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My World Cup: Martin Dahlin (Sweden, 1994)
IN THE latest of our series, we talks to former Blackburn Rovers striker Martin Dahlin about his memorable World Cup in 1994 for Sweden. HE was one of the heroes of Sweden’s third-placed finish at the 1994 World Cup, but for Martin Dahlin the manner of his retirement will always bring pain.
Time may have eroded most of the physical effects of the back injury that ruined his Blackburn Rovers career, forcing him to hang up his boots at the age of 31.
But the disappointment still remains.
“I just couldn’t do myself justice,” he recalls ruefully now, reflecting on a two-year spell at Ewood Park that brought only 15 starts and just six goals.
It was Roy Hodgson, new to the helm at Rovers, who signed Dahlin from Roma in the summer of 1997 for £2m.
Premier League champions two years earlier, the striker arrived hopeful of success.
But one fateful training session on October 27, 1997 ended any chance of that and put the club on course for a compensation battle that would only finally be resolved in 2006.
“I was really looking forward to playing for Blackburn,” says Dahlin, now 42.
“I wanted to play in the best league in the world and I was in the form of my life. I had scored something like 10 goals in 20 games for Moenchengladbach on loan from Roma at the end of the season before.
“Roy Hodgson took me to Malmo when I was 17 and was the best coach I ever worked with, together with my World Cup coach Tommy Svensson.
“Roy was extremely keen on attention to detail and the training sessions were really long - even longer at Malmo!
“But he would make players even better than they thought they could be. I had a calf injury at first but I came back and scored against Liverpool.
“A couple of months later, though, I was in training and I went in for a challenge with one of my team-mates.
“I can’t even remember who it was, but I fell and twisted my back.
“I had to sit down, then I had to lie down and wait for the pain to go away. I thought it would go, but it didn’t.”
Dahlin was out for four months but he regrets making things worse by returning too quickly.
“I played a couple of games when I was only 80 per cent fit,” he says.
“That was really stupid but I felt the pressure from the club and the fans to get back because they had paid a lot of money for me.
"I am proud to have played for Blackburn Rovers, and I trained three times a day to try to get back.
"But when I played I couldn’t do myself justice and I was always in pain.
“Even now, although I am okay and I am not in pain, I have to just keep it to jogging and tennis.
“Two years after the injury I had to retire, and maybe I should have realised it earlier.
“I went to Hamburg (on loan) and I’m not very proud of that time. But you just want to carry on playing.”
Dahlin’s retirement in the summer of 1999 came months after the club’s relegation from the Premier League.
In his penultimate game for Rovers, in September of that season, he received a red card for spitting at Everton’s Marco Materazzi.
Rovers spent seven years after Dahlin’s retirement in a battle with their insurers, eventually losing out on £6m in compensation after a court ruled the forward’s injury was a degenerative disc problem that had existed before he arrived at Ewood and was only exacerbated by his training fall.
Dahlin gave evidence and had been due to receive 20 per cent of any compensation awarded. In the end, it was 20 per cent of nothing.
Meanwhile, he was faced with the task of getting on with his life. His successful clothing line, set up in 1994, is now in 50 stores across Sweden and he also has a player management company in Monaco.
Asked about the high point of his career, he does not have to think for long.
That came at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, when he made his name with four goals in five games as Sweden surprised many by finishing third.
After a goal in the opening game against Cameroon, he struck twice in the victory over Russia that ultimately sealed their progression to the second round.
He missed the final group match against Brazil because of a one-match ban for picking up two bookings, but scored again in the 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia in the last 16 before Sweden met fellow surprise package Romania in the quarter finals.
Dahlin had been substituted by the time the game, standing at 2-2, went to penalties which Sweden won 5-4.
Sweden’s ultimate dream of facing Italy in the final was ended by Romario and Brazil in the semi final, before Dahlin was injured for the 4-0 victory over Bulgaria in the third place play-off.
But he still looks back on the tournament and its aftermath with real pride.
“It was the highlight of my career. I scored four goals and got four assists - and I missed two games - so I was happy. It felt amazing to score at the World Cup.”
The striker had talked of returning to the United States to end his career, but not every footballer gets to choose how he will finish.
To all intents and purposes, it was over for Dahlin the day he crashed to earth at Brockhall.
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