish winger thrived on the flanks of Old Trafford.
The club was every bit as big as he imagined, but not everything about the club was up to scratch.
“The facilities were much less than what we had at Ajax,” Olsen said. “It was a weird transformation in a lot of ways. It was a bit strange. Here I was at this massive club and it really wasn’t what I expected.”
The football, however, was good.
“We had some very good players in that team. Atkinson was a great manager in a lot of ways,” Olsen said.
He loved the game and loved being a part of it.
“Everyone was happy to play for him because he just wanted you to play … but we probably didn’t play as well as we should have. (In 1985) we won the first 10 games. We should have won the league that season but there was a lot of pressure and expectation at the club.”
That elusive league title was not won in his five-year stint at Old Trafford, but he did leave the club with an FA Cup winner’s medal in 1985.
Olsen was placed on the transfer list by Atkinson in 1986 following a training ground incident with Remi Moses, but was removed following Atkinson’s sacking and the appointment of Ferguson – who made an instant impact.
“Sir Alex actually took me off the transfer list. He came and met me and told me he wanted to keep me and I agreed with him and wanted to see what would happen,” Olsen said.
“He got involved with everything. Atkinson maybe was only worried about the first team and was maybe lacking that attention to detail, but Sir Alex changed that. He made sure he was involved in everything and everyone hat to attend the games from the players that didn’t play right down to the youth level with suits and ties and everything.
“If a player didn’t turn up, he was reprimanded. He put down a marker and if you didn’t want to do it his way, that was fine but you wouldn’t do it at Manchester United.”
Olsen was transferred to Bordeaux in 1988, just before Ferguson’s golden era really got going.
“I was struggling with the English game. It wasn’t my style but when Sir Alex spoke to me I decided to stay longer,” Olsen said. “There were a lot of long balls in the air and it was very different to what we see today.”
Today, Olsen lives on the quiet Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia and continues to be involved in football.
He had a one-year stint at A-League club Melbourne Heart in its inaugural year as assistant coach to former Holland international and Ajax teammate John Van’t Schip, but is now involved at the grassroots level.
Olsen keeps an eye on the fortunes of his former clubs and says United will have to exercise patience if it is to see a quick return to a gluttony of titles.
“When you give someone like (David) Moyes six years, maybe you should give them more than nine months,” Olsen said. “I don’t know anything from inside the club but it just shows the pressures you are under when you want to go back to winning ways. How many managers have Liverpool had since they last won the league? You have to stick by them.”
Louis Van Gaal was appointed manager, answering the calls of many fans to put a bigger name in charge of the side, but that doesn’t guarantee success, despite the record transfer outlay this summer.
“It’s a big question. You look at Bayern and they bring in Pep Guardiola to replace Jupp Heynkes and you expect them to win everything, but it doesn’t always work out that way” Olsen said. “It’s a big club and that makes it harder. Big managers are expected to win.”