Jon Dahl Tomasson was outlining the pedigree he brings to Blackburn, and he did not need to reference his status as Denmark’s record scorer. Rather, he was citing the managers who afforded him an elite education in his playing days. There was Carlo Ancelotti at AC Milan. “The best team in the world at that time,” he recalled. Ancelotti, he said, was an expert at managing downwards and upwards. “Keeping the dressing room together, having control regarding the owners at that time with [Silvio] Berlusconi and [Adriano] Galliani.”
But there was another Real Madrid great, Leo Beenhakker, for whom he played at Feyenoord. His first stint in Rotterdam also included a couple of years under Bert van Marwijk, later to lead Holland to the World Cup final. He played for Denmark for a decade under the long-serving Morten Olsen.
He is one of the more eclectic appointments in Blackburn’s history and his past involves two of the great names from their past. “Kenny and Shearer in ‘95, I think they did pretty well,” he said. Yet he could be forgiven for having unhappier memories of Blackburn’s Premier League title-winning manager and top scorer. Kenny Dalglish, he says, was “a real gentleman.” But he encountered the Scot at Newcastle when Alan Shearer’s injury meant a young Tomasson was pressed into emergency service as a target man a quarter of a century ago. His goals were rarities and he can be self-deprecating about his memories of Ewood Park as a player. “I was on the bench probably,” he smiled. The era nevertheless forged an impression. “Everybody knows Blackburn, a great club with a great tradition,” he said.
But their last decade has featured more seasons in League One than the Premier League. If Tomasson is tasked with ending their exile, it may bode well that Rovers’ favourite recent managers – Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Mark Hughes – have all been similarly high-level players, but it will have to be on the cheap. “We can’t buy players like the rest of the clubs,” he said. “But one thing we can do, and promise to do, is work hard and be better at our jobs than our rivals.”
His team-mates at the San Siro were of such a standard that they exerted a superiority over the rest but Tomasson has settled into the role of the manager who maximises his resources. He had been Denmark’s assistant coach for three years during a fine spell that, after his departure, culminated in their excellence at Euro 2020. By then, he was managing Malmo. “When I arrived, the club hadn’t won anything for three years so we did really well to win two leagues and qualify for the Champions League,” he said. The latter may have been the greater feat: it was only the third time in two decades that a Swedish club had played in the group stages. Malmo had to navigate four rounds to get there, overcoming Rangers home and away. “Mission impossible which we made possible,” Tomasson said.
Malmo were duly beaten twice by Chelsea in the Champions League. They procured a solitary point and even that felt like overachievement. It was a lesson in football’s pecking order. “You could say it is like being in the schoolyard, being the little boy who is allowed or who gets the opportunity to play with the bigger boys,” Tomasson said. “You want to do it and you deserve to but in the end they are just bigger.”
He could have been back in continental competition again this year. While Blackburn, who had hoped to tempt Daniel Farke and Carlos Carvalhal to Lancashire, cast their net far and wide, Tomasson rejected several offers during his sabbatical. “I almost signed with a club that is going to play in Europe,” he said.
Instead, he has gone from Champions League to Championship via a sabbatical that took in stints studying clubs in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium. “It sounds like I went to the beach every day,” he said but six months off was anything but a rest. His job now is to ensure Blackburn’s foundations are not laid in sand. “I am a bit of a builder and I love to create things with my vision,” Tomasson said. Rovers had a young team last season. It is about to get younger, with the highly-rated pair of Joe Rothwell and Darragh Lenihan leaving on free transfers. The smiling Tomasson has happily signed up for a tough task. “The fans, the players, they’re always dreaming about going up to the Premier League,” he said. “We will work with a clever mind.”
He is Blackburn’s 39th permanent manager but only the second who was not English, Scottish or Irish. The only other exception, Henning Berg, lasted just 57 days. A second Scandinavian argues he is almost a native. “I’ve been in six different countries in the last 27 years so I think I’m quite flexible and can speak to people whether you’re English or not,” he said. “There’s not a big difference between a Dane and an Englishman.”
He replaces Tony Mowbray, who lasted for more than five years but who had also been the 10th incumbent in a decade. Few had happy endings, unlike Tomasson, who won two titles with Malmo and then left on a high. “As a manager getting sacked is part of the job, so it was nice to go out the front door with a smile on my face and say ‘guys, it’s been excellent,’” he said. He must hope that, in due course, he can do likewise at Blackburn.